Here’s One Way Used Car Dealers Make Their Prices Seem Better Than They Really Are

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Illustration for article titled Here's One Way Used Car Dealers Make Their Prices Seem Better Than They Really Are

Photo: Getty (Getty Images)

As you already know this is an incredibly difficult market in which to buy a new or used car. The dealers know they are in a seller’s market and many of them plan on taking full advantage of that. Some stores are even misrepresenting cars to make their price seem better than it actually is.

I’ve covered some of the tricks that used car dealers will pull including “gaming” the pricing system, but a trend that is popping up more frequently is when a dealer will list a car that is supposed to have certain options at a specific price point, only for that car to be not as advertised.

Recently I was shopping for a used GTI and my client wanted the “fully loaded” Autobahn trim. We came across what looked to be a relatively competitive listing. It was a 2020 with around 6,000 miles and an advertised price of about $31,000. Considering that a brand new GTI Autobahn DSG has an MSRP close to $39,000 this car seemed like a value.

That was until I saw the pictures. The ad clearly states that they are selling an “Autobahn” trim GTI. However, the cloth front seats are a giveaway that this is not a fully loaded model but rather a base S model car.

Illustration for article titled Here's One Way Used Car Dealers Make Their Prices Seem Better Than They Really Are

Screenshot: YoungerToyota.com

I ran the VIN through a website called WithClutch, which can sometimes show the actual window sticker for certain models. It’s a great resource, but can be hit or miss. Sure enough, it shows that the used car advertised as an “Autobahn” is indeed an S car with an MSRP of $30,884. So this dealer is charging about $100 more than the MSRP for a car that is a year old with over 6,000 miles on the clock.

Illustration for article titled Here's One Way Used Car Dealers Make Their Prices Seem Better Than They Really Are

Screenshot: WithClutch.com

Now it is certainly possible that this dealer believed that they had an “Autobahn” car and priced it accordingly. Perhaps because they are a Toyota store the staff isn’t as familiar with the trim level differences within the GTI lineup, but the key clue here is that the leather seats are missing. However, it just goes to illustrate that whether the dealer is mistaken or actively misrepresenting a car, buyers need to pay attention to the details so they don’t end up overpaying or buying a car with must-have features that are missing.

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