Oh no, my Honda is about to explode? *

This is my 2015 Honda Pilot. It’s about to explode.

Don’t take my word for it. The official-looking notice from “Motor Vehicle Services” will leave you with little doubt that my SUV is on a short fuse and could blow any minute.

I’m telling you about the scare tactics from mysterious third-parties because every day, offers like this land in mailboxes across the country. Most are correctly identified as questionable, even fraudulent. But a few of them get through to the gullible, and I’m writing this story for them.

The notice really is scary looking:


ATTENTION: Christopher Elliott,

Our records indicate that you have not contacted us to have the vehicle service contract for your 2015 Honda UT updated.

Please call [number redacted].

You are receiving this notice because your factory warranty will expire or may have already expired based on the mileage and age of your 2015 Honda UT.

By neglecting to replace your coverage you will be at risk of being financially liable for any and all repairs after your factory warranty expires. However, you still have time left to activate your service contract on your vehicle before it’s too late. No vehicle inspection will be required.

No other notices will be sent for this offer. This will be our only attempt to contact you about your expiring factory warranty.

Your file on this vehicle will be deleted and you may no longer be eligible for this offer regarding service coverage after 2/28/2016.

Scary, isn’t it?

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It’s true, I own a 2015 Honda. I bought it almost-new. The Honda dealership’s owner’s wife had taken it for a test spin one day and decided to keep it. But she returned it a few thousand miles later. She probably didn’t like the nav system on it. (Neither do I.)

A close look at the offer revealed a few problems. First, this didn’t say it was from Honda. Instead, it came from a mysterious “Motor Vehicle Services” — perhaps a close relative to the Department of Motor Vehicles in my state? Or maybe not?

Second problem: no price. A box below indicated that I qualified for a “Platinum” option, which included coverage of my engine, transmission, 4 x 4 transfer unit, drive axle, assembly, front end and rear suspension, steering, air conditioning unit, electronics, seals, gaskets, brake systems and “most” mechanical parts. But alas, no rate.

Third problem: The fine print. I needed to wear my reading glasses for this one.

You may have been selected to receive this special limited time offer from Motor Vehicle Services because of information in your public record consumer auto data file. Final acceptance is subject to your ability to meet our full eligibility requirements. This is an advertisement to obtain coverage.

Ah-ha! It’s an ad.

I looked up Motor Vehicle Services at its Missouri address. Other car owners had interesting stories to tell. I can’t say I was surprised by any of them.

Why am I telling you about this unsolicited notice?

  • It had us — and by us, I mean our entire family — momentarily worried that something horrible was about to happen with our car. Was our vehicle about to spontaneously combust unless I immediately called Motor Vehicle Services’ toll-free number? Perhaps.
  • I immediately began to think about the folks out there who were not consumer advocates or who could not read eight-point type. My late grandmother would have fallen for this. She was a smart woman, that one. But she was a sucker for anything on an official letterhead.
  • It occurred to me that this kind of advertising really pushes the limit of an unfair and deceptive business practice. Other consumers have reported that Motor Vehicle Services has similar ads that make their offer appear as if it came from the manufacturer. Should this kind of ad be allowed?

Our offer went straight into the circular file. And for good reason: We’d just been to our dealership for a routine maintenance and I’d paid good money to have my oil changed, the tires rotated, and the transmission fluid replaced. It’s unlikely any offer, official or otherwise, would take those bills away.

Parenthetically, I had a great time sitting in the lobby of our dealership and narrating the new-car sales process for my kids.

“Watch them drawn to the new cars like moths to a flame! And all for a low price. What’s that? Just $22,999 for that Accord?” I said. Then I’d point them to the cubicles. “That’s where they tell them the real price, boys.” And further down, in dark hallways of the dealership, away from the sales floor, “that’s where they do the financing.”

And how do I know all this? I’ve bought two cars from the same dealership. I’ve had many an argument here. Good times.

But back to the issue. Do you think this kind of advertising should be allowed? The free-marketers will undoubtedly say “yes.” They’ll argue that Motor Vehicle Services has a right to free speech. And maybe it does, but is it also allowed to reshape a few facts in order to sell its products?

I keep thinking about my grandmother. She would have called the number.

Should a company be allowed to send out advertisements that look like government notices?

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(* No, it isn’t.)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Barthel

    If the warranty offer does not come from the vehicle manufacturer, it should be ignored. There are also companies which, for a fee, will check to see if you have an unclaimed income tax refund. You can check this yourself at no cost.

  • I recently purchased a 2011 BMW 750i (used) here in Denver from a dealer. I bought the coverage they (the dealer) bundle (from a reputable source), because having owned a BMW (but only a 3-series) I know how expensive car repairs can be. I usually work on my own, but the 7 is a little more involved than I want to play with.

    However, the insurance has proven to be a God-send. I bought the tire and rim replacement, and due to the freeze/thaw cycles here, have hit two potholes big enough to flatten the run-flat tires. I also bought an extended service warranty that covered a coincidental repair to the last pothole I hit. It pared nearly $3000 in repairs down to just the modest deductibles.

    So, there is some good insurance out there. However, like you, I have been inundated with these predatory ads. Even I was concerned that the coverage I bought was voided/changed.

    It sounds like to me that this is a quite a bit of false advertising…perhaps, it should be sent to the FTC for review by future recipients.

  • Actually, you posted as I was. There are reputable ones out there. I own a coverage that was bundled by the dealer and has delivered as committed.

    However, I would only buy it at the point of sale to ensure I have a single point of contact.

  • Linda

    We got a similar letter the other day about our Volvo. It went in the shredder.

  • AJPeabody

    This small print disclaimer stuff occurs for cars, or air fares, for telephone companies, i TV ads for just about anything, you name it. There is a one size fits all solution: Declare fine print (less than 12 point type) to be an unfair business practice and/or deceptive advertising. Of course, if there were such a law, want to bet that it will have some fine print loopholes?

  • Pat

    I get those letters all the time, especially for a 2007 Mustang that I have not owned since December 2010. I also get phone calls from these people which happen to be illegal (do not call and cell phone). Fortunately the iPhone makes it so easy to block those calls after the first one. Also the more “official” they look, the more I know it is a scam and they go in the shredder.

  • Pat

    In Georgia, if you hit a pothole and it damages your car, you can submit a claim to the government agency that is responsible for maintaining the road.

  • jmj

    Lying is protected free speech. Google “Susan B anthony” and “Ohio election”

    However, lying with the intent to defraud is not, nor is imagery intending to cause confusion (hence trademark violation cases).

    Is this group intending to defraud? Is the imagery intended to cause confusion? These are decisions for the courts.

    someone has to sue or a legislator has to make a law and these companies have to sue to challenge.

  • Tom McShane

    Car about to self-destruct? You shoulda bought the insurance.

  • You can in Colorado as well. That takes months, and there is constructive notice that applies…and many hide behind sovereign immunity.

    It’s just easier and worth the money (at least to me).

  • fairmont1955

    I got this notice and one from a near exact additional company in the same week. I called to be removed from their mailing lists and they got super upset with me when I called them out for their deceptive ways. One guy tried to tell me they had an A+ BBB score yet I pointed out there was no information on them via the Web (except for articles like this one), they weren’t transparent with their website, etc.

  • Joe Blasi

    sound like a line for the rent a car places to use.

    Did not get our insurance well that car has a oil change due and if you don’t get it due to our fine print any costs from any damage is on you.

  • MarkKelling

    If you are having arguments with anyone about anything where you are buying your cars — change dealers. There are plenty out there and many subscribe to a much friendlier approach to the entire process. Unless you just enjoy arguing as part of the new car purchase process. I don’t and the last 2 auto purchases I did (one for me, one with my mom) went very well and they even had decent coffee where we bought mom’s car. No high pressure, absolutely nothing to argue over.

  • Éamon deValera

    I have a 2015 Accord Hybrid. I too hate the navigation system. If I want a hardware store I have to select Shopping> Home Improvement> Choose by Name (type it in), Choose by Distance to Travel, or choose by City Vicinity. If you don’t type in the name you are presented with such Home Improvement places as Curl Up and Dye beauty salon (really nearby me though) Garage Door Express, some podiatrist, the American Legion, and about the 9th one down a Home Depot. The Ace Hardware I wanted a few miles away wasn’t in the list.

    If I do type Ace Hardware the closest one it finds is in Vermillion, Ohio a long drive from Florida.

    They have the worst metadata and the worst user interface I’ve ever seen. I’ve stopped cursing Garmin since I’ve had the Honda navigation.

    The voice commands are simply useless.

    I wish I had known before I bought the thing and saved myself a grand.

  • Éamon deValera

    The state of Florida enjoys these things. A local car dealership was sending out an official looking Application to Issue Motor Vehicle Title – very similar to the state’s car title form. Same colors same spiffy decorative border, but the state seal was different as you can’t use the state seal if you’re not the state. I sent it off to the Attorney General and they were fined thousands of dollars and enjoined from sending out car sale ads like that again.

    These policies are not generally insurance, or warranties. They are service plans. There is mechanical break down insurance, but that is usually sold with your personal automobile policy. Insurance is highly regulated by each state. Federal and state laws govern warranties. Service plans are less well regulated.

  • redragtopstl

    I purchased after-market vehicle warranty coverage for my previous car, bought new in 2007 (2008 model), and it turned out to be a bargain because I drove that car for 15 years, without too many major repairs (but enough to make the warranty worth it).

    When I bought my current car in 2013, it was a dealer’s “loaner” (2011 model) with very low miles, and had manufacturer’s warranty remaining. I looked into buying an after-market warranty when the factory coverage was up; but since I don’t commute to work any more, the car gets very few miles on it and we decided it wasn’t worth the expense. That hasn’t stopped at least one warranty company from e-mailing me several times a week, however. (Those e-mails have long since been redirected to my spam folder.)
    And I’m ashamed to say that several of these sleaze-o warranty companies are based in MO — some just down the interstate from me. When one implodes, another rises from the ooze to take its place …

  • 42NYC

    This reminds me of all the annoying ads I see online saying “you may qualify for Obama’s special refinance offer for homeowners in debt.” Regardless of your thoughts on our President and our government, i’m pretty sure any government backed refi program would not be advertising solely on random websites. But enough people must see “Obama” and think its government sanctioned then get themselves into a presumably shady ‘get out of debt’ program.

    I’m sure by Feb of next year those same ads will be there just saying “Trump” “Clinton” “Cruz” or whatever.

  • LostInMidwest

    “Do you think this kind of advertising should be allowed? The free-marketers will undoubtedly say “yes.””

    Well, free-marketers need to go back to school to be educated in civics. Imagine that I want to campaign for the Mayor next turn. Then I request that city increases the tax by 0.1% on its citizens so I can buy a nice PA system so more people will hear what I have to say. Is that right to free speech? I don’t think so, never will be and never was.

    Last I checked, I paid for the phone (device) and last I checked, I paid Ma Bell even for “thingies” that are coming into my phone and making me hear your voice – without those that I paid for, you could not make me hear what you are saying. Same goes for TV and same goes for even a mailbox.

    So … sod off my property and exercise your free speech wherever you don’t need my money in order to be heard.

    Makes sense?

  • Fishplate

    I’m not sure how your analogy is supposed to work. The concept of “free speech” means that the Government cannot use tax money/law/force to censor the ideas you wish to put forth. You cannot force the Government to provide a platform from which you can expound your ideas, but most jurisdictions have a portion of the regular mayor/Council meeting wehre you can address them on any subject you wish.

    As for the phone, you need not answer it – if it’s important, you can listen to the message they leave. Rachel from Card Services never leaves one.

  • DChamp56

    Do you currently have, a specific, searchable section of a page somewhere with all scams on it (kinda like snopes.com)?
    It might be a good idea… when people need to quickly see if something is a scam.

  • Sharon

    Had to laugh! If you bought the car in 2007 and drove it for 15 years, then it must be 2022. Please tell us: who won the election in 2016?

  • LostInMidwest

    “I’m not sure how your analogy is supposed to work.”

    Oh, it is very simple. Without the dressing now …

    If you need something for which I paid in order for your free speech to be heard, that is not a free speech (it is not free, I paid for it, remember?) and it is not protected.

  • cscasi

    How long was the after market warranty for your 2008 model vehicle good for? You say you drove the vehicle for fifteen years. I didn’t realize that any companies would sell you a warranty for that long.
    Also, when you bought your current car is 2013, was it a second car for you (I mean, did you still have the 2008 model and driving it, as well?)

  • Fishplate

    And you need not listen.

  • LostInMidwest

    And I am not. But the ruckus (on my private property) is preventing me from hearing things I want to hear. Therefore, it needs to stop.

  • RBXChas

    A few years back, I was a real estate attorney (I’m still an attorney; I just don’t practice real estate anymore), and about a year ago, a non-computer-savvy attorney friend came to ask my advice on a real estate matter. His elderly mother had recently conveyed title to her home to a trust as part of her estate planning. So far, so good.

    A few weeks after the deed was filed down at the county, his mother received a notice from some company – something like “National Record Service” – saying that she needed to pay $80 or some ridiculous fee to get a copy of the deed. The letter looked very official; it even had the tax ID number for the property and the short legal description correct. The letter went on about how important it was to “protect your investment” by having a copy of your deed.

    My friend asked me what I thought this was about, and I told him it was a scam. He could go down to the courthouse and get a certified copy of the deed for probably 50 cents a page, and I could go online and print a copy for free, which I did. I also told him that she probably had the original deed, which would have been sent back to her after it was recorded down at the county. He left me with the letter to look into it further (he knows this stuff gets under my skin), so I called the Register of Deeds office in my county to give them a heads-up. They said they’d gotten a lot of calls about it and were really concerned that people were falling for it. I sent it to my state Attorney General’s office but didn’t hear back. I Googled the company name and found lots of articles about it, as well as warning notices from other AG’s offices not to fall for the scam. Some AGs have even sued this company, which has resulted in a few settlements. It turns out all this company sends you is a copy – not even a certified one – of your deed, which, in many places, you can print out for the cost of a few sheets of paper and a little bit of printer ink.

    So while my attorney friend was skeptical, even he wasn’t 100% sure if this was something he could throw away. If his mother had received it and not called him, she probably would have paid a lot of money for something I could have printed off for free or gotten very inexpensively down at the courthouse, if she didn’t still have the original.

  • Fishplate

    A telephone provider is a common carrier – like an airline or railroad passenger company. Thus, they are required to provide service to everyone without discrimination. Using their service means that you accept the conditions that include the fact that they carry messages with which you might not agree. Study your agreement with “Ma Bell” to see this in action.

    Under certain circumstances, I suppose, you might be able to set up a private interpersonal communication system, but it would not be likely to be interfaced with the existing telephone network, unless you did that yourself – much as Private Branch Exchange is done. But at the interface point, those messages will still arrive. If you answer the phone, you accept the terms of carriage. You may not agree, but this is federal law, rooted in a concept dating back to the Middle Ages.

  • LonnieC

    All you have to do is provide that type smaller than a certain size (9 point perhaps?) is legally unenforceable.

  • LonnieC

    In my previous Lexus I was in the parking lot of a Hanniford supermarket. I asked the nav system for the nearest Hanniford, and ithe closest one it found was about 40 miles away in another city….

  • Carchar

    Any mail that does not show first class postage as having been paid goes into the recycling bin unopened. I don’t know whether we receive these notices or not.

  • LostInMidwest

    So, now would be a good time to make changes better aligned with 21st century, don’t you think?

  • redragtopstl

    Whoops, it was too late at night when I posted that! It was 1997 when I bought that 1998 car … and yes, I did drive it for 15 years before I sold it and bought my current one.

  • redragtopstl

    Like I just posted above, it was late @ night and I was tired … my car was a 1998 model, not an ’08. I think the warranty was 10 years or 100K miles, so I kept it 5 yrs. longer than the warranty coverage. I sold it in 2013 with 119K miles on the odometer. What I have now (2011 model bought in 2013) replaced the ’98.

  • LonnieC

    Sorry, Chris. While I agree that these annoying things are intentionally made to look official, and often look as if they’re from the car manufacturers, I just don’t see the “car is about to explode” aspect you seem to find. All the notice does is to tell you that whatever warranty you may have had on your car may have expired, and you should get another one (theirs) so that you won’t have a lot of expense if you have car trouble. “Explode”? Not really….

  • RBXChas

    I had a 2005 Accord with navigation (I really loved that car – 6-cyl was very speedy), later a 2007 Acura RDX with navigation, and still later a 2011 Odyssey with navigation. Between 2005 and 2011, the navigation system barely improved. The business listings continued to be inaccurate and lacking. On the 2007 and 2011, I hated the joystick for navigating the navigation system. The 2005 at least had a touch screen that helped sped up typing and making choices in the system.

    Now that I have a smartphone, I’ve found that the navigation system is unnecessary for me. When I got a different car in 2013, I saved a couple thousand bucks by not getting it. Maybe 0.5% of the time I wish I had it in-dash so that I could glance over at a larger screen than my phone if I’m in a really unfamiliar area, but it’s not worth the money for the other 99.5% of the time. I’ll never get it again unless I’m getting a used car, and I’m OK with the price otherwise.

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