The Four-Wheeled Fine Print

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Offers on TV (and radio and in print) showcase the big numbers and best deals in very large type – with any stuff that might not be so appealing scrunched down into micro-sized print at the every bottom of the page. Or read-through at warp speed by an announcer who might as well be speaking Klingonese, as far as your ability to follow what he’s saying.

Here are some things to be on the lookout for:

“Offer only available in FLA, GA, SC… ”

Many incentives are regional – meaning, if you don’t live in one of the areas where the deal is good, the deal is not available to you. The same car might cost $1,500 less (or more) just by crossing the state line. This caveat is almost always read super-fast and sotto voce.

“All estimates are computed on the basis of a 10 percent down payment…”

Some financing deals are contingent on things like the buyer coming up with a predetermined cash down payment. In other words, you might have to come up with “x” dollars in cash at the time of sale in order to take advantage of the advertised low-rate financing. If you don’t have the cash down payment, they may stick you with a higher finance rate – which will balloon your monthly payments. Same basic deal with lease offers. Many require a pretty substantial “acquisition fee” at time of lease inception in order to take advantage of the advertised monthly lease payment.

“Offer not compatible with other offers…”

This means you may not be able to get both low-rate financing and cash back. You have to pick one – or the other. It’s important to run the numbers before you are in the pressure cooker of the dealer’s store so you’ll know ahead of time whether it makes more sense for you to go with, say, the lower-rate financing – or the cash back rebate.

Dealer participation may affect savings… “

This means the offer’s contingent on the dealer’s “participation” in the program (rebate/cash back, special rate financing, etc.) being advertised by the automaker. Remember: Dealerships are franchises like McDonald’s or KFC. They may sell Fords or Hondas, etc. – but you are not dealing directly with Ford or Honda, the car company. Be sure the dealer you’re negotiating with is, in fact, participating in the rebate/cash back deal you saw on TV. He may not be. Don’t assume he is.

“For Bonus Cash, buyer must take retail delivery by …”

As implied, the deal’s only good if you buy the car before a specific date. This can put pressure on the consumer to make a snap decision or purchase a car “off the lot” that may not have all the features and equipment (or be the color) the buyer really wanted, etc. If you end up with a car you don’tlike, it’s a bad deal- no matter what it cost you.

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