Caveat Emptor: Buyer beware of online vehicle purchases

Sherri Jefferson is an advocate, author, and an attorney. Transforming the lives of children is her passion. Transferring knowledge is her profession.

No time to pause! Phones ringing, babies crying, and spousal demands coupled with cooking, cleaning, and working leaves little time to engage in the traditional car buying experience.
As we welcome the 2019 new and redesigned vehicles, akin to other addictions, Americans look for the quick fix. Corporations look to target social media driven, out-of-touch millennials and Gen Z buyers while taking advantage of adult consumers with out of control lifestyles. Buy at any cost is the answer to the stressed American consumer.
To address the embattled buyer, the auto industry has responded with the “build a car online” platform. There exists several companies who offer this “option.” Few, however, are as unscrupulous as the Lexus.com platform.
First, let us discuss some of the other online vehicle purchase platforms to compare and contrast their services and outcomes.
Carvana is an online platform, which enables consumers to actually purchase a vehicle online. The company who prides itself as offering “The New Way To Buy A Car” will literally deliver “certified used” vehicles to your front door with a seven-day inspection and return option.
Here is how they work. At Carvana.com consumers can choose a vehicle using what I call a 3M method. The consumer can select their vehicle of choice by choosing the manufacturer, make, and model. Carvana asserts that they offer consumers a selection of 11,000 in-stock cars.
Once you have selected a vehicle, you can price it and apply for financing. They offer room for negotiation as well. Carvana discloses the price of the vehicle as well as when it will be available for delivery before the final purchase. Carfax information is available at the click of a link. This data provides vehicle history.
Financing is available. The site clearly explains how to secure financing and both trade-in and pre-qualification is an available option. Moreover, Carvana fully discloses the most frequently asked and answered questions and provides both an email and telephone number for consumers to attain immediate assistance. The site also offers a “live chat” option.
Carvana answers questions regarding the credit application process, down payment, monthly payments and offers an online auto loan calculator.
For the most part, Carvana’s site is transparent.
BMW and Mercedes Benz also offers an online purchasing platform.
The BMW “build your car” option lets you chose a vehicle to build from their online fleet. BMW immediately discloses the MSRP [manufacturer’s suggested retail price]. Next, the site offers optional add-on [navigation, trim, moon roof, etc.] packages that can be selected or declined.
Thereafter, you chose a color-scheme. The cost for this service is added to the final purchase price. BMW discloses all cost associated with each add-on option. Upon completing this task, three other purchase options are available.
The options include, apply for financing, get a quote, or order the vehicle to be purchased without financing.
If you select the option to apply for financing, then you are directed to the BMW financing site. You will complete an online application. You receive immediate notification of approval or denial.
If approved, you will select the method of delivery for your vehicle. Your delivery options include front-door delivery to your residence or dealership pickup.
If you select the ‘order now’ option, then you are required to provide contact information, method of payment, and information so that the nearest dealership may oversee your purchase and delivery.
Not to be outdone, Mercedes Benz offers a similar build a car online service. MBUSA provides options that range from and include the purchase of a C-Class Sedan to a Maybach. Upon selecting the make and model of choice, consumers are directed to a platform to select their vehicle color, wheels, and accessories with packages.
MBUSA clearly discloses each service with individual prices. Upon completion, MBUSA discloses the total cost of the vehicle and includes the monthly lease price – if leasing is an option. MBSUA is so transparent that it prices its Maybach online. For example, the Maybach S 560 4MATIC Sedan at $173,495 or $3,129/mo. estimated lease.
After selecting your vehicle of choice, two options are available, print and save the information for presentment to a dealership of choice or review the online inventory at the MBUSA website.
The dealership option immediately discloses whether your vehicle of choice is available at a local dealership or whether a similar configuration is available. If not, MBUSA immediately discloses other purchase options. Consumers are in full control of their private information and whether they authorize release of information to dealerships.
Alternatively, you are given an option to be placed on an “alert” waiting list to locate a configuration vehicle that matches your design or provide information to proceed with a customized vehicle purchase.
Now, let us examine Lexus.com build a car platform. Lexus defrauds its consumers by failing to disclose that they do not actually build a car for purchase. Their platform knowingly engages consumers for several hours to build a car, fully aware that the final configuration is not available for purchase online or at a dealership.
Moreover, without the authorization, knowledge or consent of the consumer, Lexus.com shares private consumer information with independent dealerships. In turn, the dealerships harass the consumers via text, email, and telephone calls with unwanted solicitations.
Lexus.com, via TMCC, accesses credit reports, then forwards personal information to independent dealerships without the authorization, knowledge, or consent of consumers. These hard inquires damage credit scores. Lexus.com lies and asserts that they neither pull credit reports nor access information for the benefit of their independent dealerships, but evidence via Equifax says otherwise.
Lexus.com does not reveal all costs associated with the purchase of the vehicle. In fact, the price quoted on their site is thousands less than the actual purchase price. The practice of bait and switch exists because Lexus.com advertises vehicles to be built that they know or have reason to know are neither configured for purchase nor available at dealerships [inventory].
Then, through sharing information with independent dealerships, they solicit consumers to purchase vehicles priced thousand above the MSRP and price quoted online at Lexus.com
Toyota Motor Credit Corporation finances vehicles for Lexus.com. According to the United States Department of Justice, TMCC and their dealerships openly discriminated against African American consumers by knowingly overcharging them for the purchase of vehicles, as well as overcharging them for financing and interest rate.
TMCC knowingly targeted black consumers to defraud them of the same services and financial options available to other consumers. More compelling, evidence proves that African American consumers were not less qualified than their counterparts. Therefore, TMCC had no legal or factual reasons to engage in discriminatory practices.
After careful review and consideration of these different platforms, consumers should research the cost associated with online purchases versus traditional purchases and inventory. Consumers should read all disclaimers and screenshot the disclaimers at the time of site visit. Lexus.com changed their website after they were confronted about their deceptive business practices. Consumers should do vehicle price and finance rate comparisons. More importantly, consumers should inspect all vehicles before purchase and upon delivery. If they find damage or mechanical dysfunction, they should immediately bring it to the attention of the manufacturer, dealership, transport, and the finance company.
Consumers must maintain control of their purchasing power and beware of Lexus.com and purchasing vehicles online.

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