ATLANTA — Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases most of us will make. The process can be confusing and downright intimidating.
Channel 2 consumer adviser Clark Howard said the reality is we are seeing an increase in the number of cars being sold, which is a good thing for the economy.
But it can be a bad thing for your wallet if you don’t pay attention to the fine print.
Interest rates, payments, test drives, warranties, and credit checks. When you are in the market for a new car, the pitfalls are hard to avoid.
In fact, car buyer complaints are one of the most common on Clark Howard’s Consumer Action Center tip line.
“One of the biggest calls we do get is cars,” said Lori Silverman, who runs the Consumer Action Center.
Charles Winans was one of those callers. His wife bought her very first brand-new vehicle, a Hyundai Santa Fe, last year from Stone Mountain Toyota.
“She was having a good time there, and they evidently were fostering a lot of that and all the way to the end where they got her to sign at the bottom of that sales agreement,” Winans said.
The window sticker touted a $1,495 protection package add-on, including a $500 deductible reimbursement if an accident occurred in the first year -- which it did.
“When we tried to approach the dealership about the insurance deductible, they said that we didn’t qualify for that,” Winans said.
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When Winans took a closer look at the contract his wife signed, he noticed an extra $2,000 tacked onto the sales agreement above the window sticker price.
“I guess it could have been a seven and she might have noticed that. She was more interested in the add-ons,” Winans said.
After Channel 2 Action News reached out to the dealership, they called the Winans and told them they would reimburse the $500.
“The protections that exist are to make sure that there is transparency and pricing, and to make sure that dealers don’t take advantage of consumers,” Federal Trade Commissioner attorney Edward Smith said.
Smith said the proposed Combating Auto Retails Scams rule, or CARS, aims to strengthen those protections for consumers like the Winans.
“What this rule does is it protects consumers from bait and switch tactics, and it protects consumers against hidden junk fees,” Smith said.
The FTC estimates the CARS rule will save consumers $3.4 billion each year.
The rule is facing legal challenges from the auto industry but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
One: get financing before you ever set foot in a dealership.
Two: if you are buying a used vehicle, take it to a mechanic and have it looked over before you buy.
Three: take someone with you to the dealership. Make sure you understand what you are signing.
Finally—don’t feel pressure to buy.
“If somebody is pressuring you to buy something, take a pause and you can walk away. Trust me, it will be there when you come back,” Silverman said.
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