THE AUSTRALIAN New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) claims some car dealers are wilfully spreading misinformation regarding car safety ratings in order to make sales.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is currently conducting a market study of new cars, and ANCAP has made a submission stating some dealers are misleading customers over safety ratings.
"Our concern is that people are deceptively using the ANCAP ratings or deceptively misleading consumers in relation to the rating," ANCAP CEO James Goodwin has told the ABC. “Some information given out to consumers is just wrong.”
ANCAP claims some dealers are omitting crash ratings entirely if they reflect poorly on the model that is being sold.
Goodwin said manufacturers can also get deceptive with their advertising, twisting information to make their cars sound safer.
"It's selective use, so where the car has a good safety rating they'll use it, but when it doesn't they won't use it," he added.
"We also see some misleading or deceptive advertising where the manufacturers will make their own claims about how safe the vehicle is, such as it having high-tensile steel or energy-absorbing steel.
"Or even saying things like it's standard with electronic stability control, well that's misleading because that's a regulation."
Labels for fuel consumption and emissions are compulsory for new car sales, however safety ratings are not.
Goodwin claims this leaves car buyers uninformed of the facts.
"We're concerned that perhaps people are using the wrong information to make that sale. This becomes particularly important when different models of that car have different ratings," he said.
"Perhaps the top-rated model might be five star and the others are three star, and it's important that the consumer knows the car they are buying has the correct safety information."
This is highlighted with the incoming Holden Astra, where the top model receives a five-star safety rating, but the base model does not.
CEO of the Australasian Automotive Dealer Association (AADA), David Blackhall, said he couldn’t recall any instances of dealers providing misleading information.
"Casting my mind back, I'm not sure I've seen [misleading advertising] but I'm not saying it hasn't happened," he told the ABC.
"It can happen as an act of omission perhaps, a mistake, but we would say to our members to avoid that kind of behaviour because it's only going to cause you problems."
Blackhall backed the idea of compulsory ANCAP labelling for new car sales.
"It's hard to see the downside. I mean why wouldn't you have that if everybody's interested in doing the right thing both by the dealers and the consumers?"
However, Tony Weber, who is the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, does not support the idea.
"ANCAP is just one of the safety measurement tools used by consumers around the world to purchase cars, there are many other providers of safety information," he said.
"My members, the brands themselves, actually provide a lot of information on safety.
"I think that there's a lot of information out there for consumers and there's no great need to mandate a safety labelling form, and if there was there would have to be negotiations on what went into that."