Car Dealer Tricks: Bait And Switch - Part II

July 28, 2010

We’re looking at a tactic that car dealers use to entice customers into the showroom with a low priced ad car, and then switch them to a higher priced model. As long as the dealer will actually sell you the lower priced car, nothing illegal is taking place. This is simply good old American marketing ingenuity where it’s up the buyer to beware of such schemes.

Read the Ad Carefully
I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer in California. Most dealers here are careful to follow the exact letter of the law when placing ads. This works in your favor if you know what to look for.

For example, is the model of the ad car listed? It should be. Do a search on the Internet for that specific model to make sure it has the features you want. Does it have a manual or automatic transmission? Air conditioning? Power windows? Is the color listed, and if so, is it acceptable? Be skeptical and try to think of ways you could be tricked by reading this ad. If you hear an inner voice saying, “Don’t be so negative; trust people,” ignore the voice and know that skepticism is the appropriate response when reading most types of advertising.

Double Check All Information
You want to make sure that the car listed in the ad meets your expectations. Then, make sure that there are no hidden terms that are not acceptable to you. Read the fine print at the bottom of the ad to confirm that you understand all pertinent information.

Finally, does the dealer list how many of the cars at this price are in stock? Are the last digits of the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) in the ad? If so, write them down and take this information with you to the dealership.  

Oops! I Don’t Want This Car
We discovered in yesterday’s article that customers who don’t do their homework often find themselves at the dealership looking at a car that doesn’t fit their needs. This can be exactly what the dealer intended. If it happens to you, you’ll probably find yourself surprised and disappointed with the car that was advertised. Then, sales staff are trained to cleverly switch you to a car that has all the features you want, but also has a much higher price tag attached.

At this point, you have two options:

1. Run, don’t walk to the exit. After all, do you really want to do business with a firm that goes out of its way to manipulate customers in this manner?

2. Realize where you are at in the buying process: you were sucked in by a successful bait and switch marketing ploy. The car that enticed you into the dealership does not have the features you want. The car that does have the features you want is priced significantly higher than what you want to pay. Realize that when you walk into a dealership without pre-negotiating the selling price (which is where you find yourself now), you will usually begin the process at the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) or higher. If you contact a dealer’s Internet department by email, you will probably begin the process closer to invoice price, and in some cases below invoice. Where do you want to begin negotiating? If you prefer to begin closer to invoice then run, don’t walk to the exit.

Tomorrow we look at how to get the best price on the car you want (hint: don’t begin price negotiations at the dealership).

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