As a professional car shopper, I communicate with several hundred dealers over the course of a year. While most of them are fine, some of them clearly despise this whole internet shopping thing and will pull out of the air any number of bonkers excuses not to disclose their pricing.
I’ve mentioned many times, one of the best lines of defense against getting a ripped off at a dealership is to get an itemized price quote in writing before you go. Naturally, some dealers are going to resist this process and will often pitch what they think are perfectly legit reasons for withholding that information. Here are the most common ones that I have encountered.
Recently I got an auto-generated email from a dealer who boasted a “transparent purchase process” soon after I get a phone call from a representative at the store wanting to discuss a test drive. I informed them that I am shopping on behalf of a client that was interested in one of their used cars and all I needed was an itemized quote that included all tax and fees.
The woman put me on hold to “speak to the manager” she returned to the phone and said they are “Unable to provide that because putting a price quote in writing would violate the Truth in Lending Act.” I very directly said, “No, a written quote doesn’t violate that.” I was told a manager would have to call me back. Unsurprisingly, I never got that follow up
The Truth in Lending Act is an important law for consumer protection and it essentially means that when you get a loan the lender needs to clearly disclose the terms such as the interest rate, term, finance charges etc… Nowhere within the Truth in Lending Act document does it prohibit a detailed written price disclosure of a good or service.
I’ve covered this one before, and again dealers will often try to hide behind some false sense of “legality” but it has come up, on a number of occasions where dealers say they can’t provide written quotes due to “privacy reasons.” Yet, no one has been able to answer exactly whose privacy would potentially be violated by doing so.
Personal data and privacy is a big deal especially a time where it seems like every other week some large company has a “data breach” and massive amounts of supposedly secured customer information get out. However, in this particular case, I fail to see what that sensitive data would be and which party it would apply.
Basically, this is a line that is being fed to some salesperson by a bonehead manager because the dealer doesn’t want to adapt to car buying in the twenty-first century.
While this excuse doesn’t pretend to align with some legal issue, it’s often pitched as a dealer who wants to be perceived as “by the books” and therefore more legit. Sometimes dealers will circumvent the written price quote by saying the customer needs to submit a credit application first.
While certain factory rebates and financing programs may impact the total cost, a credit application is not necessary to quote a price using those programs. For example, if a customer wants to take advantage of a zero percent APR special, the dealer can quote the car accordingly. Granted the customer still needs to qualify for that rate, but it doesn’t stop the dealer from providing their numbers ahead of time.
Usually, when a dealer puts this wall up, they will often try to add in a bunch of bogus fees and add-ons to your loan contract in the hopes that you won’t notice it.
This is also why it’s important to get a pre-approval before you go car shopping, especially for used cars. That way you can tell the dealer that you already have your loan lined up and in order for the lender to issue payment, you need a fully detailed price.
This last one is somewhat understandable but it doesn’t make it any less silly, because this is how online shopping works. Shoppers compare prices before they decide which product to buy.
There have been a few times where I have requested an itemized quote via email only to be told: “I can’t send you that because you will just shop it around.” That is like a football team saying “We can’t do this kickoff because the other team is just going to catch the ball.” That’s part of the game!
I once got into a fairly intense conversation with the sales manager of a Kia dealer. He was saying that it wasn’t worth it for him to send me numbers, because I’ll see who is willing to beat it and there was a chance that he will lose the deal. I explained to him that was indeed my job, but any serious shopper would do the same. I also said that his store was the most convenient and that if he sent a competitive quote there was a pretty good chance that he would get the deal. I also said that if he didn’t give me numbers there would be a 100 percent chance he would lose the deal. He opted to let the other store get the business.
All of these tactics revolve around the same general theme. A good dealer will have no problem putting numbers down because they have nothing to hide, whereas your shadier stores usually know they are a bit slimy and therefore are at a disadvantage when they disclose their quotes. So if you get any of these excuses, don’t waste your time and just move on to another store.