Consumer Protection

How to Protect Yourself: Car Advertisements

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office

Other than a home, a new car purchase is the largest financial transaction many consumers will make. To entice consumers, many new and used car dealers advertise special promotions. These may include high trade-in allowances, dealer’s invoice pricing, free prizes, unusually low interest rates, no-payment grace periods and other “specials.”

When you see an advertised special, read the ad carefully, especially the small print at the bottom of the ad. Compare this offer with ones advertised by other dealers. Do not neglect to consult reference materials online, in your local library or elsewhere and make sure you shop around to ensure you are getting the best available deal. Remember, if the offer seems too good to be true, it probably is! Here are a few things to look for when reviewing a car advertisement:

High trade-in allowances may have hidden conditions.

Advertisements offering to pay you a high amount for your trade-in vehicle are often not applicable unless you agree to purchase a new vehicle at the sticker price, which is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP). While the high trade-in allowance may seem attractive, you may be giving back the extra trade-in allowance by paying substantially more for the new vehicle than you would have paid after shopping around and negotiating the purchase price.

Low price specials can be misleading.

Ads offering dealer’s invoice prices or other low-priced specials are often “stripped down” models, without air conditioning, automatic transmissions or other options which many consumers desire. Too often, the advertised model (which may be designated in the ad with a “stock number”) is unavailable once you arrive at the dealership, and the dealer may not be willing to order one for you. Moreover, the dealer may recoup all of its profit by adding typically high-profit options such as rust-proofing, undercoating or other items. Beware of advertised monthly offers that may be lower only because they are based upon a lease transaction rather than on a purchase of the vehicle. Also, beware of offers of low-priced cars that are actually pre-owned, pre-leased or demonstrator models.

Low interest rates may have certain requirements.

In order to qualify for advertised low interest rates, you may be required to make a large down payment, to pay sticker price (MSRP), to repay the loan in a shorter period of time (such as 36 months), or to purchase additional options. Moreover, the low annual percentage rate (APR) may only apply to loans up to a certain limit (which can be below the purchase price of the vehicle). To get a loan to finance the higher amount, you may have to pay a higher APR. Remember that you are not limited to the financing offered by the dealer, and you may be able to obtain a more favorable APR with your bank or credit union.

Read the fine print of advertised specials.

Advertisers often construct their ads to catch your attention. By using a bold headline offering a low price, low interest rate, prize, grace period or other apparently attractive offers, these ads may lure you into the dealership. Many of these offers contain important conditions, limitations or restrictions, which are in small print at the bottom of the ad. Be sure that you are aware of any important conditions or limitations on an advertised offer before taking the time to visit the dealership.

File a complaint.

If you believe you have been the victim of a deceptive car advertisement, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at or by phone at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM. Additionally, you may file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online using their complaint assistant portal at You may also wish to file a complaint against the dealership with the Better Business Bureau online at