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October 31, 2006

Really Permanent Advertising

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A charming byproduct of buying a new car is the dealer's effort to plug his business courtesy of the purchaser's acquiescence or negligence.

Nowadays this is usually in the form of a license plate frame displaying the dealer's name, town and perhaps another brief item.

A casual census while cruising along Bay Area freeways suggests that 50-60 percent of car owners don't bother to remove the frames after taking delivery, the dealer kindly having attached the frames beforehand. Up in Washington and Oregon, the percentage looks closer to 40.

Some of the remaining cars have no frames at all and the rest have owner-selected frames.

Capitalist tool though I am, for some reason I really hate those dealer-supplied frames. So I remove them.

(Currently my car sports a frame I bought at Dear Old Penn's bookstore. This is baffling, because I have a lot of Penn issues -- a whole lot right now, having recently read the latest issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette.)

Dealers in the Seattle area, where I grew up, always used frames to advertise (as best I remember). But matters were far more serious elsewhere.

In the northeast back in the 60s and early 70s I saw a lot of cars with metal dealer plaques or medallions that were screwed onto the car's trunk lid. Did I just say "screwed?" You betcha. Both the new car owner and his shiny new metal steed got screwed. Royally, in my opinion.

Possibly the worst offense, in my eyes, was that these plaques were usually ugly little things. Cheap looking.

I take that back. The absolute worst part of the things was that they were essentially permanently attached. Proper removal would have to be done at a body shop -- the holes would have to be filled in, the lead buffed smooth and lid repainted.

I remember buying a new car in the Albany area in 1974 and demanding that no dealer plaque be installed. Fortunately, they honored my wish.

Do dealers still attach those vile things? I haven't noticed any lately, but I spend most of my time in the West where they were never as common as they were farther east. Can someone fill me and the rest of us in regarding dealer plaques?



posted by Donald at October 31, 2006


Here in the UK, we have a sticker that is easy to remove.

Posted by: Eddy Young on November 1, 2006 6:04 AM

I disagree with your comment regarding the dealer placques being screwed to the new cars. You noted that"..possibly the worst offense, in my eyes, was that these plaques were usually ugly little things. Cheap looking."

Nope. The worst offense was not their ugliness. It was the fact that after the cars were branded with these "ugly little things", the dealer never spray painted or coated these things with any protective covering. The first part of the car that started rusting was, you guessed it, the area around where these plaques were mounted. That was the worst offense.

A buddy of mine bought a car in Jersey and fought tooth-and-nail that the plaque not be mounted for this very reason. The dealer hemmed and hawed and finally agreed not to do it. It was even stated in the contract that no dealer plaque was to be mounted. He came to pick up the car and the placque was mounted. He turned around and walked out the door. The next day he filed in small claims court to recover his deposit and eventually won (though it took more than a year of hassling).

Are these plaques still mounted? Yes, some dealers still use cheap chrome or plastic plaques and they still screw them into the body of the car. As an added dig, they also put on the dealer license plate holder. Other dealers simply use a decal and then dare you to scrape it off. These guys give cattle rustlers a good name.

Posted by: DarkoV on November 1, 2006 8:26 AM

Something that never fails to amuse me is when people fail to remove the license plate frames attached not by regular dealers, but by notorious roach motels (crooked used car dealers who sell decrepit cars to lower-income buyers at horrendously inflated prices).

Posted by: Peter on November 1, 2006 9:22 AM

Here dealers affix cheap chromed plastic things with some kind of double stick tape that is fairly easily removed with a hairdryer. My husband and I also insist on non-partisan cars. If they want advertising, they can pay for it.

Posted by: Bradamante on November 1, 2006 9:35 AM

This is been my pet peeve for years! My cars come from the one dealership in my region that doesn't attach a permanent advertisement to the rear.

If I ever buy a car from a dealership that does this, their advertising fee (a dollar a day for the 12 years I plan to keep the car) will definitely be part of the negotiation!

Posted by: beloml on November 1, 2006 9:35 AM

Illinois was a great offender in this racket. Don't know if they still do it, but I grew up knowing the car dealerships by their metal insignia on the hind end of whatever huge American car.

I've been meaning to remove my own dealer plate holders, but I need some sort of startling replacement thingy--the car was from a San Jose dealer (I live in L.A.) and those ugly plate holders are the only way I can quickly pick out my car from amongst a gaggle of others. When did silver become the new black? Sigh...

Posted by: communicatrix on November 1, 2006 11:31 AM

My license plate frame says "Driver Reads Braille." It never fails to initiate a mind-boggling range of comments.

Posted by: Searchie on November 1, 2006 12:31 PM

My license plate frame says, "This license made with pride in the U.S.A. — State penitentiary."

Posted by: Rick Darby on November 1, 2006 5:55 PM

My story has to do with dealer stickers rather than plaques, but it's same sort of thing. Back in 1990, when I bought my Mustang, I went through the credit union at work. The usual wisdom I always heard growing up was to buy a car from a dealer close to where you live for service reasons, but it didn't seem to matter if any Ford dealer will do warranty work on any Ford product. So when the credit union sent me to some distant Ford dealer for what it considered the best deal or had some arrangement with, I didn't think it was a problem. The fact that the remote dealer had put a sticker on the back for FARAWAYVILLE FORD (I'm using funny names for Chicago suburbs here) didn't even bother me. Three days after I picked the Mustang up and drove it home, the electrical system went screwy. No interior lights, no headlights. Driving it any distance wasn't safe, and I took it to nearby Maple Heights Ford for service.

To my surprise, the fact that my brand new Mustang had a FARAWAYVILLE FORD sticker on the back DID bother the people at Maple Heights Ford. And the fact that I was requesting free (for me) warranty work on a car I had just bought somewhere else seemed to rankle tham, too, even though I'd assume that they'd just bill Dearborn the same way they would for warranty work on a car they'd sold off their own lot. Maybe the paperwork got complicated, I don't know.

But while they did do the work, they asked for one small favor. Would I let them take the FARAWAYVILLE FORD sticker off my car and put on one for MAPLE HEIGHTS FORD? Now that I think about it, maybe I should have insisted on no sticker at all, but they were making such an issue about doing the work on a car they didn't sell to me in the first place that I granted them the indulgence rather than argue about it.

So I got the car back with the FARAWAYVILLE FORD sticker removed and a new MAPLE HEIGHTS FORD sticker in its place. And you'll note that the dealer had some way of removing stickers easily and cleanly not common knowledge to us customers. Maybe it was the hair-dryer trick of softening the glue.

The sticker didn't seem to harm anything and I left it on for as long as I had the car. Maybe I felt it was amusing that sticker advertised a dealership the car wasn't bought from. In any event, I was soon transferred to Phoenix, so the sticker spent most of its existence in futility anyway.

Once I was driving to California and stopped at a McDonald's just off the Interstate at Yuma. When I came out, I noticed that parked next to my Mustang was an Illinois-plated van with a MAPLE HEIGHTS FORD sticker on the back, too. "What are the odds of that?" I thought. But since I didn't really buy my car at Maple Heights Ford, the coincidence was a little less.

To this day, I'm still a little amazed by the insistence of the Ford dealer doing the service work about putting their own sticker on my car. Is the business really that cutthroat about getting their name out there?

Posted by: Dwight Decker on November 2, 2006 12:37 PM

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