Times of crisis tend to bring out the best in some people — and the worst in others. At the same time the nation is cheering on the courageous doctors, nurses, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, delivery workers, grocery store workers, and others toiling on the front lines to save lives, unscrupulous auto dealers continue to scam car buyers who fall into their clutches.
Auto sales have plummeted drastically. Some states have ordered auto dealerships to close their doors. But others are allowing them to remain open, deeming them to be an “essential” service, particularly for performing safety recall repairs.
Consumers are wise to be wary about making a major purchase when they are being laid off in record numbers, or their jobs are uncertain, at best. Plus no one knows for sure how long it will take for the economy to recover.
Auto manufacturers and dealers are responding to consumers’ anxiety and the downturn in car sales by advertising 0% financing and delayed payments, in an attempt to lure car buyers. But beware: many car buyers may not quality for those special rates, and after the “payment holiday” is over, you may be hit with hefty fees or other extra charges hidden in the fine print.
Even more than before, it pays to be cautious and shop around for credit before you buy. The safest thing to do is to join a credit union and get financing approved before you shop for a car. NEVER trust a dealer to find you the best terms for an auto loan.
Car dealers don’t want you to know this, but they rake in extra profits from lenders in exchange for raising the interest rate on auto loans, above the rate you qualify to get, based on your creditworthiness. The extra kickback is known as the “dealer markup” or “dealer participation.” It’s usually split with the lender, and can add thousands of dollars onto the price of your auto loan. It’s added profit, at your expense, and a huge source of revenue for auto dealers and lenders.
Beware: Auto dealers often claim in advertising and in person that they are shopping around for financing in order to find you “the best rate.” What they really mean is the best rate for THEM, not for YOU. In fact, lenders compete with each other to offer dealers incentives and sweeteners for assigning auto loans to them — costing you more.
You may also be surprised to learn that even if you never buy a car from a dealership, but just happen to walk onto a car dealer’s lot and browse around or test drive a car, unethical dealers may get your name, then pull your credit report and shop around for financing — without your permission. Their goal: to find out what you can afford to pay, and how much added “markup” they can get from various lenders for selling you a car, and assigning the sales contract to one of those lenders.
When dealers pull this stunt and shop around among many lenders, it’s known in the automotive trade as “shotgunning” credit. Under some circumstances, it may cause only a small dip in your credit score. But particularly if dealers pull your credit repeatedly, over a period of time, it can cause your credit score to plummet, greatly increasing the cost of credit for future purchases. It’s also an invasion of your privacy and may leave you more vulnerable to identity theft.
In one court case that is now pending in Pennsylvania, a consumer alleges that she popped into a Volkswagen dealership, but made it clear she wasn’t going to buy a car, and was just scoping out various models. She didn’t sign anything. But the dealer made 7 “hard pulls” on her credit, causing her credit score to take a nose dive.
According to the lawsuit, this was a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The complaint filed by her attorneys says that the Federal Trade Commission warned car dealers in 1998 not to pull consumers’ credit reports unless there is a “legitimate business need for the information in connection with a business transaction that is initiated by the consumer.”
The FTC noted that the Texas Automobile Dealers Association asked for an official opinion whether federal law “allows a dealer to obtain a consumer report on a person who ‘comes to an automobile dealership and requests information’ from a salesman about one or more automobiles.” The FTC replied: “In our view it does not, because a request for general information about products and prices offered does NOT involve a business transaction initiated by the consumer.” (FTC Advisory Letter to Coffey, 2-11-98. Emphasis added.)
Bottom line: Especially now, you’re smart to shop around for credit before you set foot on a car dealer’s lot, and to be wary of enticing deals that sound too good to be true.
Has a car dealer “shotgunned” your credit, without your permission? If so, we would like to hear from you. Here’s where to contact CARS: http://carconsumers.org/feedback.php
Thank you! Your stories help raise awareness and help prevent predatory auto lending practices that harm even the most savvy consumers and their families.
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