There has recently been a lot of political complaining about closing car dealerships and lost jobs for car salespeople. It seems like everyone has forgotten that this is literally the slimiest business on the planet. Haven't they read Matilda?

I recently picked up a copy of one of those free "magazines" that has advertisements for dozens of car dealerships, and there's one tactic that many of them use that really, really infuriates me: listing prices well below the actual price. Here are a few examples:
  • Central Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge reports in its fine print that "*Prices reflect $2,000 down cash or trade."
  • Elite Auto Sales Inc. notes that "Price reflect $2,000 down cash or trade."
  • Action Auto Sales reminds readers that "All payments and prices reflect $1,500 cash down or trade equity."
  • Martin's Pre-Owned Auto Center's language is the most bizarre: "Price reflects down payments vary." Huh? So the prices that are listed are after a down payment but you won't say how much it is? So the $8,488 2003 Cadillac Deville is either $10,000 or $200,000, depending on what down payment you used in calculating the posted down payment price that you decided consumers didn't need to know about?
  • Barry's Annex tells us that "All buy for reflect $1,995 cash or trade."

I could go on and on and on with this -- and in some ways I want to -- but you probably get the point.

I find this tactic to be absolutely enraging. I can understand not including tax and registration fees in the quoted prices because those are standard, added costs that don't go directly to the dealership.

But how can you run an ad that says, in effect, "Listed price does not include some of the money you'll give us toward the car."

Can you imagine if a real estate ads advertised homes at $200,000 with a small note that "Price is after $50,000 down payment." What if the grocery store advertised corn at 89 cents per can "after 50 cent cash payment"?

This advertising tactic -- used by, it seems, at least half of car dealerships -- is slimy, misleading, dishonest and certainly not worthy of a government bailout, or the patronage of consumers.

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