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Deceptive Car Advertising

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Buying a car may be one of the most expensive purchases a consumer makes, and it is important to make an informed decision.

Car Advertisements

It can seem like car dealers advertise new promotions every day. Offers may include high trade-in allowances, free options, invoice prices, prizes, special credit approval and low interest rates.

Advertisements should provide correct information and should not be misleading. Tennessee law prohibits companies and individuals from engaging in deceptive or misleading advertising and other deceptive business practices.

When shopping for a car, carefully read advertisements including the fine print. Compare ads for the same type of vehicle from different dealers. Ask the dealer to explain terms included in the advertisement.

Always remember that dealers are in the business of selling cars, and the market can be very competitive.

Deciphering the Ads

The following tips can help a consumer decipher a potentially deceptive car ad:

  • Trade-in allowances. If a dealer offers more than the value of the trade-in, the new vehicle may end up costing more to cover the value of the extra trade-in allowance.
  • Low price specials. An ad offering a car for a lower price than other dealers may not be comparing cars with the same options like air conditioning or power windows. Some car dealers may advertise a low price, then say the car is no longer in stock. Or an advertised low monthly payment may be for a lease rather than a purchase price.
  • Low interest rates. While some manufacturers may offer legitimate low or 0% loans, sometimes a low interest rate is not the good deal it seems to be. A low rate may require paying a substantial down payment, purchasing a car at sticker price, or repaying the loan in a shorter time period. Check with other lenders for competitive rates. If the rate seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Credit approval. Federal law prohibits car dealers from advertising that customers are preapproved for credit unless the dealer has retained a lending institution which has approved each consumer. Ultimately, lenders have final credit approval. Consider asking for documentation showing the dealer has received final approval for the loan or other financing.
  • Prize giveaways. Car ads sometimes offer a cash or prize incentive for buying a car. Tennessee law requires certain disclosures be made in the ad when prizes are offered as an inducement to purchase a product. Often, dealers fail to disclose conditions such as being able to finance the car at a certain rate before the prize becomes a part of the package. Also be aware that any sweepstakes advertisement must clearly disclose the value of the prizes and the odds of winning.
  • If an advertisement sounds too good to be true, it usually is. You may end up paying for any incentives in  other parts of the total sales price. Carefully read all documents including the fine print. Ask all the questions you need to make an informed purchase and be a satisfied customer.

File a Complaint

If you have a complaint about a motor vehicle purchase or seller, contact the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs or the Tennessee Motor Vehicle Commission.

To check out a company before you do business with them or to file a complaint against a company, an individual, or a business entity, contact contact the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs.