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Mazda Madness: $21,000 Cars for $9500*


Can you really get a brand new 2007 Mazda worth over $21,000 for less than $10,000? This local car dealer apparently uses the new math to come up with this bargain.

*MOUSE PRINT: The dealer assumes you will make a $9000 down payment either by cash or trade and deducts that from the MSRP to create an artificially low advertised price. [Boston Globe, September 10, 2006]

Mazda small Here is another example from a different dealer.

Talk about an eye-catching price for a brand new Mazda Tribute. It is just over $10,000 for a $22,000 car. How in the world is that possible?

The answer is, it isn’t possible, unless you play with the numbers.

*MOUSE PRINT: The $10,090 price assumes a cash down payment or trade in worth $5500 to arrive at their artificially low advertised price. [Boston Globe, July 30, 2006 and net ad]

Here is how they work the math:

MSRP: $22,590
Cash or Trade in: -$5500
Discount up to: -$7000

Advertised Price: $10,090

These dealers are deliberately treating a form of payment — a cash down payment or a trade in — as a discount from the price. What you put down is never considered a discount from the price.

With their kind of logic, a home builder could advertise a $400,000 house for only $10 (assuming you also agree to give him a $399,990 down payment).

This type of advertising is reprehensible. What do you think?


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74 thoughts on “Mazda Madness: $21,000 Cars for $9500*”

  1. Could not agree more! I have called the new cars sales manager at several [Boston{ area dealerships to nform them that because of this SLEAVY practice I would not even COSNSIDER buying a vehicle from them – or even step into their showroom.

  2. Obviously a scam. If it was “real” price, I suppose the dealer would only charge sales tax on the number in large letters, not the gross price before the deductions for the down payment and/or trade. But aside from the scale, it’s really no worse than Best Buy selling TV’s for $400 less, provided you agree to buy $400 worth of services from AOL.

  3. Everything said by prior observers is correct!
    But as I have said many times the unethical individual cannot commit
    the crime without the help and collusion of other people in responsible positions
    Since the ads appear in a newspaper to reach large audiences why do they not have
    copy ad editors like the standard copy editors to check stories from
    their reporters before they are printed.
    This country is still more trustworthy than all other countries of the world.
    We have an amazing system of checks and balances which unfortunately are not
    utilized appropiately.

  4. If more people did what L. Kaplowitz did (see his comment, above), this sort of practice probably wouldn’t be as pervasive and prevalent as it is. But it must work, by getting prospects into the dealerships, or the dealers wouldn’t do it. But as others have pointed out, who would believe it? I guess enough people do.

  5. The solution is simple. A law that requires any listed price to be free
    of conditions, such as down payment, military discount, etc. The price posted
    has to be available to all, with additional incentives, if any listed elsewhere
    in the advertisement. Violations should be considered fraud, punishable by
    jail time.

  6. I’ve become numb to car ads. I’ve purchased 2 new vehicles during last 8 years. Both times I checked the newspapers for ads, followed through by going to dealer only to find that the cars advertised were not available or that there was alot of misinformation in the ads (as your examples show).

    It boggles my mind that car dealers feel they have to misrepresent their product in order to sell it. What does this really say about the cars they are trying to sell? I’m now in the market to purchase another vehicle, I won’t even look at ads anymore — it has become an exercise in frustration for me. Its especially frustrating because I know advertising costs are factored into the price of a new car, so in essence, I am paying for them to lie to me about their product. AAARGGHHH!!!!

  7. i bet that dealer is in wakefield. i had a problem with them when it came to repairs. i also once worked for another of their dealerships. they are sleaze

  8. My daddy used to say that there was a sucker born every minute. These dealers must have heard this as well. One more reason not to trust car dealers. I’ll keep my 1999 vehicle till it dies.

  9. The dealer whose ad you cited runs a radio ad in the Boston area whose catch phrase is “You Can Trust [name of dealer]” I’m of the belief that any company who has to advertise that you can trust them, means you couldn’t in the first place.

  10. As an owner of an advertising agency that specializes in working with automobile dealerships, I am amazed that the Mazda Corporation hasn’t stepped in on this matter. I would not be surprised if this was an ethical violation of the dealership agreement. If you like I’d be willing to forward this advertisement for corporate scrutiny.

    I would put this under the grand “Chutzpah” theory of advertising tantamount to fraud. It is even worse than the ads which say a dealership will pay off whatever a customer owes on their existing car in order to get them into a new vehicle. In reality, the dealership pays nothing. Instead the previous automobile loan balance is “rolled over” / incorporated into the financing for the new vehicle.

    I wish the days of the fraudulent hard sell dealerships was over. However, if consumers actually thought about the huge amounts they aare spending, most would probably not $50,000 on some new SUV.

    As PT Barnum once said “No one every went broke under estimating the taste of the American public.”

    In my work, I’ve tried to represent auto dealers who provide consumers with all the costs, taxes, dealership and manufacturer incentives up front.

  11. Perhaps the best way to avoid traps like this is to remember this: TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch)

  12. Though I think car sales people deserve to be in one of Dante’s inner circles of hell and have no illusions about their honesty give me a break. The ad here clearly states the MSRP – cash or trade to come at the advertised price. Knowing how most businesses embellish at best and are outright liars at worst I really have little sympathy for anyone who doesn’t take the time or effort to learn about whatever deal they are getting into. It might be small print but it’s still print, if you don’t read it whose fault is it then? Everyone wants someone else to advocate for them instead of taking the responsibility in their own hands.

  13. Although I’m not a fan of new legislation, a law requiring products over a certain amount (let’s say $500-1000 although others might push for a lower amount) must represent the true cost of their product on advertising – if an ad that is either printed or put online does otherwise, then the originator of the ad should be immediately fined, pending ligitation for fraud. Sounds kinda simplistic, but it would certainly make these advertisers think twice. Especially if the amount of the fine was defined as the difference between the published price and the true cost!

  14. I couln’t agree more with the comments by smg. I also own an andvertising agency that deals with automobile dealers. The group we represent are honest, hard working dealers who try to advertise with no fine print or deception. It is unfortunate that they have to compete with the dealers who practice this type of misleading marketing.

    smg, if you have a dealer who wants to compete by also engaging in this type of advertising, what do you do?


  15. This same type of scam for price advertising is most prevalent in leases. Look in any newspaper and the lease rate always has a high down payment to arrive at the “$99” a month for a lease. The most unreadable mouseprint is at the bottom of the add where all the *’s live and the actual details and prices are listed.

  16. This is no different than computer/laptop ads from Best Buy, CompUSA, Office Max, etc. that come in every
    Sunday paper. When will those companies be forced to put the pay-up-front cost in BIG letters so you know
    how much you will REALLY need when you get to the store?

  17. It is clearly stated in the ads that cash or trade in is required. I don’t understand why you’re making such a big fuss over their form of advertising. It’s not like they even made the words difficult to see. Other issues you have raised on this website are certainly valid and I appreciate you making this information available to the general public but, come on, we’re smart enough to pick up on the language in these ads…aren’t we?

  18. I understand that advertisers must attract their readers with some gimmick to get attention to their ad, but
    outright false or deceptive ads take advantage of the public’s trust, which should be zero these days. What
    happened to good old fashioned honesty? Thank goodness for non profit organizations like consumr’s report that
    expose these ads and the less than honest claims that many advertisers make. It is a comment on society that
    ethical behavior is sacrificed in the name of greed.

  19. I do have to agree with the last post. Although I don’t consider a trade-in to be a “discount” any more than anyone else, this ad doesn’t put it in mouseprint, or even small print-the “math” is quite clear.
    I don’t agree with their terminology in the ad, but if you can’t pick up on that obviously misleading math you probably shouldn’t be taking out a loan anyway.
    The main thing we need to do is educate ourselves (this site is a good start!) and always remember : Buyer Beware!

  20. I find it rather funny. Going to buy a car has always been a struggle. Always
    need to go by the rule “if it sounds too good to be true…it is”.

  21. I do not think this is reprehensible. The information is right there for you to
    read. I do not know why you would feel this is not acceptable. The American public
    feels like they need to have everything spoon fed to them. I do not see this as
    dishonest in anyway. The ad clearly states how they got to that figure. Down pay
    and trade-ins are common in the industry. Please tell me I am wrong.

  22. I agree that the cash / trade-in info is upfront in the samples provided. However, in other Boston area ads, it is sometimes listed in the fine print below the ad.

    And people who want to buy a new car sometimes get emotional. All logic goes out the window.

    I actually know someone who fell for one of these ads. She traded her car in and provided additional cash to get the “buy for” price. And to add insult to injury, she used dealer financing. It took her about 3 months before she realized her $9,990 car actually cost her around $24K including the financing charges.

    The current spate of ads also reinforces what people have always believed, that being car salesmen are all sleazy. These ads just reinforce that notion.

  23. You folks calling for legislation – why? To protect whom? The poor sucker who goes in thinking he can get a $25k car for $10k? That guy is a moron. It’s like they are chumming the waters looking for idiots, and I bet they are getting plenty! Any reasonable person would not believe they will get a $25k car for $10k, so why do we need to enact laws – for who’se protection? Morons? We are going to legislate safety nets for stupid people now? Maybe we should put warnings on food to remind people to take it out of the wrapper before eating it, or legislate signs reminding people to breath, lest they die.

  24. Why is it that everyone thinks all car salesmen are sleazy? First of all, dealership owners and principals (operations managers, ect.)handle publishing the advertising you are discussing here. Second of all, consumers are just as shady. Be honest with yourself- how many times have you taken up alot of a salesman’s valuable time (that he is giving you for free at that point!), said “we want to go home and think about it”, and gone next door/ across town to waste another salesman’s time? The car buying process is capitolism at it’s best. Educate yourself and you will probably get a good deal, don’t bother to and that time you saved will probably cost you a little. To some people it’s worth it.

  25. This ad is not misleading at all. NOWHERE in that ad is stated that the price of
    the car is $10,000 or $9,000. It is simply showing the math to get it to that
    number and it is 100% correct. As a consumer we have to pay attention and read
    more carefully. Advertising are designed to attract people, I agree that it should
    not lie to the public and in this case there is no lie or trick it’s not even
    written in fine print!! Car salesmen are out there to make their living. Some of
    them are sleazy but 90% are honest hard working men. We as consumers on the other
    hand should also look in the mirror. When was the last time you were being honest
    when you try to bargain for something? When was the last time you did not try to
    make the salesman drop the price so low just to shop the next store? When was the
    last time you did not go to a dealer just to get a free ride wasting the salesman’s

  26. Michael – A salesman is not “giving” me anything “for free” by doing his job and attempting to get a sale. Just how patronizing can you get? Someone trying to get MY business is doing a service by trying to sell him or herself, or their business or product? What kind of twisted logic is that?

    The fact is, if you’re financing a car, even the window price is deceptive. Here’s what I do: I tell them “this is the car I’m looking at, and this is what I can afford per month. If you can’t do that, I can’t buy here.” End of story. The number in the window provides a “guide,” but nothing more.

    Pontiac (as in GM, not thier dealers) has been doing this for years … lease a Grand Prix for like $129 a month (with a final month lease payment of nearly $10,000), but they were more up-front about it.

  27. Reprehensible? Yes. Advertisers have been misleading people for years.
    When I was a kid growing up in the 50’s my dad would watch tv ads with disbeleif and proclaim “The stupid american public” because people would really beleive that you could get 15 to 20 “Clean Shaves” from that new Gillett Razor or some other puffery claim. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!!!

  28. Jim- I am willing to bet you are exactly the type of hypocritical person I am talking about. You say “tthis is the car I am looking at, and this is what I can afford per month”. The salesman comes out, tells you “congratulations we can do that, how would you like that titled?” and you immediately start thinking about what excuse you can give to get out of there so you can go to the next dealer on your list to do the same thing with a lower “I can afford this much” amount. I said you needed to be honest with yourself Jim.

  29. I am just as surprised at a car ad running all this month in Las Vegas.

    It goes like this:

    $22,000 car for $10,000!

    how is it done? The promotion is called double down. You put down $6000 and they match $6000. You put less? They put less. You put $8000? They still wont put more than $6000.

    As always, this advertising is untrue because your downpayment comes off at the very end as does any rebate.

    So in the end, after you pay all the taxes, fees, etc on on the car, they subtract your downpayment and their rebate.

    I love Mouseprints comment. So when does your payment on an item count as a discount?

    Does that mean when I pay for an entire computer, they could advertise it for $0?

  30. Eric0511:

    You said “NOWHERE in that ad is stated that the price of
    the car is $10,000 or $9,000. It is simply showing the math to get it to that
    number and it is 100% correct.”

    That is incorrect. A cash downpayment NEVER comes directly off the initial MSRP. It is always the last thing taken off even AFTER taxes are added. Thus if you do a cash downpayment, it is physically impossible to make this ad works.

    In some states, if you do a trade in, it is deducted off the MSRP prior to taxes.

    It is true that ads are meant to attract, however they need to not deceive. In this case, in regards to a cash downpayment, the math is deceiving.

    TO be accurate, they should have left the cash or trade out. To leave it in is like telling me a computer is $10 because they give a $300 discount and I pay $990 at the final checkout counter and then they ask me for the $10.

    Amazingly enough there are people taken in by these ads.

    The Double Down ad out here says in fine print that if the consumer disagrees with the ad, the dealer has the right to cancel the whole offer.

  31. Fine print, any fine print, is reprehensable. By it’s very nature, fine print means there is something that the seller doesn’t want you to know. It’s a shame that we have to spend our time sifting though this BS.

  32. Actually, this isn’t all that bad. At least you have a fighting chance at reading the math that is done above the price. It would be worse if they put that in the tiny print at the bottom. Here, it was right above the price, so it really is about someone not reading the whole thing.

  33. The ad itself is deceptive, no doubt.

    However, if they stated that the final amount would be what you’d be financing (as far as a rough approximation of the loan’s principal amount) it would be quite useful to have that kind of information.

    In other words, an MSRP of $20,000, with a $6000 trade-in(as if)/down payment, and maybe a matching dealer discount of $5000, you’d be borrowing essentially $9000 to buy the car. And *that’s* how you get lower monthly payments, because you’re not financing a $20,000 principle.

    /very rough approximations

  34. In any business there are reputable people and disreputable people. My husband is an auto
    wholesaler and can fill pages with stories of unscrupulous people trading in their cars to
    “We’ve never been in an accident with this car.” CARFAX says differently.
    The customer says, “My car is mechanically perfect. It runs beautifully.” The dealer decides
    to drive it and the transmission won’t shift, confronts the customer, and the customer says,
    “Oh, I didn’t notice any problem.”
    The dealer asks how the brakes are and the person who wants to trade in the car says he
    just did them a month ago. The deal is made, the dealer later puts the car up on a lift to
    get the car ready to be resold and the brakes are worn down to the tolerance of needing to
    be redone.
    How many of you see yourself in this? It’s easy to point a finger at the businessman but
    my husband sees the dishonesty of customers themselves all the time. People perhaps believe
    that they are justified in being deceitful when it comes to trading in a car because of the
    notion that “all car dealers are sleazy so that makes it OK to ‘get them back’.” But the truth
    is that my husband is an honest individual and there are many others like him, and he doesn’t
    stoop to low tactics. He can sleep at night and he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder.

  35. Where does it say “DISCOUNT” ?????????

    People would have to be idiots to think there isn’t a catch here.

    Caveat Emptor.

    If people want to blame other people for their own ignorance, they shall continue posting their issues here.

  36. Although it is a bogus offering it’s at least spelled out in large print so you kn ow were they get the final price. However, what the hell is the $7,000 discount? You never explained that wild offer. Another thing, what about these 0% 60 month for qualified buyers – I would love to find out what percentage of buyers are actually qualified buyers.

  37. Yes, that low price catches your eye–just what an ad is supposed to do. But both ads (especially the first
    one you show) SHOWS the math, and the print isn’t that small. However, I’ve always had a pet peeve against
    this type of advertising–the rebate style of advertising, where the PRICE (after rebate) is shown quite large
    and then you see “(after rebate)”. These ads are aggravating and waste my time, whether they’re for cars or
    grocery items.
    And how about places like Menards? Not only do they show you the large sized price (after rebate), but the
    mouseprint then tells you that this “rebate” is in the form of a merchandise credit check (coupon) which can
    only be used at their store!
    Don’t even get me started on “Everyday Low Pricing”…

  38. This practice has been around forever in MA. That price has more wiggle room in it than anyone has mentioned as both “trade in value” and “rebate” are essentially amorphous BS testms. I have been offered a $5,000 trade in on a car clearly worth $10,000 and the one time I was supposed to get a rebate (my first brand new car) it was mysteriously absent on the final paperwork.It is just as bad now with the internet. I was told a price via email for a car with AWD, but after investing an evening at the dealership I was told the price I was quoted was for a car without it…even afeter I had specifically asked that question via email. Ultimately we ordered a car taht we were told aws on a lot in NY. We were told it would take weeks to arrive in MA. We stopped at another deaselr who told us that the dealership could get the car within 48 hours from that same lot in NY.We canceled the deal at the sleazy dealer and bought the car elsewhere.

  39. Why would one buy a car from a manufacturer who would endorse this advertising gimick…One other point to watch: there was a ship full of Mazdas which nearly capsized in the North Pacific. The vehicles aboard are to be sold as new. Watch for water damage disclaimers (in mouse print, of course)…

  40. Sure, the ads don’t say that the final price is that amount, but they’re trying
    to make it look that way. Plus, as has already been said, they’re showing
    money off MSRP to get to that price. I don’t care how clear they make it,
    including the amount you pay in the calculation for a price is wrong. They
    might as well have just put the full amount and advertised at $0, except that
    would make it too clear what they were doing.
    This doesn’t mean I think I, or anyone else, would actually fall for this. But
    that doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong to do. It also gives the ad
    attention it doesn’t deserve, taking it away from those who won’t stoop that

    They’re doing this on the car lots now too. The other day I was looking
    at some cars with a friend, and saw a used car at a pretty low price. When I
    checked the tag, it had printed at the bottom that the price assumed cash or
    trade. I said right then, and stick by it now, that I won’t shop from a dealer
    using deceptive practices like that – especially when they’re doing it right on
    the lot.

  41. It doesn’t look like misleading fine print to me! It’s right there! They show you the MSRP price is $21,065, then right below that, in the same size font, they deduct a Cash/Trade amount of $9,000, along with their “matching”(?) price of $2,500, bringing you to the $9,565 bottom figure. Yes, the bottom figure is bigger and attention grabbing, but I don’t see anything misleading here.

  42. In the ad, it CLEARLY states that they are expecting a down payment for a person to get the car at the price stated. Ther is nothing deceptive about the ad; a person just needs to be able to read, and understand what they are reading. If they’re not capable of doing that, they have no business handling money anyway.

  43. This appears to be a new version of the “it’s free for a fee” scam. One of the more common of these is the “free” credit report fleece, which puts the promise to give you a free credit report in big print, and tries to hide the part where you agree to pay for a year’s worth of credit monitoring in small print. The best protection from all these scams to remember that most businesses are not in the busines of giving things away for free.

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