Is this true regarding credit checks?

I heard somewhere that, if someone wants to check their own credit (ie by using one of those “free credit check” websites) that it doesn’t hurt their credit. Supposedly, it only hurts your credit when a company does a “hard inquiry” for a loan, etc. Is this true?

Here is my situation: I am buying a car through a dealership a friend works at, so they have been treating me less like a client and more like a friend, which I appreciated at first. However, I have recently found out that they ran my credit through about 15 different lending companies, without asking my permission for any of this. They told me they were going to try with one company, the credit union, but that it might take a little longer than usual.

I recently received a letter from my credit card company stating that my credit rating had dropped below 700 and they were cancelling my card because of this. I was able to convince them to let me keep the card, but with a lower credit limit, since someone had obviously been mistaken, as I have always had excellent credit. Then I found out about what the dealership was doing, and I am furious. Is what they’re doing legal? Is there anything I can do? I work way too hard to keep my credit score as close to perfect as possible for them to be throwing it around like it means nothing. I would like to check my credit score now and compare it to what it was before they started running it through so many lending companies; is this advisable?

Thanks in advance, let me know if more clarification is needed.
Thank you, this is very helpful. I always pay my credit card in full and on time, but I do get close to my credit limit sometimes. I did not realize that getting close to the credit limit would affect me negatively; I thought it was only bad if you went over. I guess I will just continue to keep paying it in full and on time, but try not to exceed half of the spending limit. It is a relief to know that the car dealership did not wreck my credit.
I never signed anything; this is why I was so upset. But if those inquiries only counted as one, then I guess it doesn’t matter. Thanks for all the answers.

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