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 Freebiegas.com. 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.
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