How to Navigate Deceptive Car Ads and Avoid Rip-Offs

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Get the skinny on those alluring ads before you enter the auto showroom.

These actual ads could have you racing to your local car dealership and paying more than you expect for your favorite model:

  • “$1 gets you out of your current loan or lease!”
  • “Max your tax! We’ll match your refund!”
  • “$19 down delivers or just pay $269 per month!”

Put the brakes on those deals and check out the details before the deceit you detect is visible only in your new car’s rearview mirror.

The Federal Trade Commission, trying to curb deceptive ads, recently took a Texas car dealer to task for misleading consumers with enticing prices and terms while hiding crucial cost-revving information. The dealer, which placed the ads in newspapers, ran them on television and posted them on its website, Facebook and Twitter, admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to end deceptive advertising practices or face future fines.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m concerned when businesses don’t play by the rules,” wrote Colleen Tressler, an FTC consumer education specialist, in an agency blog about the deceptive ads. “Consumers can’t comparison shop effectively if the information they rely on isn’t the truth, and competition is harmed when a business lures consumers away from its competitors under false pretenses.”

The FTC limits claims dealers can make to get you to part with your dollars.

Acknowledging what it called “intense scrutiny” of dealers by the FTC, the National Automobile Dealers Association last month issued a booklet, “Driven: A Dealer Guide to Federal Advertising Requirements.” Intended for dealers, but illuminating for consumers, you can check it out here. The guide provides examples of bad and good ads and chapters on 41 federal advertising topics. The association also warns dealers to check state regulations on advertising practices.

On the following pages, we’ll show you what’s wrong with the examples above and give you more tips from the FTC, the dealers’ association and others to help you avoid rip-offs through deceptive car ads.

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