What to Do if a Dealership Doesn’t Honor the Internet Price, and Other Safe Steps to Take When Buying a Used Car

Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases you'll make, so you don't want to pay any more than you have to.

One man said an Orange County dealership didn't honor the advertised price, and an expert says that's all too common.

"Our family is expanding. We had a newborn baby. And we need more space," Alex Tonisson said.

Tonisson bought a 2018 Chrysler Pacifica at McPeek's Dodge in Anaheim.

"It was the right color, had all the features. It had low mileage. Still under bumper to bumper warranty. It was certified preowned," he said.

And the best part -- the price.

McPeek's advertised the car on Carfax for just under $27,000.

"The price was very low for the blue book value. It was a really good deal," he said.

But McPeek's charged him $1,500 more. He says he argued with the dealer, but staff wouldn't budge.

"I thought, this is a dealership, taking advantage of the fact that they knew we had driven as a family of four on a Sunday afternoon over an hour in traffic and that we needed a car. And they saw it as an opportunity to use it as leverage to get us to pay more than what they advertised online," he said.

John Van Alst of the National Consumer Law Center said tactics like this are common in the used car business.

"They want you to feel in a position that all that time would have been wasted if you walk away," Van Alst said.

Van alst points out: California state law doesn't allow dealers to sell cars for more than the advertised price.

The Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on the problem too.

But it still happens, and when it does, Van Alst says consumers should walk away.

"If they've already changed the price on the car, you can't trust anything else this dealer's going to tell you," he said.

The I-Team reached out to McPeek's. It said it charged Tonisson the wrong price because its system wasn't updated with the new price. It cut Tonisson a check for the amount he was overcharged.

"I was really happy to get that money back. And having your support made a huge difference," Tonisson said.

The National Consumer Law Center has some more advice when buying a used car:

  • Check to make sure there are no open safety recalls on the car. You can do that at safercar.gov.
  • Have an independent mechanic inspect the car to be sure nothing is wrong with it.
  • Try financing the car through your own bank or credit union. You might get a better interest rate.
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