Car Dealer Tricks: Bait And Switch - Part I

July 27, 2010

You finally found the perfect car on sale in the local Sunday paper. The price is so low you don’t dare miss this opportunity to finally get the car you’ve wanted for months. You grab your check book and drive down to the dealership that placed the ad.

When you arrive you’re surprised that the salesperson isn’t enthused about the car you’ve picked out. In fact, he keeps pointing out all the features it doesn’t have, and keep directing your attention to other models that have more features. The other models also cost significantly more.

Marketing World
You’ve entered the world of marketing where all is not as it appears. The savvy shopper understands two things before they walk through the front door of a car dealer:

  • how they are being manipulated by the advertising that pulled them in;
  • what to expect when they are in close proximity to sales staff, their managers, and an established system that is geared to making the maximum amount of money for the dealership.

Bait and Switch
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.

I’m talking about 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, and therefore more profit to the dealership.

The Marketing Ploy
In simple terms, 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.

Unfortunately, when you are fooled you happily walk into the dealership and ask to see the ad car. You experience surprise and disappointment when you realize the car you’re looking at in person is not the car you had in mind. At this point, the salesperson cleverly points to a nearby vehicle that has all the features you want. You are relieved, thinking your expectations are now met, and you eagerly take it for a test drive.

This softer bait and switch seems to have worked. You came into the dealership for one car and--for whatever reason--switched to another model. Nothing illegal took place; just successful marketing. However, the actual success of this ploy won’t be known until you encounter the higher price of the switch car.

More on how savvy shoppers handle this in tomorrow’s article, along with how to read the ads that dealers place to make sure you don’t end up in this situation in the first place.

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