Photo: AP

Some dealers don’t like to play ball with this whole internet shopping thing. Even so, most know that if they refuse online price quotes they will lose sales, but some will send you numbers only to try to pull some tricks later—like altering the price due to your credit score.

I was shopping for a client in Florida who was looking for a new or used Ford Mustang. Her credit score wasn’t in the best shape but she was after a new set of wheels. She was able to get pre-approved for financing and was even willing to use a down payment that was about half of the purchase price to ensure she wasn’t underwater on her loan.

I got a quote from a local Ford dealer on a 2018 Mustang that I thought was legit. I relayed the quote to the client and instructed them to reach out to the dealership. The customer called me and said the dealer told her she “Would have to discuss pricing with the manager.”

I found this pretty odd. Why send a quote only to tell the customer she would have to discuss pricing once she arrives? I reached back out to the salesperson and he said, “Oh that out the door number is just an estimate, it might change depending on credit.”

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That is when I attempted to clarify. Were we talking about the interest rate, or the price of the car itself?

“Do you mean the APR and the total loan cost may depend on credit, or the total cost of the car itself plus tax and fees?”

“Well, I’m not a finance manager, so I don’t know how to answer that,” he replied.

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So I tried a different approach, “Your agreed-upon sale price of this Mustang has nothing to do with the customer’s credit. The tax and fees are what they are, so the established cost of the car is independent of the financing.”

He sounded confused and says “I’ll have a manager call you.”

About 10 minutes later I got a call from the sales manager and the same infuriating conversation repeated again.

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“Perhaps we are talking about two different concepts,” I attempted to explain. “There is total loan cost with the whatever APR the customer qualifies for, and the principal balance of the loan, which is the out the door price,” I said to the sales manager. “The OTD should not change. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Apparently, that was way too many math concepts for a person that sells cars for a living.

“Uh, I’m not a finance manager…” he started to say, so I interrupted him.

“Sir, you are the sales manager of your dealership. Are you telling me that you can’t commit to a simple sale price in writing?” I asked. “What if the customer paid cash or got financing elsewhere and just came in with a check, what would the price be?”

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He came back with “Well, I guess she would have to discuss that once she gets here. If you prefer I can have the financing manager call you.” I told him that I would prefer to send my client elsewhere.

I’ve brokered thousands of car deals and the vast majority of dealers will send a price, and that is the price. They will indicate changes in rebates if, say, a customer chooses a zero percent financing option over a cash back program, but all of that is clear and easy to follow. I have never had a store refuse to commit to a price if the customer was paying cash. This dealer was either too dumb to understand math, or was setting itself up for some shady business once the customer arrives.

While an emailed quote is not a contract, any legit dealer is going to stand by that written price. Having that loan pre-approval, especially if you don’t have great credit, is a line of defense against a dealer who wants to change the deal on you after you submit your application.