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Why a 'great deal' on car-selling websites may really not be a good deal

Fine print shows down payment not in advertised price
Toyota
Posted at 3:00 AM, Oct 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-19 11:53:59-04

Car prices are in high gear this year, which makes it more crucial for buyers to shop around for the best deals.

But before you head to the dealer, there is a new reason to read all the fine print because the vehicle may be a lot more expensive than you think it might be.

Tony Stevens just learned that. He needs to replace his aging pickup, so he started searching the popular site Car Gurus.

Right up top, listed as a Car Guru "Great Deal" was a pickup truck for just over $16,000, at a local used car lot.

"It says it is a great deal, at $3,973 below market," Stevens said.

But deep in the details, he discovered it was only that price after a significant down payment.

"At the bottom, it says 'internet price reflects $7,000 down payment applied to retail price of $23,995,'" he said.

At more than $32,000, he says, it never would have shown up as a "great deal."

"It would probably change the listing from a great deal to overpriced," Stevens said.

Report: similar ads on other car sites

The issue isn't just limited to listings on Car Gurus, however,

A recent report by PCMag found similar ads on other car-selling sites from other used car dealers all across the country.

PCMag's Will Greenwald says he stumbled on the same issue during his own car-buying experience recently.

He said, "this is just a little line buried in a listing that says this is $2,000 more than it's listed for."

He says the practice isn't illegal - but says buyers need to know the price you see up front isn't necessarily the price you pay.

"The information is there. It's just so hidden as to be deceptive because these sites only put the stated price," he said. "And if the stated price is after a down payment, then it costs more than it's listed for."

When scrolling car sites, Greenwald says to be sure to check the "notes" or "dealer's description."

And look for terms like "reflective after down payment."

We called the dealer in the ad, where the owner told us he was "not trying to deceive anyone," saying, "lenders are requiring larger down payments from buyers these days."

But a spokesperson for Car Gurus told us: "this type of activity is not allowed on our platform. This dealer has been flagged, and they will be forced to update their pricing, or we will remove all deal ratings from their listings."

Tony Stevens wonders how many other potential customers don't see the fine print.

"It's a long trip to find out what you are looking for is not what you are expecting," he said.

So make sure you know the actual cost before you drive to the dealer so you don't waste your money.
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