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Car dealerships at the Mississauga auto mall (2013 file photo). (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)
Car dealerships at the Mississauga auto mall (2013 file photo). (J.P. MOCZULSKI For The Globe and Mail)

Driving Concerns

Why can't we buy cars directly from car companies? Add to ...

Why do we still buy cars through dealerships and not directly from car companies? – Dave, Ottawa.

Change is a big deal – especially to U.S. car dealerships protected by state laws.

“Most state laws expressly prohibit manufacturers and distributors from operating retail outlets,” said Carl Compton, Executive Director at OMVIC, the auto sales industry regulator in Ontario. “They must by law sell their vehicles through independent franchise retail distribution network.”

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Since Tesla Motors started selling cars directly to consumers in the U.S., it has faced legal fights.

“State laws also provide a measure of protection to the franchise network in ensuring that the manufacturer can't simply close down a store without good cause nor can it open stores within a given territory,” Compton said in an email. “I believe the reason for these fairly standard state laws was to ensure healthy competition at the retail level rather than allowing manufacturers to set the retail price of the vehicle.”

Canada doesn’t have laws against car companies opening up their own stores, Compton says. Tesla and Mercedes Benz have factory stores, he says.

So why haven’t more Canadian car companies switched to Apple Store-style outlets? The companies we contacted either didn’t respond or declined comment.

“In Canada I'm not aware of any efforts to really transform the franchise system,” says George Iny, president of the pro-consumer Automobile Protection Association. “Dealer franchising goes back to the Henry Ford era. It was a means for the car maker to expand their retail sales network and provide service with a local person's capital and initiative.”

Too cold for salt?

I live in Toronto now but I miss living in Calgary where they use gravel instead of salt on the roads. It was better for my shoes and my car. Do you know why road salt was banned in Alberta? – Tyler

Road salt isn’t banned anywhere in Canada, but colder places use less salt because it stops melting ice when the roads get below -15 C.

Calgary uses salt on roads when their temperature is between 0 and -10, says Calgary Transportation spokesperson Clarissa Vescio.

For traction, the city spreads a mixture of 97 per cent fine gravel and three per cent salt when temperatures are below 5 degrees.

“There are thermometers built into the roads,” Vescio says. “We don’t use a lot of salt when it gets really cold because it’s not effective.”

Salt lowers the freezing point of water, so it stays liquid at lower temperatures. In Toronto this winter, slippery roads and bridges were blamed on unusually low temperatures that made salt lose its potency.

Other wintery cities, like Montreal, also use a salt/gravel mix for colder temperatures, half salt, half gravel until -15 C and a 10 per cent salt, 90 per cent gravel mixture below -15C.

“We use more gravel because we find it more effective on sidewalks, as opposed to salt which melts and gets carried away,” says City of Montreal spokesman Jacques Lavallée. “We started doing this in the beginning of the ‘90s because of climate change.”

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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