Monday, February 28, 2011

The Fine Print in a Car Ad

There ought to be a law against advertising any product, especially cars, while concealing information in the fine print which completely negates the material facts advertised in the bold print, especially price.

Electronic media ads are the worst offenders. The way the fine print disclosure is shown on TV is a joke. It’s literally impossible to read the fine print due to the blurred, small size and the very short length of the time it’s displayed. Radio “fine print” is equally ludicrous. It’s often read at high speed like an “auctioneer on amphetamines”, at a very low volume, and often at the beginning of the commercial so that listeners don’t even know that it’s part of the advertisement.

What do our lawmakers and regulators think when they see these TV ads and listen to the radio ads? The lawmakers either don’t care that misleading ads are routinely deceiving the public or they’ve been paid off by industry lobbyist to look the other way.

For purposes of this article, I had to choose a print ad because, like you, I can’t decipher the fine print in radio or TV ads. I chose this ad at random from lots of car dealer ads in the Palm Beach Post and the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel on Saturday, February 26. This particular ad ran in both of these newspapers. It’s not the most deceptive ad, not the least…just a typical South Florida newspaper car ad with important facts hidden from the reader by putting them in the fine print. You can view the ad for yourself by clicking on You will see the ad as a whole and a blow-up of the fine print so that you can read it. What follows is an explanation of how the fine print would affect your decision to purchase if you were to read and understand what you read.

(1) Prices plus tax, tag, title, dealer installed options. All of the advertised prices are understated by accessories (options) that the dealer has chosen to add to the advertised car. These are typically low cost items to the dealer that are marked up to you, the customer by a HUGE margin. Examples are pin stripes, nitrogen in tires, glass etch, window tint, door edge guards, “protection packages”, paint sealant, fabric protections, road hazard assistance, etc. A typical markup from dealer installed options would cost the dealer under $100 and be priced to you well over $1,000.

(2) All rebates applied including owner loyalty, lease loyalty, & military rebates. Customer must qualify for all rebates & incentives. Dealer retains all rebates & incentives. The dealer keeps all rebates, even those you might have seen advertised by the manufacturer. You have to sign a form before purchase that assigns your rebates to the dealer. But the worst part of this is the assumption that you qualify for “owner loyalty”, “lease loyalty”, and “military” rebates. Loyalty rebates mean that you have to have purchased or leased that make car and trade it in to qualify. The odds are you drive another make. The military rebate is especially outrageous. It often amounts to $1,000 and only applies if you are currently on active duty in the US military. In other words, the prices that you read in this ad are understated by thousands of dollars in rebates that you very likely will not qualify for.

(3) All vehicles subject to prior sale. Must present ad at time of purchase to receive advertised offer. Offer expires date of publication. Notice in the main part of the ad, each advertised car has a number next to it. One example is STK#110272. This number is the stock number of one particular car and that is the only car available at that price. If the dealer tells you that car was “sold”, he’s not obligated to sell an identical car at the same price even if he has several. If he does sell you an identical car, he can now add his dealer fee. If you buy a car today and see it advertised for less tonight…that’s too bad. If you came in the next day on the ad, that’s too bad too.

(4) Dealer not responsible for typographical errors or omissions. Vehicle art for illustration only. Optional equipment or varying model may be shown. This essentially says that you cannot hold the dealer to anything you read or see pictured in the advertisement. He can say that the price was a “mistake” and that the truck with the luxury wheels and sunroof was “for illustrative purposes only”.

(5) Offers not in conjunction. Other restrictions apply. See dealer for complete details. If the dealer advertised 0% financing and no down payment, you can’t get both. “Other restrictions” means that just in case the dealer didn’t cover everything in the fine print there may be “other restrictions” that he can bring up later. When you come in to buy that new car or truck, he’ll give you those details.

(6) We will beat any local, valid, printed advertisement from another authorized Dodge, Chrysler, or Jeep dealer within the SE Business Center Zone on any new identically equipped in stock vehicle. If we fail to beat the price we will give you $1,000. Customer must present competitors ad at the time of purchase and supply accurate VIN number, competitor’s ad must be dated same day as the customers purchase excluding tax, tag, title, dealer-installed options. If we beat the competitor’s price you must buy the vehicle from Arrigo. Dealer reserves the right to purchase the vehicle from other dealer. The price guarantee doesn’t apply to “dealer installed options” which represent thousand(s) of dollars in profit to the dealer. The dealer reserves the right to purchase the exact car from his competitor. There’s zero chance that his competitor will sell him that car, lose the sale and give it to his competition.

(7) $3,000 cash or trade equity due at signing. This means that the price or lease payment you came in on requires you to give the dealer $3,000.

(8) Qualified Customers with a minimum 750 credit score. Most people don’t have that good a credit score and will be asked to make higher payments and/or put down a larger down payment.

The bottom line is that you should never buy a car in response to an advertisement. The deck is stacked against you and you can’t win the game. The only way to get a good price on a new or used car is to first decide on the exact year, make, and model and which options you want and compare prices with at least three dealers. Do the same for your trade in and for your financing.

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