Why car dealers don’t honor car internet pricing: Look for the fine print

car dealer not honoring internet price

A car dealer not honoring internet price, is a very common phenomenon. Today I am talking about it.

Ever hear of it?

Yeah, me too.

Even as a professional car buying concierge and a professional negotiator, I’m not sure why, but I still ask the question “So, are you saying that you are not honoring the internet price?”

The question remains. Does a car dealership have to honor an online price?

Most of the time, there is specific small print language within their ads that explains what is missing from the online price. And there is definitely small print on their website explaining the price.

Subaru uses the term “lowest possible price” when describing their list price.
Here’s an excerpt from a dealership site.

Hmmm.. a car dealer not honoring internet price; It’s really not that confusing. Is it?

car dealer not honoring internet price

The internet car sales price listed does not include a lot of things added on later.

The dealership website states that the price includes all applicable rebates; we cannot qualify for all of the rebates.

I’ve actually never seen it happen where someone qualifies for every rebate offered. They are never easily combined. So, even calling it a lowest “possible” price seems unrealistic. It’s actually not possible.

There are also some other requirements you must meet including selling a trade-in.

 And of course, most consumers should know by now that tax, title and registration are not included in the online price.


online dealer have to honor online price

What are administration fees? They are hard to define. Those fees are often referred to as doc fees or documentation fees. Regardless of what it is called (they vary from dealership to dealership), it’s simply a profit center for the dealership. 

Many dealers advertise a price they have no intention of delivering on.  

I see this all the time. 

Just like you, I use car search sites like Car Gurus, Auto Trader, Cars.com and search for the vehicles.

I enter the make, model, trim, color, miles and any other feature needed.

Then the trouble comes. You sort it by price.

Herein lies the problem.

The dealerships will set the price they want to SHOW you. This is not necessarily the price they are willing to sell the vehicle for. 

They simply understand the way consumers are searching and/or sorting. By PRICE. 

The price they SHOW you is not the entire picture.

Then, the car research website may even state the vehicle you’ve found (at the top of the list) is a great deal


Well… maybe, or maybe not.

Chances are, the great deal advertised (much lower than everyone else) may not be giving you the entire picture.

Internet Price Online Quote

Now look at this online offer.

car quote online price

This quote, from a large online lead generation tool for dealerships (and your car research site), shows that this is a great deal.

The offer is $405 dollars below the average list price.

The keyword in that sentence is list price.

What is the $2,985 in dealer fees and accessories?

That eats up the $405 dollars quick, right?

It also wasn’t quite easy for me to find the breakdown of these additional fees.

You have to know where to look to find it. 

You have to actually reach out to the dealership in a lot of cases. Some dealerships do not disclose these fees anywhere online. If they do, they are rarely out in the open. Therefore, you’ll need to scroll down, open another window or find the smaller print.

The average consumer only sees the price of $14,840 for the car and thinks it is a great deal.

They spend their time visiting the dealership and fall in love with the car. When the numbers are presented, the focus is set on the payment not revealing the actual cost of the car. 

Consumers who spend hours at the dealership, accept the fact of the car dealer not honoring internet price. They accept it because they don’t want to go  through the whole ordeal again somewhere else. 

The dealer charged more than the advertised price. Simple as that.

A car dealer not honoring internet price should, in this day and age, be nothing new. In fact, the point of this post is to inform you what to look for when you’re doing your car research online. 

The dealerships use the internet for one thing, to find a way to get you into the dealership. 

You’re doing your research, so be aware, it’s highly unlikely a dealership will honor that internet price you see. Assume some added costs especially tax, title, tags. You also need to call them to get a real breakdown of the deal, any dealer add on’s and preferably get it in writing before you even visit. 

I rarely recommend negotiating at the dealership. 

Good luck out there. Tell us in the comments if you find a dealership that honors the actual online price, we’d love to know so we can work with them!

If you need help, schedule a free strategy call with an expert. 

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ted

    Hi Mike,
    What about when the 0% or 0.9% comes directly from the manufacturer? I have been shopping for a car and have walked out of dealerships twice because after we have agreed on a price they then try to raise the price after I insist on Manufacturer’s financing, which I qualify for because I have Tier 1 credit. They have claimed that I can’t take both the “rebate” or the 0% but in both cases there has been NO rebate advertised on the manufacturer’s website, neither on the dealer’s web site, neither the manufacturer says “0% offer cannot be combined with other incentives”. Neither the price quote breakdown said “this price includes a rebate, incentive etc”. Despite nothing saying anything about being either/or, one of the dealers insisted that I could only pay the quoted price if I use “conventional finance” vs the Toyota 0% 48 months APR. It feels that I am being penalized for having good credit. The most annoying thing is that in one case my husband test drove the car and got a quote. Told the salesman he had to talk to me before making a decision and came back home. Hours later the salesman called to follow up and he told him that I was NOT interested in buying unless I had Toyota financing at 0%. The salesmen said that would be ok and we agreed to meet later to finalize the purchase. As soon as we arrived, I discussed financing with the salesman. Then he went on about how they are not really making money on the deal if I do 0% (after he said on the phone that it was ok). After much talk, I finally agreed to 60 months 0.9%. We signed some papers, reviewed the quote, the credit application, etc. Then about 2 hours into the paperwork, the salesman comes out with the finance manager who tells us that he could not give me the price on the quote unless I used “conventional finance”. Or that I could do 0% or any of the other low APR offers from Toyota but he will have to raise the price of the car by $2,250. Why did he not say that on the phone? Or as soon as I arrived? At that point, I was upset. I had been at the dealership almost 2 hours and it was NO surprise to them that I only wanted to finance from the manufacturer. It was not something I kept a secret, I told them before I even left my house. So to pull this 2 hours into the deal just felt wrong. He suggested that I pay off in full to get the low price, (which my husband and had previously considered since we were putting 50% down). I just I did not feel like it, not after they made me waste 2 hours. If they had been completely honest about what the price included before I left my house I would have understood, but pretending to be ok with 0% finance at 48 months, then convince me to do 0.9% at 60 months after I stepped on the dealership (which I agreed to) then make sign a price quote knowing that I wanted only Toyota financing and then try to change the deal at the eleventh hour it was too much. So of course, I said thank you very much, I completely understand your dilemma you can keep your car. At this point, I don’t understand why Honda, Volkswagen, Hyundai offer these “low APR” offers if the dealers are not willing to honor them. In both occasions the finance managers appear to be upset at me because I’m planning on doing manufacturer’s financing. Buyers with Tier 1 credit are being penalized for using manufacturer’s financing. I understand that some manufacturers offer EITHER a cash incentive OR low APR offers, but in both of these cases the manufacturers did NOT have any advertised incentive or rebate that I was getting “in lieu of” the 0% financing. Why should I pay a higher price for a car only because I have good credit? And if I am writing a $25,000 personal check to pay a dealer right then and there, then I feel that I deserve an even bigger discount. It feels that dealers want unreliable buyers with bad credit. What ever happened to “cash is king”? At this point, I feel that I should be walking in at the dealership saying, I am a “cash buyer”, what is the lowest price I can get on this? Any suggestions?

  2. Mike Rumple


    Thanks for the comment.

    Buying a vehicle is a very complicated transaction. This situation comes up quite frequently. Even if the manufacturer doesn’t list rebates it doesn’t mean they do not have incentives they give to dealerships to help them sell vehicles. The dealership gets to choose whether or not they give those incentives to you or if they keep them. The bottom line is you can not make the dealership sell the vehicle for any less than they are willing to sell it for. The real question now is which dealership has given you the best deal. I would buy that one as you are probably getting pretty close to the bottom.

    My advice in your situation would be to not take the special financing. Especially if you have a substantial down payment or could pay cash.

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