Triangle Troubleshooter

Troubleshooter: Car dealer's flier touts prizes, but none come

Staff WriterMarch 30, 2011 

I received a flier in the mail recently from Summit Pre-Owned car dealership in Raleigh, stating that I could win some awesome prizes if I scratched and matched five numbers.

I used the attached car key to scratch. Lo and behold - I matched all five!

The flier stated I was the winner of either a Ford Focus, an Xbox, an iPad or $25,000 (with small print underneath saying, "a chance to win $25,000").

I asked a neighbor whether she had gotten the same mailing, because I wondered if every one matches the number just to get you into the dealership. Yes, she had, but it went straight into the trash.

Well, luckily, I get paid to run these things to ground.

So I drove to the dealership on Capital Boulevard, near Triangle Town Center, where I saw other cars pulling into the lot with drivers carrying fliers.

Turns out, all 30,000 fliers mailed to area residents have the five matching numbers.

"We're trying to get people in here to sell some cars," said Tim Merriam, Summit's general manager of sales, in a phone interview a few days after my visit.

The dealership regularly sends mailings offering prizes.

During a promotional week, the dealership staff expect 2 percent of mailer recipients to come in, and their goal is to sell 30 cars. When I talked to Merriam last week, he said they had sold about 12 cars. When I called back to get a total on Tuesday, Merriam was not there, and the woman who answered the phone said the dealership could not tell me because of "privacy issues."

Everyone wins?

This promotion is different from others, according to Robert Garcia, owner of Garcia Automotive Promotions, who was contracted to organize it, because everyone has a chance to win. He's insured for every prize, so he's ready to hand them out, he said.

Plus, there are no tiny disclaimers on the flier, Garcia said. The odds of winning are under the prizes (albeit in small print), and the only asterisk leads you to a statement at the bottom that says numbers by your address must match the prize board. (But that really doesn't make sense until you get to the dealership.)

"We don't want people to feel like they've been lied to," Garcia said.

But, I have to say, the wording on the flier really makes it seem you are a winner because all five scratch-off numbers matched.

I thought I had won something. (Even the woman who answered the phone this week said everyone is a winner.)

When I arrived at Summit dealership, previously Saturn of Raleigh, a salesman quickly ushered me to the "prize board." My "prize board" numbers, which were an extra set of small-font numbers next to my address on the flier, did not match. I didn't win the car, the Xbox or the iPad.

All others get "a chance to win the $25,000." But first, the salesman took my information: my name, the kind of car I drive and how it's financed. Then he asked what kind of car I'd like to get.

I can't buy a car now, I replied. But if I win the $25,000, I'd buy a Honda Pilot, I said, because this mom will never drive a minivan.

As luck would have it, Summit has a Pilot on its lot! Let's go see it, he said.

Can't.

So he gets my "chance to win $25,000," which is a lotterylike, scratch-off ticket with about 36 squares. I am to pick six - any six - and see if I can find the matching car keys.

The salesman told me he's only seen one person ever do it. Odds are 1 in about 500,000. (I can't remember the exact number, and they took my flier when I showed up.)

I picked six in the upper right quadrant. No match.

I then scratched off all squares - because every ticket has six keys! - to see where the winning combo was.

They were in a Tetris-like shape - not a rectangle as I had guessed. I'm pretty sure only a geometry professor would have scratched off that shape.

No winners yet

No one had won any of the prizes when I talked to Merriam last week, and the dealership would not give me an answer when I called this week.

Merriam said the dealership has not received any complaints about the promotion. Neither has the N.C. Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Canada.

So I went home with nothing, except for dreams of owning that Pilot.

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