CarsDirect Guarantee: Beware the fine print

CarsDirect offers a low price guarantee on their instant car quotes, but I urge you to be wary of the fine print.  It’s a good idea to check this price as it may be the best deal in town, however, you may find too many stipulations in the fine print to make the guarantee viable.  But first….

What’s the difference between an Instant Quote and a Dealer Quote?

Before we look at the guarantee, you must understand that an “instant quote” is different than a local car dealer quote.  Both are available from the CarsDirect site, but they are definitely unique.  The instant quote is provided immediately (hence the name) and is based on CarsDirect’s group buying power.  This quote is non-negotiable, but is usually lower than most.
On the otherhand, dealer quotes come from local automotive dealers who receive a “request for quote” when you submit your email address to CarsDirect’s certified dealer network.  Once dealers receive these requests, they will respond to you within about 24 hours.  Their quotes are somewhat independent from the CarsDirect site.  They simply pay an advertising fee to CarsDirect in order to get in contact with you, the buyer.  These quotes are definitely negotiable, but will likely start higher than the CarsDirect instant quote.

So what is the CarsDirect Low Price Guarantee?

Taken from the CarsDirect website:

If, within three days after purchasing a vehicle from CarsDirect, you find a lower price for the same vehicle identically equipped, CarsDirect will refund the difference between the price you paid and the advertised or other dealer’s price. Or, at its discretion, CarsDirect will repurchase your vehicle. This guarantee is for vehicles purchased directly through CarsDirect and is not applicable to vehicles purchased through our VIP Dealer referral network.

So why is the guarantee so hard to use?

When you read the fine print closely, you’ll realize why it’s easy to offer a guarantee and very challenging to redeem.  Let’s look at a few snippets of the terms and conditions:

The lower offered or advertised price must occur within three days after the date that you took delivery of your vehicle. Three days means the third day (including weekends) after your date of delivery

This means you have to actually buy from CarsDirect BEFORE you get the guarantee.  You can’t just get an offer elsewhere and tell CarsDirect to beat it.   And after you buy, you’ll have to be quick.  Once you accept delivery, you immediately need to go out and start getting offers in a short 3 day window.

The advertised or offered price must be for the same year’s make and model vehicle equipped exactly as the vehicle purchased by you, must be available for immediate delivery (i.e., the vehicle must be physically present on the dealer’s lot) and must have never been titled. The purchase price as well as the CarsDirect price for the vehicle shall be determined before manufacturer or distributor rebates, allowances, incentives or dealer-installed options.

This means you have to find a configuration (options and accessories) exactly matching the CarsDirect configuration.  This is no small task as dealerships have limited numbers of vehicles in stock and you may have a hard time finding the exact same package.  It also means any price discounts made by a dealership on individual options cannot be taken into account when comparing the price to CarsDirect.  So if you negotiated a GPS system or leather seats off the price, you’ll have to add them back in when comparing to CarsDirect’s price.

The offer to sell from another dealer (i) must be in writing, signed by an officer of the dealership on company letterhead, (ii) show the dealer’s name, address and phone number and the vehicle identification number for the vehicle (iii) must be for the same year, make and model equipped exactly as the vehicle purchased by you, and (iv) the vehicle must be available for immediate delivery by the other dealer. You must present the original written offer from the dealer (not a photocopy).

This means you’re going to have to jump through some hoops (after you’ve already bought the car from CarsDirect) and pretend that you want to buy from a dealership.  It’s a little shady to spend hours with a new dealer to line up a deal knowing that you won’t actually buy a car.  Then you’ll need to ask for the deal on letterhead from an officer of the dealership.  And as soon as you get that piece of paper you’ll have to rush to get it postmarked and in the mail to CarsDirect.


After reading this post you may think that I’m against CarsDirect, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.  I’m merely explaining that I wouldn’t pay any attention to the guarantee.  What I suggest is to get quotes from local dealers AND the CarsDirect instant low quote.  Then use a systematic negotiating process to lower your price.
Include the CarsDirect instant quote when comparing dealer offers.  And if the CarsDirect quote is the lowest, ask other dealers if they can beat it.  If not, then go ahead and buy from CarsDirect.  Just don’t expect to use the guarantee. You’ll only have 3 days, a lot of paperwork, and a big headache.