The Federal Trade Commission yesterday announced the tentative acceptance of a consent order with Ford Motor Co., assuring consumers whose cars are repossessed that they will get any surplus money realized by dealers when the cars are sold.
The order would settle a 1976 FTC complaint charging that dealers in some instances sold the repossessed autos for more than the outstanding debt, and pocketed the profit.
If the dealer sells the car for more than is needed to cover the amount owed, plus reasonable expenses for the sale, the surplus should be refunded to the consumer, the FTC maintained. To do otherwise is unfair to the customer whose car was repossessed, the FTC alleged.
The order applies to all future repossessions as well as those since May 1, 1974, by about 200 dealerships fully or partly owned by Ford.
The complaint was originally limited to repossessed vehicles resold by Ford-owned dealers and vehicles repossessed and returned to Ford dealers by Ford's credit arm. However, under the consent order, Ford agreed to change the accounting manual used by all Ford franchisees and to adopt a training and audit program, mechanisms the FTC says are designed to encourage independent Ford dealers to comply with the order as well.
Although the FTC staff said the consent order could mean up to $1 million a year in refunds to consumers, Ford questioned the figure. It said the survey on which the staff based its estimate was "very limited," involved dealers indentified as having a high number of repossessions and covered a recession period, which inflates the number and amount of repossession surpluses.
"Dealers are much more likely to lose money than to make money on repossessions," Gordon B. Mackenzie, a Ford vice president, said yesterday.
"Ford recognizes, nonetheless, that cash surpluses occasionally are realized by dealers on the resale of repossessed vehicles, and may not always be passed on to defaulting customers," Mackenzie said.
Although a majority of automotive retail financing is provided by banks and credit unions, he said Ford and Ford Motor Credit Co. would institute a training and sample audit system for all dealers, regardless of finance source," to help those dealers who may not already be doing so to understand and comply with the law," and to help customers better understand their rights and responsibilities in case of default.
When the FTC sued Ford, it also sued General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp. An FTC spokesman said those cases are pending and are scheduled for trial.
The FTC-Ford settlement will be on the public record for 60 days before the agency takes final action.