Reminder: Dealers Don't Actually Give You 'Free' Gifts With Your Car Purchase

Illustration for article titled Reminder: Dealers Don't Actually Give You 'Free' Gifts With Your Car Purchase

For those of you out car shopping this holiday season, you will likely see some dealers advertising some “free” giveaways with your car purchase. These things could include a TV, some oil changes, or even a free vacation. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but none of this stuff is actually “free.”


Recently, a friend told me he tried to lease a car. When he looked at the contract there was a strange line item that said “free 50-inch TV.” This was not discussed nor disclosed to him before the contract was being written up.

The price on the vehicle also seemed higher than he expected. That is when this savvy car buyer asked the salesperson “So what’s the lease price without the TV?” He said the sales guy’s reaction was something along the lines of “Oh shit, this guy knows what’s up.” He didn’t close a deal with that store.

This time of year, some dealers who are going for that last minute push to hit their sales targets will try just about anything to get people into the showroom. This may include advertising free gifts with the purchase or lease of a new car. Just as the weak-minded are susceptible to the Force, folks that aren’t too sharp about how car shopping works can often be convinced that they are actually getting a “deal” by bringing home some kind of freebie in their car. Plus, these gifts can be underhanded—not advertised or even mentioned until they get rolled into the purchase price.

Of course, it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that the customer is still paying for this so-called gift. They are just doing so indirectly. In almost every instance these “gifts” are being added in with the overall price of the deal. Often these deals have some caveats in the fine print that once you run the math, the deal isn’t nearly as good as you thought.

Let’s take this Mitsubishi ad that offers a free TV with every 2017 Outlander.

Illustration for article titled Reminder: Dealers Don't Actually Give You 'Free' Gifts With Your Car Purchase

Wow, save $4,000 on a leftover 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander! Did you know that people still buy Mitsubishis? If that came as a surprise, then you are also probably aware that $4,000 off a leftover model that struggles to sell isn’t that great a discount. It wouldn’t take much work to get a better price by a significant margin, as there are plenty of advertised Outlanders for with over $6,000 in discounts.

Now the fine print is where things really get interesting “Buy with 4.5 percent APR for 336/mo, 84-month term, includes all tax and fees.”


It’s sad to say this, but probably only the desperate or unwise will finance a Mitsubishi for seven years. And even if someone were to do so, the principal balance of that loan is $24,172 that is inclusive of the local sales tax and DMV fees. However, at the end of the loan, you would have paid a total of $28,224 or an additional $2,289 over the sticker price of that car.

This doesn’t even account for the fact that buying a new Mitsubishi with zero down at 4.5 percent APR and financing it for 84 months is an incredibly dangerous way to find yourself in an underwater loan situation. You got a TV with that deal, sure. But was it truly worth the extra car costs? Of course not.


It really comes down to the fact that most dealers who use this technique of giving away free stuff to sell cars are looking for a specific type of customer. Someone who is uninformed and an easy target to get ripped off.

If you happen to be in the market for a new car this winter and see these kinds of ads, you may be better off contacting one of their competitors and as always, get your quotes in writing ahead of time so you can catch any tricks before you arrive. And carefully analyze what it is you’ll be signing up for.

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (



if the ‘gift’ comes with a reminder that it’s free, it’s neither free nor a gift