Auto Dealer Advertising: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Car1 300x300 Auto Dealer Advertising: The Good, The Bad, & The UglyBuying or leasing an automobile can be a very stressful financial event.  Everyone wants to deal with an honest and reputable auto dealer.  Being persuaded to make a bad purchase by a dishonest auto dealer, not so much.

I’m sure you’ve seen auto ads on television with a disclaimer, in 4-point font, at the bottom of the screen.  How about radio advertisements where they speak 200 words per minute, giving the limitations or exclusions at the end of the ad?  Print advertising can be misleading too.  A dealer might place a stock photo of a car in the ad which is nothing similar to the car actually for sale.  Online advertising has increased in recent years.  Every auto dealer out there is vying for your click on the link to their website.

In an effort to curb misleading advertising among auto dealers, several Texas laws were amended and new rules were created. These advertising laws may not be applicable in your state, so check in your area. Nevertheless, these changes to Texas laws provide great examples of the kinds of ads that could mislead:

The term “Internet Price” may give consumers the impression that there is a special sales price for an online or Internet customer.

  • Dealers are now required to clearly and conspicuously disclose when a vehicle offered in an advertisement is not actually in their inventory (43 TEX. ADMIN. CODE RULE 215.245)

Beware of photos in ads. The dealer may not have the advertised car. This could potentially be a bait and switch tactic to push you to a higher priced car.

Be cautious when the advertising dealer makes statements or representations that misrepresent its affiliation with another dealer or auto maker, for example.

BBB offers the following tips for buying or leasing an automobile:

  1. Search for businesses on Read the BBB Business Review, which includes complaint history, and look for government action information.
  2. Read tips on buying vs. leasing, negotiating the best deal, financing, etc. on the FTC’s Consumer Information Page for Buying & Owning an Auto.
  3. Don’t talk finance or trade-ins with a dealer until you’ve settled on a price.
  4. Beware of bait and switch advertising.  It’s common for auto dealers to try to persuade you to purchase a higher-priced car, but if a dealer just won’t sell the original advertised car, that’s a red flag.
  5. Don’t focus strictly on the monthly payment. Service contracts, extended warranties, and gap insurance may be added into the financing without your knowledge.  Read all documents carefully before signing on that dotted line.

If you come across an automobile advertisement that seems questionable, send it to your local BBB for further investigation.

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About Melanie S. Alakkam

Melanie Alakkam, Senior Business Standards Analyst in the Advertising Review department, joined BBB Serving Dallas and Northeast Texas in 2010. Melanie has a passion for fulfilling the BBB’s original mission: promoting truth in advertising. She works with businesses to achieve the highest ethical advertising standards through voluntary self-regulation.