THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- Out of gas? Putting a dealer's 'freebie' to the test

Last week I received a mailer from Brown Automotive, the car dealership on 29 North, that promised me one of four gifts if I stopped in their showroom: $250 in free gas, $100 cash, $5,000 cash, or $10,000 cash.

I knew it was a gimmick, of course, and since according to the mailer's fine print, the odds of winning one of the three actual cash prizes were rather remote while the odds of winning free gas were nearly 100 percent, I knew where the gimmick lay.

I have written about these too-good-to-be-true come-ons dealerships use to get people in their showrooms, such as the promise of a $250 "shopping spree" that turns out to be a website offering hilariously overpriced and cheesy merchandise reminiscent of the leftover detritus one finds after a weekend yard sale["Cheesy come-on: Buy a car, get a lot of worthless junk," February 28].

This mailer, however, piqued my curiosity. How would Brown finagle its way out this explicit promise?

At the spiffy new dealership, I met not a sales person, but a representative of the Largo, Florida-based promotion company I told him right off I wasn't interested in buying a car, but only wanted the free gas.

"No problem," he said, handing me a "voucher" for $250 in gas. 

More about that in a moment, but I want to note that to its credit and my relief, Brown did not employ any high-pressure sales tactics on me.

Anyway, back to the "voucher." According to its terms, I have to jump through some hoops to collect my free gas. First, I have to buy at least $100 of gas of a single brand in a single month, after which there is plenty of paperwork, such as completing forms and mailing in receipts (which Freebiegas recommends I mail using costly certified mail), to prove I made the purchases. 

Then, within either three or six weeks, depending upon the actual day Freebiegas processes all the paper, it may send me a $25 gas gift card. That's right, one $25 gift card, meaning it will be at least 10 months of this rigmarole before I get all $250 of my free gas. 

I say "may" because the voucher also states that Freebiegas "reserves the right to substitute any gas card with a similar item that is deemed to be of the same value at the sole discretion of our company," whatever that may mean.

Oh, one other catch. I need to pay Freebiegas $5 upfront for a "registration assistance fee," which Freebiegas says it will refund to me, presumably 10 months from now, with my last monthly certificate.

A Google search did not real any allegations of "scam" about Freebiegas, but rather a few mild observations focused on what is painfully obvious. Even if the program does provide what it promises, the hassle may not be worth it.

But even leaving this aside, a few things give me pause about this program. First is its complexity. Maybe I'm dumb, but I do have a J.D., and it took me a few readings to figure exactly how this program works.

Second is the idea that to get free gas I have to pay Freebiegas money upfront. 

Equally troubling is the fact that this "fee" could end up costing someone much more than $5, since if someone can't send a personal check, Freebiegas wants a cashier's check or money order.

Third is the abundance of legalese, including language that seems to excuse Freebiegas from even keeping its promise. 

Given the apparent lack of online information about this particular program, the jury is clearly out for me. There is only one way to render a verdict. I'll be signing up for the program and reporting periodically on Freebiegas's performance.

Got a consumer situation? Call the Hook newsroom at 434-295-8700x405 or e-mail the Tough Customer directly.



Hopefully Browns is reading this because I will tell you as a consumer and a business owner that the best way to sell cars is to simply offer an honest deal at a decent price and stand behind your promises. Also, stop screwing people when they come in for service.

If you give ONE person a good deal they will tell everyone who compliments them on their new car where they got it and how well they were treated.

Of course the odds of winning a $10,000 cash prize is more remote than the odds of getting a $250 gas card.

Brown Automotive recently partnered with Kroger on a "shopping spree" promotion that is giving two people a shopping spree in Kroger. The Kroger store is neither online nor overpriced and cheesy. Please review this promotion and get back to us readers with an unbiased review.

Beggars can't be choosers. If you need free gas that bad fill out the paperwork. Racking up $100 worth of gas in a month is easy as long as you drive a car. I am happily going to send in my receipts. Easy work to get 25% off my gas for 10 months straight.

I've sent receipts in for 6 months for freebiegas and have not received a thing!

I would like to talk to someone regarding a customer complaint with Browns Dodge Honda. Please call me at 978-1449. Thanks, I really appreciate your help.



You said... "Given the apparent lack of online information about this particular program, the jury is clearly out for me."

But that is not the case. They seem to have a lot of complaints under many different names, including Tidewater Marketing,,, to name a few.

And the Flordia State Attorney is investigating them.

To be fair to the dealership. They probably hired a company to do a big sale/promotion for them and this was one of the prizes they showed up with. Yes, the dealership has a responsibility to verify how these things work, but most just want to get cars sold. They are not to interested in the logistics of the promotions. I am a buyer beware & if it seems to good to be true it probably is type of person.

Advertising is designed to get you in the door. My friends, family and I have had nothing but good experiences with Brown's over the years and will continue to do so. They are also involved in the community and offer the best brands. I think if you are just in it for the free gas you should have to jump through a couple hoops to get it.

I also just received the same "award" from a car dealership in Utah. The website doesn't even exist as far as I can find anymore. My computer won't pull it up. I have done a google search and found an old version of the website but there is no Redemption Process on that page like they state on the award certificate and there's no way I'm sending in the $5 and paperwork just to wait up to 6 weeks like they say before I even start the process. From what I've been researching freebiegas is a crock of crap. Did you ever end up sending in your receipts? Has ANYONE recieved their free gas cards from

I've just mailed a complaint letter to the Florida Attorney General. I got my "vouchers" from buying a Toyota. I've mailed receipts since July and everytime I call FreeGasRedemption, I'm told that they are busy ad still processing these cards.


I started mailing the vouchers on a regular basis starting March of 2008. I e-mailed them, made phone calls many many times... At this point, December 2008, I still haven't received a single gas card!


I am going to contact the Florida Attorney Generals Office regarding this obvious fraud. I received my voucher by buying a very expensive set of tires from Tire Kingdom. I have been mailing in my gas receipts since August, and I have yet to receive a single Free Gas Card (as of 12/11/08). I expect that the program is a total rip-off! The retailer who subscribe to the program ought to check it out first. It sure reflects poorly on them.

I have been faithfully sending in my gas receipts since September, 2008...I have followed their instructions to the letter. I was invited to join this program after purchasing an expensive set of tires from NTW. This program was endorsed by NTW in a lovely glossy brochure. I do believe this is a scam...and intend to follow-up with the Florida Attorney General. Please comment if you, too, have participated in this program.

I have been sending in for this promotion as well since Sept. through the Brown offer. I did actually get one $25 gift card with a letter saying they ran out of gas cards for Hess (where I had to get gas) last week, but instead it was an American Express card to use anywhere. It has seemed pretty slow to get that first card even though they e-mail me each month to confirm receiving my receipts, but I did actually get one--hopefully they will continue to fulfill the program's promise.

Dorrie, I also got into this program thru NTW with a new set of tires and sent my first voucher in Sept. I tried to send an email today to get an update on the status of my redemptions and kept getting "message failure" notices - no such email address. Couldn't find their website either.... Looks like we've been had!

I can't believe folks actually fell for this! Now will you think twice before you do business with Brown's?

I have purchased a new car and was told that I would get $500. in gas rebates. I have sent in rebate receipts for the months of Oct. and Nov. and have not received anything. I have called and nobody answers,left messages and nobody returns calls. I have sent e-mails to their firm but they have been returned as undeliverable. I have contacted the dealer but they have not responded to my request.
Now what?

I received 2 gas redemption vouchers. One from a dealer for $100.00 just to come and look and the other from a Kia dealer from which we purchased a 2008 Rondo (which by the way is also a joke).On this card we were promised 500.00 in free gas. I started sending in all the paperwork in May and get e-mails that they received my receipts and my gas card was on the way.I don't know where it was on its way to because I have not received them. I also can not do any good with e-mails to them.From reading the Bible I hope those involved in this scam like it hot!!!!!!!!

We received the gas deal from our local Chevrolet dealership. My husband test drove a new car and was given the info for SecureGasRedemption. We sent in the $5.00 as requested with the info and received the vouchers. We have sent the require $100 in gas receipts along with the voucher since August and received nothing to date. I got through once on their phone line and was told it was "pending"! Today I tried to call and the phone line has been "disconnected".

Same here - secure gas redemption - have been sending my receipts faithfully since Oct '08. Two months they acknowledged receiving my receipts, etc., but I have yet to receive one card. Next stop - FL attorney general.

The redemption company Tidewater has been shut down by the state of Florida for nonfulfillment of all the above programs--freebiegas, gasredemption etc. You can read more at or search 'tidewater'. Do not blame Browns or the Tire Kingdom as they are victims as well--they purchased the vouchers to distribute. Tidewater operates by selling the vouchers for $7 and counts on people NOT to follow the complicated process for redemption.

I have not received gas cards since Sept 2008, even though I sent them in.

A SCAM - As of Feb 20 2009 the Florida Attorney General has froze the assets of these "businesses". ADD YOUR NAME TO THE COMPLAINT SO THAT YOU MAY GET YOUR MONEY BACK!!!
If you're owed gas coupons from this company, you should file a complaint with the Florida attorney general's office online or by calling 850-414-3990. Filing a complaint may entitle you to a cut of any settlement or fine the company pays.