Christie's Car Keys


Ever heard a car ad that offers to sell you a new car for "50% off"? Or how about payments of $99 a month? Sound too good to be true?

Well this is no different than any other instance where you might ask that question. The short answer is "yes". It is unfortunate that some dealers will use these tactics in their advertising to entice customers onto the lot. The automotive industry is competitive and forces dealers to try to find a way to gain an advantage. However, this does not excuse bad ethics. And it is important that consumers understand ads with over the top offers like these.

Let's start with the first case, buying a new car for 50% off. A dealer who uses this CAN do it, at least in a sense. But what you will discover once you get there is that they are actually proposing a one-pay lease. Just like any lease, you are not purchasing the car. And not only that, you will be expected to pay one total lease payment up front that is approximately 50% of the retail price of the car, instead of monthly payments throughout the term of the lease. At the end of the lease term (24, 36 or 39 months are most common) you have the same options as with any lease, purchase the car at residual value or return it. Obviously this is a misleading offer since most people do not expect or want to pay 50% of the cost of a new vehicle up front.

So what about payments of $99 a month? Well there is a bit of sleight of hand behind this one too. It can be done, but there's a catch. In one case, the dealer might require you to make a large down payment in order to qualify for the $99 payment for the balance of the loan. This is not attractive for most people since the out of pocket amount is going to be much too high. But without a large down payment, $99 per month would not cover the full amount of most loans. And that's where the other possibility comes in - you start out making low payments for a specified period of time, but the payment could change after 3 or 6 months or the balance is tacked on and due at the end of the loan. After all, it's got to be paid sometime!

You might wonder how dealers get away with these ads when there is a truth in advertising law in NC. Well...that law can be hard to enforce but also, in these cases, they are not outright lying. They CAN do what they say, it's just that the way it's done is probably not going to be desirable to the consumer.

So as always, if something sounds too good to be true it probably is. Use common sense and buy from a dealership you can trust and you won't be taken in by gimmicks like these.

Christie Walin is Director of Marketing for Modern Automotive. You can reach her with questions or comments at