Misleading Car Dealer Advertising Terms

Car dealers are very talented in how they advertise price and payments of their vehicles. Each dealer is looking for the latest and greatest way to drive customers to their dealerships. Some of these advertising terms can be tricky and very misleading if you don't know how to decipher them.

car dealership car sales advertisement example | AutoCheatSheet.com

Dealer advertising terms are some of the most complicated to decode and understand if you're not familiar with them. You will most likely always find some kind of disclaimer (fine print) located on the advertisement, disclosing what every term means.

Whenever you see a price or payment advertised within an ad. By law the dealer must disclose all of the requirements to the particular offer. This is normally done by using a symbol or code next to the offer and the terms and conditions are then written in very small print in a disclaimer located somewhere else on the dealer's advertisement.

Inside this section I explain the terminology dealers use in the ads and give you the definitions of the most common car sales advertising terms and definitions so you can decipher what a dealer is really telling you in their advertisement.

Advertising Terms and Definitions:
- Approved Application is Required - Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle
- Asterisks or Symbol - See Dealer For Details
- B.H.P.H. Buy Here Pay Here - Select Vehicles Only
- Certain Restrictions Apply - Silent Sale Advertising Event
- D.A.O. or Dealer Added Options - Vehicle For Illustration Use Only
- Limited Time Offer - W.A.C. or With Approved Credit

Approved Application is Required - This advertising term is usually found in the small print in a car dealer's television or print advertisement. This allows a car dealer to run a very low price or payment and then add special stipulations for a customer to actually take advantage of the offer.

When car dealer's advertise a very low payment in their advertisements they will have a payment printed in large bold face type with an asterisk or other symbol beside it:

Approved Application is Required Example
$225/mo*
2003 Ford Ranger

Whenever you see a symbol beside a payment or a price in a car dealer's ad you should automatically look for the small print located somewhere else on the ad. Inside the small print the same symbol that's located by the payment your interested in will have the specifics required by you to receive the offer advertised.

In this case the dealer is using the Approved Application is Required advertising term. This term is used as a kind of catch all. Your credit will have to be outstanding in order to take part in the advertised offer.

Car buying tip - You should never allow someone you're applying for a car loan with know more about your credit history than you do, this will put you at a serious disadvantage and may cost you thousands of dollars in unnecessary interest charges. View our section on how to get your credit reports & scores online

Asterisks or Symbols in Print Advertising - When advertising really low payments, prices or even special finance programs, car dealers will add little symbols or an asterisk next to the offer.

These little symbols have very big meanings when they're used in a car dealer's ad. A car dealer can hook you in by posting a big bold type low payment and add one these tiny symbols after the offer and completely justify the payment by taking advantage of you.

Asterisks or Symbols Dealer Advertising Example
$295/mo†
2010 Nissan Sentra

Some of the tiny symbols you may see following an price, payment or offer in a car dealer's advertisement:

‡, *, **, ***, ^, 1, 2, ††

If you do notice an asterisk or symbol next to an offer, look for the small print somewhere located on the advertisement. Once you find it, match up the symbol in the offer your interested in with the symbol in the small print. The requirements to get the offer will be after the symbol like this:

† Payment requires A+++ credit and a $4,500.00 down payment.

I'm exaggerating a bit but I think you get what I'm saying. Reading the small print before showing up at the dealership may save you from any surprises. You would be amazed how many people see just the low advertised payment and head straight for the dealership.

Car buying tip - Most car dealership advertising is cleverly put together. You can save yourself a lot of time and aggravation by finding and reading the fine print in their ads before driving to the dealership.

Do your shopping online through automotive research and review web sites. You can find the car you're wanting to buy, research and compare it with others and even get free, no-obligation price quotes from local dealerships. Learn how to get car dealers to compete in an online bidding war to get you the lowest new car price.

B.H.P.H. or Buy Here Pay Here - Term used to describe a car dealership that has its own in-house financing options for car buyers who cannot qualify for a conventional auto loan through a bank, credit union or outside lender.

Buy Here Pay Here is used in dealer's advertisements to let people know they have a better chance to be approved at their location. B.H.P.H financing options normally come with very high interest rates and weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payments.

B.H.P.H dealerships understand that you must have a car to get around in the modern world. If you have very bad credit you may have to buy a car from one of these types of dealer's. You will be expected to pay very high interest rates and possibly put a large amount of money down to be approved for a car loan even with a B.H.P.H dealership.

Car buying tip - Before buying a car at a Buy Here Pay Here, make sure you've exhausted all of your alternatives when it comes to getting an auto loan. Several online lenders will provide finance programs that have much lower interest rates and cash down requirements than Buy Here Pay Here dealerships.

Visit our section on how to obtain low interest car loans online even if you have bad credit before contacting a dealership of this kind.

Certain Restrictions Apply - Advertising term found in a car dealer's ad, normally found in the small print to allow them to run a really low price, payment or special offer in the main body of their advertisement.

A good example of the certain restrictions apply term would be seeing an ad in the newspaper offering something special with the purchase of a vehicle as seen below:

Certain Restrictions Apply Car Dealer Advertising Example
2006 Honda Civic 256/mo*
Free Tires For Life!**

If you notice there are two asterisks at the end of the "Free Tires For Life," this should tell you to find the small print located somewhere on the dealer's ad. Once you find the small print find the ** and it will say "Certain Restrictions Apply."

The restriction is you can't have the "free tires for life" because you didn't pay enough for the car. It may not be to that extreme but you may want to get the details up front.

You must be careful with this kind of disclaimer, because it's legal for a dealership to just add certain restrictions apply to cover any deceptive advertising practices you may bring up. If you're interested in one of these offers you better ask about the requirements for the offer that's in the dealer's advertisement.

Car buying tip - The key to getting the lowest price on a new car is personally figuring the dealer's true new car cost and compare it with free no obligation new car price quotes from online automotive research and review companies.

Visit our section on how to get car dealers to compete in an online bidding war to give you the lowest new car price.

D.A.O. Dealer Added Options - D.A.0 is an abbreviation for the car dealer slang for "dealer added options." This term is used in car dealer's advertisements to add cost back to a low advertised payment or price.

How the Dealer Added Options term works is a dealer can run a payment or price in his advertisement that is well under his cost on a new car. When you see the offer, you notice he is about a thousand dollars cheaper than his competitors prices. The dealer is hoping you will focus on the low price and head to the dealership to buy the car. See example below:

Dealer Added Options or D.A.O. Advertising Example
2012 Toyota Camry
$19,996*
Sale this Weekend Only

Take notice there is an asterisk beside the price in this ad. When you see an asterisk or any other kind of symbol, you should always find the small print, match up the symbol and read the details of the offer.

Once you find the asterisk in the small print you see the initials + D.A.O or + Dealer Added Options after it. This allows the dealer to advertise a price or payment under his true new car cost and then add inflated high profit options to the vehicle to make up the price difference.

How Dealer Advertising Options Really Works
$19,996.00
=
Advertised Sales Price ($1,000.00 under true cost)
$1,675.00
+
Dealer Added Option (Sunroof full retail price)
$698.00
+
Dealer Added Option (Spoiler full retail price)
$22,369.00
=
What you can really buy the advertised vehicle for.

As you can see the low priced vehicle in the advertisement ends up costing you $2,373.00 more than advertised. Always inquire about dealer added options when looking at a new car. Most dealer added options may be removed from a vehicle if you don't want them.

Dealer added options such as spoilers or sunroofs cannot be removed without damaging the vehicle, however all dealer added option prices are negotiable.

Car buying tip - Be careful when reading car dealer advertisements, don't just focus on the low payments or prices, always read the small print. The key to getting the lowest price on a new car is personally figuring the dealer's true new car cost and compare it with free no obligation new car price quotes from online automotive research and review companies.

Visit our section on how to get car dealers to compete in an online bidding war to give you the lowest new car price.

Limited Time Offer - This advertising term is used in a car dealer's ad to create urgency by making the customer believe the offer will not be available for long.

The limited time offer term is normally used with another statement to get readers of the ad to act as quickly as possible to take advantage of the offer.

Limited Time Offer Advertising Example
$3,000 Cash Back on all Dodge Trucks*
*Limited Time Offer

This very generic statement is very powerful by getting people to act quickly if they're sitting on the fence about buying a new vehicle. Some dealers are smart and know you will see the asterisk and look in the small print. When you find the asterisk in the small print all you find after it is limited time offer. When a dealer puts this statement on the ad, he can end the offer anytime he chooses. Even if he chooses to end it right before you buy a car.

Car buying tip - Be careful reading a car dealer's advertisement, learn how to figure a car dealers true new car cost and how to get free new car price quotes online to make sure you pay the lowest new car price.

Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle - This car dealer advertising term allows dealers to show a picture of a more fully equipped vehicle and then advertise the price of a cheaper model vehicle of the same type.

Car dealers will advertise the price or payment of the most stripped down model of vehicle they can find and use the picture of the best looking, highest trim level model next to the offer. This is a common trick used by car dealerships in their television and print advertising.

The term pictures may not reflect actual vehicle is a very effective trick to get readers of a car dealer's ad to assume they can get a more equipped vehicle for the price or payment advertised. This advertising term may be located anywhere on the dealer's ad or it may be found in the small print disclaimer at the bottom of the ad.

Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle Example
pictures may not reflect actual vehicle jeep stock photo | AutoCheatSheet.com
$250/mo* 2011 Jeep Cherokee**
**Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle

Car buying tip - Be careful reading a car dealer's advertisement, research vehicles online to educate yourself about different trim levels and prices of the vehicle you're looking at. Learn how to figure a car dealers true new car cost and how to get free new car price quotes online to make sure you pay the lowest new car price.

See Dealer for Details - This advertising term is used to tell the reader of the advertisement there may be special requirements or stipulations to take advantage of the offer.

The term see dealer for details will allow a dealer to advertise a special program or offer and not have to put in print any additional stipulations or requirements.

See Dealer for Details Advertising Example
Free Oil Changes For Life*
*See dealer for details

In the above offer the car dealer is promoting "Free Oil Changes for Life." Having a symbol at the end of the statement let's you know there is additional information located elsewhere on the ad, most likely in the small print disclaimer. After finding the symbol it says * see dealer for details.

This statement allows the dealer to promote they're giving away free oil changes for life when you purchase a car. The see dealer for details allows them to not tell you the hoops you have to jump through so you don't disqualify yourself in the future from the program.

Car buying tip - Learn how to get car dealers to compete in an online bidding war to get you the lowest new car price.

Select Vehicles Only - This advertising term is mostly used when advertising large rebates, discounts or low payments on vehicles and then directing you to only a select few or a certain type of vehicle.

Car dealers will advertise "$5,000 Off M.S.R.P."* right in the middle of their advertisement and then do prices or payments in other sections of the ad. This gives the reader the perception the dealer is taking $5,000 off every vehicle on the lot.

The offer doesn't have to be a discount off M.S.R.P. It could be a free giveaway such as a LCD TV, Apple iPad or some other type of reward for buying a new car.

By using the term select vehicles only a dealer does not have to honor the offer in the advertisement unless you purchase the vehicle the offer actually pertains too.

Car buying tip - All car dealers buy their cars from the manufacturer for the same costs. Before visiting a car dealership check online to see if the vehicle you're wanting to buy has any customer rebates or factory incentives available and learn how to calculate a fair profit new car offer to present to a car dealership.

Silent Sale - Is a term car salesman use to describe a sales event where the dealer runs a special sale while they are closed.

Most Silent Sales will happen on a Sunday or over a holiday the dealer is closed. A dealer will place tags on all the vehicles on the lot with special discounted pricing the night before the day they are closed.

Dealer will run radio, TV and print advertising leading up to the day of the sale, telling prospective car buyers that all their vehicles are specially marked with huge discounts. They can come out, shop and get the lowest price without the hassle of dealing with any car salesman.

M.S.R.P. of a brand new 2011 Chevrolet Corvette:

2011 corvette M.S.R.P. | AutoCheatSheet.com

The Silent Sale tag on the same Corvette:

Official silent sale car dealership advertising tag advertising | AutoCheatSheet.com

$7,540.00 off of M.S.R.P. isn't a bad little discount off a brand new 2011 Corvette. Notice the A/R after the $62,995 on the tag, it stands for "Approval Required". Who's approval? Do you only get that huge discount if you lease the car or only finance for a very short term such as 36 months?

The way a silent sale works is, you go to the lot while the dealer is closed, find a car, like the price and take the tag home with you. The next day you call the dealer and set an appointment to go test drive the vehicle and make a deal.

Car buying tip - A Silent Sale is a safe way to go to a car lot and not be hassled by car salesman, you can get discounted prices and look at the different makes and models.

If you find one you like, write down the information from the vehicle including the vehicle identification number and M.S.R.P, write down the sales price also. You can take pictures with your phone if you don't have a pen and paper.

Instead of calling the dealer right away the next day, take your information and calculate the dealer's true new car cost on the vehicle your wanting to buy. Determine what a fair profit new car offer would be and then check what other dealers in your area are selling the same car for by using free, no-obligation new car price quote services.

When car dealer's discount their vehicles to rock bottom prices, they will attempt to make up loss profit during the finance process of the car deal. Learn how to obtain low interest car loans online. Having a pre-approved car loan in place will give you the upper hand when negotiating finance options with a car dealership.

Vehicle for Illustration Use Only - This car dealer advertising term is similar to the term "Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle" and allows dealers to show a stock picture or a picture of a more fully equipped vehicle. They will then advertise the price of a cheaper model vehicle of the same type.

Be careful when looking at pictures posted in a car dealer's advertisement. They may not be the actual picture of the vehicle the dealer has for sale. This happens more often with pictures of used cars in an ad. If a dealer does not have a picture available of the exact vehicle they're wanting to advertise, they may insert a stock photo of the same kind of car or as close to the same car as possible.

Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle Example
vehicle for illustration use only chevy camaro stock photo | AutoCheatSheet.com
299/mo* 2012 Chevy Camaro**
**Vehicle for Illustration Use Only

Car buying tip - Do not rely on car dealer advertisements, they are skillfully put together to get prospective car buyers to come to the car dealership unprepared. Always research vehicles online to educate yourself about the different makes and models that may fit your driving needs.

Follow our used car buyer's guide for a step-by-step walk-through on how to estimate a dealer's cost, obtain low interest auto loans and purchase warranties up to 60% off what a dealer charges.

W.A.C. or With Approved Credit - One of the most common advertising terms used in a car dealer's advertisements, using the term W.A.C. car dealers are able to advertise a very low payment by disclaiming the payment is only available to people that have excellent or very good credit.

The term With Approved Credit can be used in radio, TV and print advertising. You will normally find it in the small print or disclaimer section of the ad. An example would be a low payment posted in bold and a tiny asterisk or other symbol printed next to it, below is an example:

W.A.C. or With Approved Credit Advertising Example
$299/mo*
2010 Toyota Corolla

When you see the symbol after the payment you should next look for the disclaimer and match up the symbol that is beside the payment. In this case you would see *With Approved Credit.

Car buying tip - Get your credit history and scores before applying for a auto finance loan, this will keep you from becoming a victim of any car dealer scams. View our section on how to get your credit reports & scores online.

Once you have reviewed your credit history, get your auto financing in place before visiting a car dealership. This will give you the upper hand when negotiating finance options with a dealer. Read more on how to obtain low interest car loans online in our automotive finance and car loan tips section.

Continue to familiarize yourself with more dealership car buying tricks and costly deceptions commonly found in todays modern car dealerships.

When it comes to reading a dealer's ad, the best technique is to slow down and read the entire advertisement and any fine print that may be on the front or back of the ad.

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Recommended Sites for Online Car Shopping

TrueCar, CarClearanceDeals and CarsDirect are the quickest way to compare new car prices in your local area. These online sites will provide you with free, no-obligation price quotes and the discounts you receive will give you confidence on your next new car purchase. Walk away from the dealership knowing you received a good deal, not hoping you did.

Share Your Tips - Have you been deceived by a car dealership's deceptive advertising? Please tell us about it in the comments below, so we can share it with everyone.

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Did You Know?


Some car dealers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on print and media advertising.

More car dealers are getting away from traditional advertising mediums and starting to spend more of their advertising dollars on the internet.

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