It seems nearly impossible to buy a car these days. From rising used-car inflation to dealers waiting months to receive new deliveries from manufacturers, it definitely doesn't feel like a buyer's market. My wife and I were aware of these facts when we started car shopping last month, but what we weren't expecting was to get caught in a sales tactic that is not only shady, but straight-up against the law.

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As mentioned, many dealerships seem stuck at the moment. The ones we contacted about a specific new car we wanted lamented that they had no idea when they'd get one in stock. Everywhere we turned we heard the same story: dealers were at the mercy of the factories. They were unable to custom-order vehicles, and the ones that were on the way had no actual guaranteed date of arrival. Unfortunately, it only got worse, and illegal, when we turned our attention to the pre-owned market.

My wife saw a used car at a professional dealership for a great price, and we could hardly contain our excitement. Not only were we going to avoid the much-larger cost of a new car, but we'd finally have a fuel-efficient vehicle to explore the Hudson Valley. But that's when it happened. When we contacted the dealership, what they told us is defined as fraud by New York State.

When we asked about the vehicle, they informed us that the car in question, even though it was listed on their website, was not available. They did, however, have a similar car for sale at a much higher price, if we were interested in taking a look at that one instead. What the dealer was doing, according to the New York City Bar, was false advertising, but more specifically, "Bait and Switch". As they explain:

The “bait and switch” is a common form of false advertising. The seller advertises a particular product or service at a particular price. But when you get to the store, the seller tries to sell you a different product or service at a higher price.

To say we were disappointed is an understatement. The only positive thing I can take away from the interaction is that we learned about the false advertising before we actually showed up at the dealership, but our experience is not unique. While there are many upstanding sellers in the country and of course in the Hudson Valley, some other dealers' practices have led to them receiving the nickname of "stealerships". In addition to bait and switches, here are several tactics of varying degrees of legality to watch out for:

Cagey about pricing

If a dealership is unwavering in their refusal to give you a price on a vehicle over email or on the phone, that may be a sign that they want to take you for a proverbial ride.

DDP instead of MSRP

DDP, which stands for "Dealer Posted Price" can leave room for financial gymnastics that only benefit the dealership.

Too good to be true? It probably is

Pay attention to claims that seem to put the dealership at a massive disadvantage. This can include ridiculously low financing, down payments, or the promise of all credit scores qualifying for a car purchase.

Again, these are not always signs that a dealership is up to no good, and your independent research, including reviews from third-party sites, can also have you a headache. Just avoid the bait and switch!

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