Avoid Being a Victim of Deceptive Car Dealer Ads

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Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched ‘Operation Steer Clear,’ a nationwide campaign against deceptive advertising by auto dealers. In the investigation, nine auto dealerships were found to have misled consumers through print, video and online advertisements. One of the nine dealerships was Nissan of South Atlanta.

Nissan of South Atlanta may be the only Georgia dealership involved in the FTC sweep, but it is not the only dealership in the state that tricks car buyers with false or misleading advertisements. Even in Atlanta, you may find a dealer that also resorts to deceptive advertising practices.


Dealer Claims to Be Wary Of

You can avoid being a victim of deceptive car dealer advertisements if you can identify which ads are or could potentially be deceptive. The following are claims that could be tell-tale signs and the reasons why you should think twice about believing them:


Low Price Offers

Many car buyers are lured into dealerships by low price offers, but often there is a catch. In many cases, the advertised low price is actually the balance after paying the down payment and other fees (i.e., documentation, licensing, taxes) on approved credit. It is also possible that the price offered is one for a vehicle that is lacking several options such as power windows and air conditioning. A popular move among dealers is advertising a specific car for a low price to draw consumers into their lot; when the consumers visit, the dealer will claim that the vehicle is not in stock anymore.

Beware of ‘too good to be true’ discounts: price cuts may only apply for expensive, loaded models or may only be offered to consumers who meet certain qualifications.


Low Monthly Payments

Advertised monthly payments which are too low to be realistic are often ‘teasers,’ or temporary payments. You will pay the small amount for the first few months, but the consequent payments will be higher. Another scenario is that the low monthly payment is not temporary, but you will need to make a huge lump-sum payment at the end of the term. Meanwhile, there are some dealers that advertise low monthly payments without specifying that the low amount is actually for a lease instead of a purchase.


Low Interest Offers

Dealers offer zero percent financing, but understand the terms before you sign. There are times when low interest does not make for a good deal. More often than not, low interest deals only apply to loans up to a particular amount; in other cases, you may need to buy the vehicle at sticker price, give a generous down payment or repay the loan at a shorter term. The low rates advertised may also not be the APR (annual percentage rate) and therefore, does not reflect the real cost of financing the chosen car.



Some dealers send notifications to consumers about prizes when they really have not won anything. The prizes are bait—they are offered to bring people into the showroom. However, there are also times when dealers offer a prize as incentive for an auto purchase. The problem is that they often fail to reveal that the prize will only be received if a car buyer finances a car at a certain rate.


No Payment at Lease Signing

Many dealers deceive consumers by advertising $0 due at lease signing. Upon looking at the fine print, one will find that there are fees to be paid upfront and they can cost a lot.


Guaranteed Loan Preapproval

In their advertisements, some dealers claim that customers are preapproved for credit but advertising preapproved credit for customers is prohibited by federal law. The dealer must own a lending institution that will approve customers before such advertisements can be allowed.


The Right Questions to Ask

You are less likely to fall for such dealer tricks if you also know which questions to ask. Let the dealer respond to these inquiries:


  • Do I need to pay a huge down payment or other fees aside from the advertised price?
  • Does the advertised discount apply to specific car models?
  • Does the advertised discount apply if I order a car rather than buy one from the lot?
  • Are the advertised low monthly payments temporary? Will they increase after a few months? Am I required to make a balloon payment at the end of the loan term?
  • To avail the advertised low financing rate, do I need to: (a) repay the loan in a short period of time? (b) obtain financing of a certain amount? (c) purchase extended warranty or other service contracts?
  • For the $0 due at lease signing offer: Are there other fees I need to pay before I drive the leased car home?
  • What conditions must be met before I receive the advertised prize?
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