Car Dealership Advertising Terms Explained

How to Decode Misleading Dealer Advertisements

Tricky car dealership advertising terms explained.

Car dealers are very talented in advertising prices and payments to the public. Each dealer is looking for the latest and most effective way to drive customers to their dealerships. Some of these car dealership advertising terms can be tricky and misleading if you don’t know how to decipher them.

Dealer advertising terms are some of the most complicated to decode and understand if you’re unfamiliar with them. You will likely always find some disclaimer (the fine print) in the advertisement, disclosing what every term stated in the ad means.

An Approved Application is Required

This dealer advertising term is usually found in a car dealer’s television or print advertisement in the small print. This allows a car dealer to run a very low price or payment and then add unique stipulations for a customer to take advantage of the offer.

When car dealers advertise a meager payment in their advertisements, they will have a payment printed in large boldface type with an asterisk or other symbol beside it:

Approved Application is Required Example

2018 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 located by the payment you’re interested in will have the specifics required by you to receive the offer advertised.

In this case, the dealer uses the approved application as the required advertising term. This term is used as a kind of catch-all. Your credit will have to be outstanding to participate in the advertised offer.

Asterisks or Symbols in Dealer Advertisements

When advertising low payments, prices, or even special finance programs, car dealers will add little symbols or an asterisk next to the offer.

When used in a car dealer’s ad, these little symbols have huge meanings.

A car dealer can hook you in by posting a significant, bold low payment, adding one of these tiny symbols after the offer, and ultimately justifying the price by taking advantage of you.

Asterisks or Symbols Dealer Advertising Example

2019 Nissan Sentra

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

‡, *, **, ***, ^, 1, 2, ††

If you notice an asterisk or symbol next to an offer, look for the small print on the advertisement. Once you find it, match up the character in the offer you’re interested in with the character 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, but I think you understand what I’m saying. Reading the small print before showing up at the dealership may save you from surprises. You would be amazed how many people see the low advertised payment and head straight for the dealership.

Car buying tip – Most car dealership advertising is clever. 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 websites. You can find the car you want to buy, research and compare it with others and even get free, no-obligation price quotes from local dealerships. Then have car dealers compete online to guarantee you pay the lowest price.

B.H.P.H. – Buy Here Pay Here

A car dealership that offers in-house financing to customers who cannot obtain a standard auto loan through a bank, credit union, or other third-party lenders.

Buy Here Pay Here is used in dealer’s advertisements to let people know they have a better chance of being approved at their location. B.H.P.H financing options typically 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. You may have to buy a car from one of these dealers if you have terrible credit. 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, ensure you’ve exhausted all of your alternatives to getting an auto loan. Several online lenders will provide finance programs with much lower interest rates and cash down requirements than Buy Here Pay Here dealerships.

Always try your best to obtain a low-interest car loan online, even if you have bad credit, before contacting a dealership of this kind.

Certain Restrictions Apply

Advertising term in a car dealer’s ad is typically found in the small print to allow them to run a meager price, payment, or special offer in the main body of their advertisement.

An excellent example of the certain restrictions that 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 Dealer Ad Example

2019 Honda Civic 256/mo*
Free Tires For Life!**

Keep an eye out for any asterisks at the end of the “Free Tires For Life,” this should tell you to find the small print 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 upfront.

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

You must be careful with this kind of disclaimer because it’s legal for a dealership to add specific restrictions 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 in the dealer’s advertisement.

D.A.O. – Dealer Added Options

D.A.O is an abbreviation for the car dealer slang for “dealer added options.” This term is used in car dealers’ advertisements to add costs 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 competitor.

The dealer hopes you will focus on the low cost and head to the dealership to buy the car.

See the example below:

Dealer Added Options or D.A.O. Advertising Example

2012 Toyota Camry
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 character and read the offer’s details.

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 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 under true dealer 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 can be removed from a vehicle if you don’t want them, but it is up to the dealer to decide to remove them.

Spoilers or sunroofs are dealer-added options that cannot be removed without damaging the vehicle. However, all dealer-added option prices are negotiable.

Limited Time Offer

A term used in a car dealer’s ad creates urgency by making the customer believe the offer will not be available for long.

The limited-time offer term is generally 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 powerful by getting people to act 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 see after it is a limited-time offer. When a dealer puts this statement on the ad, he can end the offer anytime he chooses, even if he decides to terminate it right before you buy a car.

Picture 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.

Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle Example

Jeep dealer advertising example

$250/mo* 2019 Jeep Cherokee**
**Pictures May Not Reflect Actual Vehicle

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

The term pictures may not reflect the 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 may find it in the small print disclaimer at the bottom of the ad.

See Dealer for Details

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 particular program or offer without having to 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 lets 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 are giving away free oil changes for life when you purchase a car. The see dealer for details term will enable them not to tell you the hoops you have to jump through so you don’t disqualify yourself in the future from the program.

Select Vehicles Only

This advertising term is mainly used when advertising significant rebates, discounts, or low payments on vehicles and directing you to only a select few or a specific 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 an LCD TV, Apple iPad, or another 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 car they offer pertains to.

Car buying tip – All car dealers buy their cars from the manufacturer for the same cost. Before visiting a car dealership, check online to see if the vehicle you want to buy has any customer rebates or factory incentives available. Learn how to calculate a fair profit new car offer to present to a car dealership.

Silent Sale Advertising Term

A term car salesman uses to describe the event of a sale where the dealer runs a special sale while the dealership is 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 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 dealing with any car salesman.

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

Corvette sticker price
The Silent Sale tag on the same Corvette:

Silent sale dealership advertising price

$7,540.00 off M.S.R.P. isn’t a bad little discount on 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 considerable discount if you lease the car or only finance it for a concise term such as 36 months?

A silent sale works: you go to the lot while the dealer is closed, find a car, like a price, and take the tag home with you. The next day you call the dealer and set an appointment to 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 a 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, M.S.R.P, and the sales price. You can take pictures with your phone if you don’t have a pen and paper.

Instead of calling the dealer immediately the next day, take your information and calculate the dealer’s new car cost on the vehicle you want to buy. Determine a fair profit new car offer, and then check what other dealers in your area are selling the same car by using free, no-obligation new car price quote services.

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

Vehicle for Illustration Purposes Only

This car dealer advertising term is similar to “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.

Vehicle For Illustration Purposes Only Example

Chevy Camaro advertisement example

299/mo* 2018 Chevy Camaro**
**Vehicle for Illustration Use Only

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 an image available of the exact vehicle they want to advertise, they may insert a stock photo of the same kind of car or as close to the same car as possible.

With Approved Credit – W.A.C.

One of the most common advertising terms used in a car dealer’s advertisements using the term W.A.C. car dealers can advertise a meager payment by disclaiming the amount is only available to people with excellent or perfect credit.

The term With Approved Credit can be used in radio, T.V., and print advertising. You will typically find it in the ad’s small print or disclaimer section. 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

2019 Toyota Corolla

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

When it Comes to Tricky Dealer Advertisements

When reading a dealer’s ad, the best technique is to slow down and read the complete advertisement and any fine print on the front or back of the ad.

About the author
Carlton Wolf is the author and founder of Auto Cheat Sheet.My name is Carlton Wolf, and I’ve been in the car business since 1994, both retail and wholesale. I created the Auto Cheat Sheet to better educate buyers about the deceptive sales practices used by many dealerships throughout the country. Please understand that not all car dealers are dishonest. However, you never know who you’ll be dealing with, though. I’m willing to share my knowledge and experience with anyone who listens. Keep in mind that I’m a car guy, not a writer.