The Insider's Guide to Car Buying ☰ 

Key Mailer Car Dealer Advertising Scam

How to recognize and avoid the key mailer car dealer scam |

Everything you ever wanted to know about the "Key Mailer Car Dealer Advertising Scam" but didn't know who to ask. This scam comes in many forms, it is also known as the "Car Dealership Direct Mail Scam."

The goal of the "Key Mailer Scam" is to get a high volume of potential car buyers to the dealership. Once at the dealership, it's the salespeople's job is to switch consumers from collecting their free prize to buying a new or used car.

Several people will come in to just check their key, see if their number matches, or collect their door prize.

Salespeople are highly trained on how to handle customers coming in from receiving a mailer and are preloaded with certain questions and statements in an attempt to help sell a car.

There are many other types of direct mail offers dealers send out to the local community. "Scratch Off" mailers and "Automatic Winners" are becoming very popular along with key mailers.

Their goal is all the same, get as many people to the dealership as possible and try to get them to buy a car before they educate themselves on how to do so.

What is a Key Mailer Program?

A car dealership will pay a third party to mail out a mass direct mail campaign promoting a "big sale" to the local public to drive traffic to the dealership.

These types of mailers may contain door prizes, credit cards, free gifts for taking a test drive, cash, gift cards, number matching games, and even car keys.

Car dealers spend thousands of dollars with a direct mail company to produce bright colorful mailers to blanket the local neighborhoods. Key mailers usually come to your residence looking like an official piece of mail, this is of course to get you to open it.

What Does a Key Mailer Look Like?

Here is an example of a very official looking key mailer envelope:

car dealership direct mail key mailer |

Some of these mailers will include a key, credit card, or some other item to create excitement. They may also have a five to ten digit code printed on the mail piece. If your number matches the number they have posted at the dealership you could win a major prize, normally a new car.

You could actually win a car if your number matches the number at the dealership, however your chances are about 1:120,000. If the car dealer that sent you the mailer only sent out 5,000 mailers in your local area, the winning number may not of even been mailed out.

By law it has to be mailed to someone but it may have been with another group in another area, or even another state. A dealer will always purchase insurance just in case someone does happen to bring in the winning number.

This kind of direct mail advertising is used to stimulate people who may have been thinking about buying a car but are just waiting for the right opportunity.

Some direct mail companies will tailor a key mailer to certain things that may have happened in the local area like a recent hail storm, model year close-outs, customer rebates or special finance programs.

Example of an actual key inside a car dealerships key mailer:

key mailer with key attached |

Always Read the Key Mailer's Disclaimer

The wording on key mailers is very suggestive. The asterisk after the above statement tells you to find the small print and read what it says. It's located on the bottom of the mailer above, below is what it says.

*Please see invitation for complete and official rules and regulations.

The disclaimer on this type of mailer is very large. If you see an offer on the mailer that looks interesting to you, look for a symbol beside the offer. Find the symbol located in the small print of the disclaimer, the details of the offer should follow the symbol.

Here is a picture of what one of these disclaimers look like from an actual key mailer:

car dealership key mailer disclaimer |

Other Offers You may Find on a Key Mailer

Car dealers can be very creative, you may find other offers inside your direct mail piece along with a key. There are many different items they may include, below are a few.

Other offers you might find included in a key mailer:

  • Your trade-in is more than it's worth, over-the-market trade incentives available for high demand vehicles.
  • 200 cars, trucks, vans, and SUV's available to the direct public - Every vehicle on the lot will be sold regardless of loss or profit.
  • Your trade is worth a minimum of $1,500 during this sale.
  • Saving up to 60% off M.S.R.P.
  • Every attendee receives a scratch off for a chance to win $25,000.
  • Test drive a car and we'll buy you dinner for two.
  • Due to the recent hail storm, (or other weather related event) our new cars are cheaper than ever.
  • Factory incentives and customer rebates are larger than they have been in 20 years.
  • You have definitely won one of these prizes, new car on showroom, 52" LCD TV, Apple iPad, T-Bone steak certificate, $5, etc.
  • $1 down and drive away in a new car.
  • Vehicle's being sold at unbelievable prices such as $299.00.
  • Additional coupons for $500-$2,500 off the price of a new or used car.

Here's an example of a free prize offer from a key mailer:

car dealership key mailer free prize |

Normally key mailers will have some type of door prize just for coming into the dealership. Many people come to the dealership just to check to see if their number matches and collect the door prize.

There is nothing wrong with going in to get your free prize but you should check to make sure there is no other stipulations before collecting your gift. Some mailers will write in the disclaimer to collect your prize you must register online, fill out a credit application, or test drive a car.

Car buying tip - Key mailers are used by car dealer's to get your excitement level up. This is not the way to buy a car. Do not fall for the hype, never buy a car on impulse.

How to Avoid the Key Mailer Scam

  • The best way to avoid this scam is to toss the mailer in the recycle bin when it arrives at your residence.
  • A dealer wants you to walk into a dealership unprepared and uneducated. This gives them the best chance of taking advantage of you.
  • If you want to buy a new car, make sure you do your research first. Competitive pricing always gets you the best deal. Read our section on how to get free no-obligation price quotes sent to your inbox by makingĀ car dealers compete online.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Read and understand the disclaimer and fine print on the mailer to understand what the mailer is actually offering you.
  • It is ok to go to the dealership and collect your free prize. Just be ready to be bombarded with salespeople trying to sell you a car. Whatever you do, don't buy one until you've done your homework on the entireĀ car buying process.

Familiarize yourself with more car dealer scams here.

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