Review of TrueCar – Can you really get the best price?

What should I pay for a new car?Here is my honest review of TrueCar.  They claim to promote transparency in car buying, but are they really interested in getting you the best deal?  Well, the answer is “kinda”.

From a marketing perspective, TrueCar wants to attract car buyers to their service.  To do this, they've put a lot of money into a slick website providing car reviews, pictures, and nice graphs to show you what others paid in your area.  But at the same time, they make their money from the car dealers who pay them for the personal information of car buyers… that's you!  Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.   However, it isn't all bad, you just need to understand how to use a service like this to get the best possible price.

Before you read any further let me tell you it is possible to beat TrueCar prices.  Do not settle for their “Best Local Price”.  More on that later, but first…

What is TrueCar?

TrueCar is essentially a lead broker for car dealers.  They ask for your contact information to put you in touch with dealers in their network who pay TrueCar for the privilege of trying to sell you a car.   You tell TrueCar the type of car you want, enter your phone and email, and they will give your information to 3 dealers who will send you competitive (but not necessarily the best) car prices. (Editors Note: you can reach more than 3 dealers using other services like these.)

TrueCar Review

Here’s what I like about TrueCar

  • Their Price Report shows you the actual car cost, average price paid, and what constitutes a good deal in a clever graph. This is similar to Edmunds True Market Value® which I explain in this Edmunds Review.

TrueCar Review

  • They've got a cool mobile app that shows you pricing, reviews, and images.  Both the app and the mobile version of the TrueCar website are both very similar.  However, the TrueCar app also allows you to scan a window sticker while on a TrueCar Certified Dealer's lot.  But there are some negatives to this (see next section).
  • TrueCar's Price Report also includes a “flexibility score” of how much negotiating room a dealer has on that model.

Here's what I don’t like about TrueCar

  • They only put you in contact with three local dealers…which also must be in their network.  You can reach a wider variety of dealers using a service like Car Deal Finder who has an enormous network of dealers.
  • TrueCar's advice is to take your “Best Local Price” to the dealer (which is usually good), but to not bother negotiating the price any further.  A TrueCar Price Report will certainly help you get a fair price, but by itself may not get you the absolute best price.
  • Dealers quote a price through TrueCar on a model, color, and options, but may pull a bait and switch scam and not actually have that configuration in stock.
  • You can get a TrueCar guaranteed savings certificate, but it will not include all the extras they will try to sell you at the dealership. Expect both the car salesman and the finance department to offer you various add-ons like tech systems and extended warranties that could significantly increase your total.
  • TrueCar's mobile app allows you to scan a window sticker while on a TrueCar Certified Dealer's lot.  However, you are required to create an account and sign in to use this feature  so you must provide your contact details.  Plus if you are not at a TrueCar Certified Dealer you can't use this.   And because other dealers may take a day or so to respond to you with competitive prices, I suggest not using this feature.  Instead, get all your pricing lined up BEFORE you actually visit a dealership.
  • TrueCar doesn't help you find the best car financing or get the most trade in value for a car which are huge aspects of a car purchase and can cost you a lot of money if not handled properly.  But then again, you’re on your own for these items when using any car price service, so I can’t fault TrueCar too much for leaving them out.

How to Beat TrueCar Prices

For most people, simply getting a TrueCar price report and using it at a local dealership is enough to get you a fair price on a new car.  However, I like to take it a step further and see if I can find any dealers willing to give me a better deal.  I use the price report as a guideline of what I should pay for a car, but I still try to beat that price.  Here are some tips:

  • TrueCar only puts you in touch with 3 local dealers and I suggest contacting 6-8 to get truly competitive pricing.  It’s easy to find many local dealers by combining services like Car Deal Finder and other car price websites as well.
  • If you get to the dealership and they do not have the exact configuration you were quoted, don’t get sucked into paying a higher price.  Before you go to the dealership, make sure the dealer provides you with a specific VIN number, price, and list of options.  If they try to add options and increase the price, consider checking with other dealers for what you want.
  • Don’t forget that a good car price is only half the battle.  Once you get to the dealership be prepare to negotiate car financing and the price of your trade-in as well.

Want to buy a car near (or below) dealer cost?

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