Allow me to make something clear right out of the gate: most car dealers do not engage in illegal bait and switch activities. True bait and switch tactics are fraud and therefore illegal. They are deliberate misrepresentation of the facts relating to the product being sold or the terms of the sale. If you experience a true bait and switch scheme, call the police.
Most car buyers experience a kinder, gentler bait and switch, one that is not illegal, but instead, is simply a marketing ploy that entices buyers with a remarkably low priced, usually new vehicle. The dealership then cleverly helps the customer realize they don’t want that car, but instead want a more lavishly equipped vehicle with a higher price tag. The latter usually provides more profit to the dealership.
It’s the Marketing
How does this soft-sell bait and switch happen? Car dealers place an ad for a popular model, except the advertised car does not have the features that most buyers want. The ad car may have a manual transmission, be a coupe or 2-door model, or lack air conditioning or power windows. If you’re not familiar with all the models that a particular manufacturer offers, you can be easily fooled.
Consumers end up happily walking into the dealership and ask to see the ad car. They experience surprise and disappointment when they realize the car they’re looking at is not what they had in mind. At this point, the salesperson cleverly points to a nearby vehicle that has all the features they want. The prospective buyer is relieved. Their expectations are now met, and they eagerly take this better-equipped vehicle for a test drive.
This kinder, gentler bait and switch seems to have worked. The consumer came into the dealership for one car and--for whatever reason--switched to another model. Nothing illegal took place because the dealer was more than willing to sell the ad car at the advertised price. It’s not illegal if not many people want a manual transmission with crank windows and no air conditioning.
However, the actual success of this ploy won’t be known until the buyer encounters the higher price of the switch car. Too much sticker shock could send this car buyer running back home looking for another, less expensive vehicle. However, the ploy works often enough that dealers around the country continue to play this game.
Tomorrow we look at what you can do so you don’t fall into this marketing trap.