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Oldest Dealer Trick: Bait and Switch

One of the oldest dealer tricks in the book is the "bait and switch" technique.

It's pretty simple: A dealer advertises a very low price on a particular car, but once you arrive at the dealership, they tell you it has already been sold or they try to convince you to buy a different car at a higher price.

The whole point is to get you to come to the dealership where they can take advantage of high-pressure sales techniques.

This is all legal as long as the dealer actually had the car available and sold it at the advertised price.

The problem is that it's rare to actually be the one to get the deal, and even if you do, it's probably a car you don't want anyway.

Read the Fine Print

Dealers that use the "bait and switch" technique will almost always advertise a bare-bones model that is very cheap to begin with.

This may be a car with a manual transmission, no power windows or doors, and sometimes even no air conditioning!

It's rarely a car anyone would want to buy in the first place.

They will also require ridiculous terms such as a huge down payment or financing for 72 months, but these terms will be printed in tiny fonts that nobody reads.

How to Avoid or Possibly Take Advantage of the Scam

By law, the dealer has to list the stock number of the vehicle being advertised along with all the terms of the deal.

It is possible to actually take advantage of an ad like this, but it's very rare.

Here's how to do it:

First, make sure the vehicle being advertised is one that you will want in the first place.

It will generally be a bare-bones model with no additional options.

If it fits your needs, then you should read the fine print carefully and make sure the terms are acceptable.

Assuming the car and the terms fit your needs, the next step is to call the dealership and ask whether they still have the car available and if so, go over the terms to make sure everything is as expected.

If so, tell them you will be heading to the dealership soon and expect the car to be there when you arrive. <> If the car isn't there, or if they play any tricks, let them know you will be filing a complaint against them with your State's Attorney General office.

Give them one more chance to come clean.

Once you arrive at the dealership, if they try anything funny, your best bet is to just walk out the door and let them know you'll be filing a complaint.

Although the bait and switch scam is less common these days, it's usually not even worth responding to the ads.

Chances are, it's not a dealership you want to do business with anyway and it's probably not a car worth buying.

Remember the motto: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

My Recommendation for Car Shoppers

TrueCar No-Haggle and Edmunds Price Promise are the quickest way to see the lowest car prices in your area. These sites show you no-haggle prices from dealers closest to you - and the deals are usually really good. This should be the first step you take when negotiating your car price. Follow this up with my checklist to make sure you squeeze out every last bit of savings.
- Gregg Fidan

Gregg Fidan

About: Gregg Fidan


Gregg Fidan + is the founder of RealCarTips. After being ripped off on his first car purchase, he devoted several years to figuring out the best ways to avoid scams and negotiate the best car deals. He has written hundreds of articles on the subject of car buying and taught thousands of car shoppers how to get the best deals.

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