NBC 5 Responds

Does a Dealership Have to Stick to Its Advertised Online Price?

NBCUniversal, Inc.

A North Texas car buyer reached out to the NBC 5 Responds team after she said a salesperson at a dealership told her the price of a car would be thousands more than advertised online.

Read on to learn more about dealership advertising rules and what consumers should know before going on a test drive.

“I finally found one I liked”

After a family member totaled Roxanne Thomas' car, she spent two weeks searching for her next vehicle.

“A lot of dealerships are short on cars and I finally found one I liked,” said Thomas.

It was a 2022 Hyundai Tucson advertised for $32,875 on a car search website. Thomas said she contacted the dealership which confirmed the car was available. The same day, she drove from Cleburne to Arlington for a test drive.

“I'm driving it and that's when he told me, ‘Oh, it's $5,000 over the sticker price,’” Thomas told NBC 5 Responds.

Which would also be $5,000 over the price Thomas saw online for the vehicle she was test driving.

“I said, why? He said because there's a shortage on vehicles right now and it's market demand,” Thomas said.

Thomas said she left the dealership without the car.

Dealership advertising rules

“The price you're using to draw the consumer in is the one you need to stick with,” explained Corrie Thompson, enforcement division director for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles – which licenses car dealers.

Thompson points to Texas DMV rule 215-250 on dealer price advertising, savings claims and discounts.

“When a dealer features an advertised sales price of a new or used motor vehicle in the state, they have to be willing to sell that motor vehicle for that featured price to any retail buyer,” explained Thompson.

The advertised price may exclude certain fees like tax, title and license – which can be factored in later.

It’s important to note there is no rule about honoring the sticker price, but Thompson said the licensed dealer must honor the advertised price on any medium: the dealership website, a third-party site, even social media.

If a dealer only has one vehicle at a certain price, the dealer must include a stock number or a VIN in the ad - explained Thompson.

Dealership: we stand by online pricing

NBC 5 Responds contacted Vandergriff Hyundai in Arlington about Thomas’ experience.

A managing partner told us, by phone, Vandergriff Hyundai stands by its online pricing and if anyone gave Thomas a different price, they would have been outside the company’s policy.

He said if the salesperson mentioned another price, it could have referenced dealer extras.

He said he also reached out to Thomas after hearing her complaint and offered to work with her.

Thomas told NBC 5 Responds she and the salesperson didn’t discuss dealer extras. She said she ended up going someplace else and is happy with the vehicle she bought.

“The price is what they had online, it had all the amenities I wanted and I was out the door in an hour,” said Thomas.

What can consumers do?

The Federal Trade Commission offers this advice for car buyers.

Before you drive in for a test drive, ask the dealership to send you the “out-the-door” price in writing for the car you’re interested in.

Do that even if you’re offering a trade-in. This way, you’re only taking your trade-in to dealerships with offers you’ve confirmed.

If you believe a dealership isn’t following the advertising rule, consumers can file a complaint with the Texas DMV.

The agency has an investigator dedicated to dealership advertising complaints.

If the investigator finds a violation, it is forwarded to a staff attorney in the enforcement division. The action could range from a letter asking the dealership to fix the problem to mandating training.

Thompson said the DMV asks consumers to provide as much information as possible about the advertisement: a URL for the specific ad or a screengrab as well as the dealership’s information. The DMV said the consumer can upload written communication with the dealership along with notes about verbal communication.

Here’s a link to the TX DMV’s online dealer license database.

NBC 5 Responds is committed to researching your concerns and recovering your money. Our goal is to get you answers and, if possible, solutions and a resolution. Call us at 844-5RESPND (844-573-7763) or fill out our customer complaint form.

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