Can I legally make bumper stickers criticizing car dealerships?
September 16, 2014 10:19 PM   Subscribe

I may have made a custom bumper sticker saying "has lying salesmen and bad ratings online" and stuck it on my car's bumper underneath the dealer's name/logo on the car. Someone looking at my car's back bumper might see the message that "(Car Company) of (City)" "has lying salesmen" etc. Is this legal to have on my car?

On top of taking peoples' money, car dealerships advertise on peoples' new cars. Often, the dealer's logo cannot be removed without special tools. People should have the power to easily remove the dealer's advertising, or change the message to match the truth, by putting a bumper sticker that says "has lying salesmen and bad ratings online" below the dealer's name/logo on the car. Is it legal for me to have this sticker on my car? Is it legal to sell stickers like this to others? Is there a risk of me losing a libel lawsuit? I am in the USA. YANML. Thanks!
posted by sninctown to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I doubt you'll make any money selling a sticker like that, but that's not your question.

Your sticker makes two statements - "lying salesmen" and "bad ratings online". Neither of these are obviously statements of opinion (per the the Milkovich standard) nor obviously statements of fact (since both can be disproved). As a result, it is conceivable these could be considered libel. Oddly, this puts you in the position of being able to sell the stickers legally (since by themselves, they make no statement), but not necessarily being able to put them on your car legally.

It is not clear to me that any dealership would care enough to do anything about the stickers, since any action would likely generate negative press.
posted by saeculorum at 10:38 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

The thing is, there is nothing *stopping* them from suing you, regardless of the legality. Selling cars is a difficult business, so I wouldn't be surprises if the dealer took the matter somewhat seriously.
posted by Nightman at 10:38 PM on September 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

You know, you could probably turn it into a statement of personal opinion by making a sticker that says: "I wish I hadn't bought my car from:" and placing it above the dealer sticker on your car. At least that way you're making a statement about yourself and not the dealer.
posted by embrangled at 10:40 PM on September 16, 2014 [56 favorites]

I like embrangled's idea. It brings the sticker closer to the dealer's logo, and also avoids making a statement about the dealer.

Since your proposed sticker doesn't include any particular dealer's name, then any libel would be committed by the individual who buys your sticker and applies it to their car. So, based on no research and TINLA, it is not apparent that there is anyone who could take any action against you for libel.

You didn't ask, but frankly, I don't believe that a viewer is going to visually connect the dealer's logo on the car with the bumper sticker on the bumper and read them together as a sentence. Even somebody who's willing to junk up their car with stickers is going to think twice before adding this additional slogan to their bumper.
posted by JimN2TAW at 3:38 AM on September 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dealer-added badges can be easily removed in a few minutes without "special tools," although you will need to patch the holes eventually (also a small job anyone can do unless your car is very fancy).

Or just put a hello kitty sticker over it.

There are numerous online dealer rating services, especially JD Power (and Yelp!). Do your opinion stating there and you have a shot at harming them. This idea makes you look not just disgruntled but crazed with anger.

Everyone hates car dealers. I just bought a car from a dealer I considered relatively honest (based in part on JD Power and Yelp reviews I went 30 miles out of my way to avoid my local Mazda dealer, who has terrible ratings). Even so I lost track of how many bullshit half-lies I was told in the process, and how slimy the whole thing is (and I went in having identified the exact vehicle they had that I wanted and having had an offer already accepted by email, and paying cash).

Luckily my dealer just puts their logo on plate frames,easily and instantly replaced.

Don't get so mad you don't get even. If the car has problems or you feel you were materially harmed complain to the manufacturer and/or your attorney general or consumer affairs department.
posted by spitbull at 3:40 AM on September 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

"Is this legal?" Probably. No police officer is likely to pull you over to write a ticket for this.

"Can they sue me?" Well, sure. "Will they sue me?" Who knows? Do you want to find out how much it will cost you if they do? I bet they have deeper pockets than you do.

I, too, like embrangled's idea, if you insist on making a statement.
posted by yclipse at 4:05 AM on September 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

If I were driving behind you, I might not understand your intent. I might think someone else had slapped that sticker on your car to say that you were the one being criticized. If you're trying to warn people off the crappy dealership, online reviews are much more helpful.
posted by tomboko at 4:44 AM on September 17, 2014

They could sue you for even asking this question. It's just a matter of can you pay to defend yourself and will it stick?

Kinda like with criminal law, there's the phrase of you can beat the rap but you can't beat the ride.

You can win the lawsuit, but you've still got to deal with the lawsuit.

I guess another point to ponder is does this just make you feel better or do you believe this will actually bring about some change you're looking to see. If it's the latter, are there more effective ways to do so?
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:36 AM on September 17, 2014

Manufacturer's badges may be bolted on; I haven't seen a dealer plate attached with anything other than adhesive in years. Go to a car detailing shop and they can help you remove the thing.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:58 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can be sued for anything. Is this worth it?
posted by humboldt32 at 9:14 AM on September 17, 2014

If you have proof of them lying (contradictory e-mails, for example), then you could still be sued, but, in the US, truth is an absolute defense against libel and slander.

If you use their visual design to tie the statements together, then you probably aren't violating some law, but I'm not certain you wouldn't be.

posted by flimflam at 9:31 AM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Often, the dealer's logo cannot be removed without special tools.

I haven't run across a mechanically-attached dealer badge in over 30 years. Even the plastic, dimensional badges used today are held on with adhesive. It's strong adhesive, but can be removed with a little gentle patience. I always remove dealer badges and stickers form my cars.

As for what you want to do...Without definite, will-hold-up-in-court proof, you'd be committing libel.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:42 AM on September 17, 2014

For my part I have always insisted the dealer remove any of those "advertisement" type decals/badges from my car prior to taking possession. They've never refused.

As noted above it's important to use the correct language in matters of law:

In the USA it's pretty absolute that you can put any written message you want on things you own without fear of criminal prosecution (with certain important exceptions regarding threats or fraudulent commercial claims, etc.)

What you're actually worried about is civil exposure: As MeFi will happily tell you anyone can sue you at any time for any reason. Pasting such a sticker on your car and then driving around the locality of the dealership named is a good way to get sued. Whether you lose or not, you're out a lot of money.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 12:11 PM on September 17, 2014

My husband sold cars for two different periods. He does not sell cars for the reason that most if not all car dealerships make it impossible to earn a living without lying. I would not bother with the sticker simply because it's most likely true for just about all the dealerships you are surrounded by. (my advice is to make friends with a former car salesman and take them with you next time you shop. And let them haggle for you.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:17 PM on September 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

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