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6 lies to watch out for in car ads

Don't fall prey to these sneaky tactics.

You know that saying: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is? That’s especially true of car ads. Dealerships are notorious for using not-so-truthful ploys to get you in the door. But once you’re there, you’ll often find those incredible deals aren’t quite what they seem.

Here are six of the most common lies hidden in car ads to be on the lookout for:

1. Base trim price for a luxury trim car

Don’t be fooled by the fully equipped car shown in an ad’s picture. The fine print likely notes that the price advertised underneath that image doesn’t reflect the car shown. Rather, it’s likely for the base trim — which lacks many of the features that are found in luxury trim models.

This may only be a minor bait-and-switch tactic, but it’s still misleading. If you were hoping to get a good price on the car shown in the ad, call before you visit the dealership and ask what comes standard with each trim. If the features you want are only available with the luxury model, be prepared to pay more than the advertised price.

2. Only stocks a limited number of vehicles

Dealerships may list a specific model at a specific price. But like with every good deal, it pays to check the fine print. Often, you’ll find a disclaimer that only one or two vehicles are actually available for sale or lease. And of course, they’re always gone once you visit the dealership yourself.

The advertisement is usually just a ploy to get you into the financing office so that a salesperson can steer you toward a different, more expensive model.

3. Hidden drive-off fees

Most advertised lease deals don’t mention drive-off fees — the amount you put down for a leased car. To get that low advertised price, you usually need to commit a few thousand dollars up front, not including taxes and fees.

When considering an offer, ask for the monthly lease payment based on $0 down. This will give you an idea of the actual price of the lease. You can then see how different down payments will impact both the monthly and total cost.

4. Cash incentives factored into the price

Dealerships like to advertise the lowest possible price to buy or lease a car — which often includes cash incentives. But there’s no guarantee you’ll actually qualify for these cash incentives, which are often reserved for loyalty customers, recent graduates, service members or other select groups.

And even if you do qualify, these are typically rebates: You’ll need to buy the car first, and then wait for the manufacturer or dealership to reimburse you.

5. 0% financing or no-cash-down offers

You may also see special dealership offers for 0% financing or no cash down. These deals are reserved for customers with excellent credit and spotless financial histories. Even if you are able to qualify, you likely won’t get as good of a trade-in deal if you were hoping to use your old car to cover some of the cost. And it’s typically harder to negotiate a lower price for the car itself with these types of offers.

6. Extremely low lease payments

The advertised monthly payment on a lease isn’t necessarily the full amount you pay. Dealerships often omit important factors like taxes and fees. Or they may simply calculate the lease at the lowest possible annual mileage.

Before you head to the dealership based on a low advertised lease payment, check the fine print to see what is and isn’t included. You may find that the low monthly cost doesn’t account for any of the other fees that come with leasing a vehicle.

Test drive a car near you

Get connected with dealerships in your area that offer upfront pricing.

Bottom line

Car ads are notorious for saying one thing and meaning another. But you can get a leg up on sneaky salespeople by knowing what to look out for before you visit the dealership.

When you’ve found the vehicle you want, check out our guide to car leasing or compare car loan providers to get the best deal available to you.

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