The Car I Want Has a $9,995 Surcharge Tacked On. Why Isn’t This Illegal?

You might be tempted to call this price gouging (probably because that’s what it is), but it’s not illegal price gouging.

My old Subaru is falling apart, so I want to help the planet and buy a green car. The closest-to-affordable option is Hyundai’s Tucson hybrid—except they just added a gratuitous $9,995 upcharge to the already-ludicrous $37,000 sticker price. Why isn’t this illegal? —Rob M.

Come, come, Rob—you make it sound like this is all some cynical ploy to maximize profits in a time of scarcity by sticking it to car buyers who have nowhere else to go. I ask you, does that sound like something car dealers—probably the third-most trusted occupation in America, after police union representatives and Catholic priests—would do?

We’ll leave that question as an exercise for the reader. In the meantime, the euphemism that dealers seem to have settled on for this practice is “market adjustment.” (The original name, “Because fuck you, that’s why,” didn’t poll well.) You may also hear ADM (adjusted dealer markup), or even the almost-honest ADP (adjusted dealer profit), but they all mean charging more just because you can.

You might be tempted to call this price gouging (probably because that’s what it is), but it’s not illegal price gouging. Under Oregon law, price gouging is only illegal if what you’re marking up are essential consumer goods and services. A brand-new crossover, even one purchased for the most high-minded environmental reasons, doesn’t qualify, no matter how to-die-for that new car smell might be.

What to do? In February of this year, the trade publication Automotive News reported that Hyundai’s corporate HQ had sent a sternly worded letter to its dealers about these “brand-damaging” high markups and threatening retaliation if they didn’t knock it off. Then again, that was February, and here we are. Theoretically, you can report your local showroom to Hyundai’s Consumer Assistance Center, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Why not try to milk another year or two out of the car you’ve got? Sure, it’s a bit more polluting than a hybrid, but hybrids—especially new ones—have environmental costs as well. And it’s not like you throw the old car into the fires of Mount Doom when you get a new one; you trade it in. Soon it’s back on the road, polluting in someone else’s name, while you’re out an extra 10 grand—and for what? No, for now at least, I recommend that you get back in the Subaru, have a pint, and wait for this all to blow over.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.