Beware of misleading car ads -- how can a price not include the down payment?

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You don't have to look very far to find instances of blatantly misleading but still legal advertising in the automotive industry. Even though most dealers clearly disclose how the deal works, the result is that car ads are obfuscatory and require very careful reading.

My favorite (or least favorite) example of deliberately confusing car advertising is the ol' "price reflects down payment and/or trade-in."

Here's an example of how this works in action. Sutherlin Nissan of Fort Myers advertises a 2003 Corvette priced at $24,988, with the caveat (in much smaller print) that "all prices are after your $2000 down payment."

Think about that. This dealer (and many, many other dealers that use the same tactics) are telling you that the car costs $24,988, not including another $2,000. Wouldn't it be more forthright to just say that the car costs $26,988? To my knowledge, the car industry is the only business that uses this tactic. Can you imagine if the flyer for the grocery store advertised "99 CENT VITAMIN WATER!" with an asterisk indicating that "price advertised does not include the other 50 cents that you have to pay for the drink"?

I know that these companies aren't doing anything illegal in their advertising. But to me, it's misleading enough that I wouldn't even consider buying from that dealer.
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