Don't Let The Dealer Rip You Off!

Don’t Let The Dealer Rip You Off!

Did you hear the one about the woman who was all set to buy the fully loaded 2002 Kia Optima? Turns out, within three days of making a commitment to buy, the sales guy calls her to say, “You have to get down here quick because someone else is looking at the car.” All told, the “other buyer” turned out to be a worker who was ordered to take the car off the lot. Sound a little far-fetched? It’s not. So before you go to the dealer, take these tips with you to avoid being taken for a ride.

Beware of hidden charges. The quoted price should include the options you want, plus tax, licensing and registration fees, and not much else. Check to make certain you aren’t being charged twice for dealer preparation fees, freight charges, or advertising fees (regional or local), which have already been included in the factory invoice.

Don’t allow unauthorized credit checks. Dealers are not permitted to request a credit report simply for the purposes of negotiating. This warning was issued to car dealers under the Fair Credit Reporting Act by the Federal Trade Commission in 1998. The act states that if a customer hasn’t actually applied for credit, the dealer is prohibited by law from checking his or her credit without the customer’s written permission, at the risk of receiving a $2,500 penalty.

Look out for profit centers. Jerry Cromwell, the general manager of Koons Automotive, in Marlow Heights, Maryland, reminds auto buyers that extras, while valuable, are not absolute necessities. “Extended warranties are really not necessary,” says Cromwell. This is also true for undercoating and rust-proofing, paint sealer, and fabric protection. Not to mention that the rust-proofing treatment could void the manufacturer’s corrosion warranty. To gauge the high cost of options, we looked at pricing for a 2004 MINI Cooper two-door Coupe S. The standard package MSRP costs $19,999. Throw in a leather trim package, heated seats, and the premium package, and you’ll pay $22,899.

Don’t negotiate based on the monthly payment. Anyone shopping for a car based on an affordable monthly payment is susceptible to getting ripped off. An unscrupulous salesperson can structure a deal to make sure the payment is at or above the stated monthly payment. Bottom line: Figure out your own payments and keep it to yourself. For a calculator near you, log on to

Be careful of deceptive advertising. Don’t be taken in by ads used as marketing tools. For example, ads that promise low-interest loans could mean being charged a higher price for the car to qualify for the low-rate financing. You may see a sales pitch that describes a great car at a low price, but when you arrive at the dealer, the car is no longer available. Technically, the ad was not a lie. That’s because there was one great car at an incredibly low price and now it’s gone.

For more information on car buying, see upcoming segments of Shopsmart. Also, check out this month’s feature “Let’s Make