Consumer Reports, in conjunction with TrueCar, Inc., is offering the Build & Buy Car Buying Service as an extra benefit to ConsumerReports.org, Consumer Reports, and ShopSmart subscribers and to purchasers of Consumer Reports' New Car Price Reports. Intended to complement Consumer Reports' suite of auto ratings, reviews, and buying advice, the program is designed to help consumers buy vehicles at a competitive price from dealers who have agreed to abide by certain guidelines.
While Consumer Reports has long provided in-depth car-buying advice, subscribers have been on their own in finding dealerships that they want to work with and doing their own price negotiations. The Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service is intended to help make car buying easier, with less hassle and anxiety. The program also helps Consumer Reports further its ongoing work and mission, because TrueCar pays us a flat fee for each vehicle sold through the program. Consumer Reports has no direct contact or any financial relationship with any dealerships. For more details, see "What is TrueCar and what is its relationship to Consumer Reports?"
What are the advantages of using the Build & Buy program?
- Low, competitive prices. Participating dealers have agreed to sell their vehicles at competitive prices that are typically well below the manufacturer's suggested retail price and sometimes below the dealer-invoice price.
- Pre-screened dealers. The program includes more than 4,000 participating dealers nationwide who have been recognized for providing high customer satisfaction and have agreed to follow strict guidelines of conduct.
- Easy-to-use tools. The program allows you to quickly configure a vehicle with the trim, color, and options you want and then get a Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service that includes an Estimated Price provided by participating dealers in your area as well as your Minimum Savings off MSRP when you purchase through the program (dealers in Virginia, Texas, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska, and Louisiana provide a Target Price and Potential Savings off MSRP.)
- Free and anonymous. You can use this free service as much as you want without revealing your identity to any dealers unless you choose to. Your identity will be concealed from dealers, and theirs from you, when the Estimated Price and Minimum Savings off MSRP (or Target Price and Potential Savings off MSRP in applicable states) are initially given. You may then choose to send your identity to none, any, or all of the dealers, and in return their identities will be revealed to you. The service also guarantees that consumers' contact information is never sold through the program.
- No obligation. Even after you get your price certificate, there's no obligation to buy. You can always change your mind about the vehicle, price, or dealership, or whether you want to buy a car at all.
- You receive all applicable incentives. Participating dealers are required to pass along to you any discounts provided by any applicable manufacturer incentives for the vehicle you're buying. This includes unadvertised manufacturer-to-dealer incentives, for which it's typically up to the dealer whether to keep the savings or pass them on to the customer.
How does the program work?
Select the make, model, and trim level that you want to buy. Then specify the exterior and interior colors and choose the options you want to see the Estimated Price and Minimum Savings off MSRP for your configured vehicle (shoppers in Virginia, Texas, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska, and Louisiana zip codes are presented a Target Price and Potential Savings off MSRP.).
Verify your contact information to be shown up to three participating dealerships in your area, although the dealerships are described only in terms of their distance from your shopping zip code at this point and your identity is hidden from them. If you so choose, you will then have the option to send your contact and vehicle information to any of the dealers and, in doing so, you will go on to Step 3 in which the dealers' identities will be revealed to you.
You get a Consumer Reports Build & Buy price certificate, which includes an Estimated Price as well as a Minimum Savings off MSRP by purchasing from the dealer(s) you selected (shoppers in Virginia, Texas, Maryland, Colorado, Washington, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska, and Louisiana zip codes are presented a Target Price and Potential Savings off MSRP) and the identities of the dealer(s) you selected in Step 2. The price certificate also includes detailed step-by-step instructions on how to get the best deal on a car, so we hope you will print it out and follow its advice.
You may opt out of this process at any point, and you are under no obligation to buy. In addition, no dealer gets your name or contact information unless and until you choose to contact that dealer.
What is TrueCar and what is its relationship to Consumer Reports?
The Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service is provided as a service to our ConsumerReports.org, Consumer Reports, and ShopSmart subscribers and to purchasers of Consumer Reports' New Car Price Reports in cooperation with TrueCar. TrueCar contracts with large membership organizations, including Consumer Reports, to provide their members and subscribers with competitive prices on new cars. TrueCar leverages the group buying power of these organizations with its nationwide dealer network to help provide a positive buying experience. To participate, dealers must meet certain customer-service standards and agree to a code of conduct.
For consumers, the service is completely free. You are not charged a fee by Consumer Reports, TrueCar, or the dealership. In addition to helping our subscribers, the Build & Buy program also helps Consumer Reports, a nonprofit organization, do its work. TrueCar pays Consumer Reports for cars sold through the program, without regard to what makes or models were bought, where they were bought, or who bought them. Whatever amounts Consumer Reports receives are used to help defray the costs of its ongoing work and mission.
If you decide to use the Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service we'd like to learn from your experience as we continue to develop and refine the service. So, if you submit your contact information to a participating dealer(s), we'll send you an e-mail asking for your feedback.
Consumer Reports does not have any financial relationship with dealers, and the compensation that Consumer Reports receives is not related to the model or to our rating of a specific model.
What guidelines must participating dealers follow?
To qualify for participation in the Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service, dealers must follow strict guidelines intended to provide you, the customer, with a guaranteed price and easier, more transparent car-buying experience. Dealers are continuously re-evaluated for compliance with these guidelines.
Here are some of the guidelines that dealers must follow:
- The dealer ensures the confidentiality of all non-public personal information you provide to complete a vehicle sales transaction.
- The dealer will provide your price prior to your arrival at the dealership.
- The dealer will assist you with a test drive or test drives once you arrive at the dealership.
- All factory-installed vehicle options are priced at the dealer's invoice price.
- Upon your request, the dealer will show you its current pricing on each model and trim of vehicle offered through the program (the "Dealer Price") and the dealer's invoice price (the maximum amount the dealer pays the manufacturer for the vehicle) applicable to any dealer vehicle.
- The dealer will pass any and all manufacturer-to-dealer and manufacturer-to-customer incentives to you. Incentives are discounts that the manufacturer gives to the dealer or consumer to increase the sales of a particular model.
- If you have already arranged financing of your vehicle purchase, the dealer will not present you with a competing financing offer unless you request information on alternative financing offers.
- The dealer will complete all necessary titling documents and, in cases where you provide financing, pay all titling fees and perfect liens in exchange for accepting payment from the financing institution.
- A trained dealer representative will respond to your inquiry within twenty-four (24) hours by both phone and e-mail to and inform you of the the Dealer Price and availability of the vehicle, equipped as you specified in your inquiry to the dealer. If the specifically equipped vehicle is not on the dealer's lot, the dealer representative will explain how he or she can assist you in acquiring that specifically equipped vehicle or how your program price can be applied to a differently equipped vehicle that may be available for quicker delivery. The dealer sells all aftermarket products below market value under the program.
- In accordance with the law, any price charged to you in excess of the Dealer Price will be refunded to you by the dealer within three (3) days of any request for such refund by TrueCar or you.
- The dealer must contact TrueCar to resolve all customer complaints or program issues immediately.
What if I have a question or complaint about this service?
The Build & Buy Car Buying Service is administered by TrueCar, Inc. Consumer Reports has no direct contact with participating dealers.
- If you have complaints about a dealership or the service, please call TrueCar's customer service at 877-924-2585.
- If you decide to not buy a car through the program and want to stop receiving e-mails from the Build & Buy Program or e-mails from dealers, use the unsubscribe link near the bottom of the e-mail you received.
- To halt telephone calls from a dealer, just tell the dealer representative that you do not wish to receive further calls.
- If you continue to have problems, contact the customer service department at Consumer Reports, at http://custhelp.consumerreports.org/cgi-bin/consumerreports.cfg/php/enduser/ask.php.
We want the service to be a positive experience for our subscribers. So, a TrueCar customer service specialist will make a follow-up courtesy phone call to every consumer who uses the Program to help ensure that your expectations are being met and to address your outstanding questions. In addition, TrueCar and Consumer Reports will work together to review every complaint and issue reported.
How do I know what the price is?
The Build & Buy Car Buying Service includes the dealer price quotes for the specific vehicle you configured, along with the dealer's invoice price for that vehicle, plus information on available incentives. Once you select the price and dealer of your choice, our system automatically sends a copy of the Build & Buy price certificate to the e-mail address you provided; the Report includes the dealer contact information and the TrueCar price quote for the exact vehicle you configured.
Is the Estimated Price I receive the lowest available?
The Estimated Price that you receive is the average of prices offered through the program by participating dealers in your area. It is formulated to be competitive and will include all available incentives. But it may not be the absolute lowest price for which a specific vehicle can be purchased. That figure depends on a variety of factors, including when you buy, the availability of the model, and how much time and effort you want to invest in negotiating. Target Price, which is presented rather than Estimated Price in several states, is based on the average local price for that vehicle whether sold by participating or non-participating TrueCar network dealers. Even after you receive your Build & Buy price certificate, you are free to try and negotiate a lower price with any dealer. The Build & Buy price certificate includes a great deal of specific advice on how to negotiate the best deal.
Does the price include all fees?
Your Consumer Reports Build & Buy price certificate includes a list of fees included in your price as well as some specific, common fees that are excluded. Your dealer will provide a breakdown of destination and all other manufacturer fees and government charges as required by the laws in your state.
What if the dealer doesn't have the exact vehicle I want?
Given the many possible trim choices and configurations of modern cars, it is possible that some or all of the dealers who provided pricing for the program will not have that exact car in stock. TrueCar research shows that nearly 25 percent of consumers who have contacted program dealers and who ultimately purchased from dealers outside the TrueCar dealer network did so because the TrueCar dealer could not provide the car they wanted. If the dealer does not have the exact car you wanted, you have several options:
- Check with other dealers that you selected. Keep in mind that the program price may differ at another dealership.
- Custom order a vehicle with your configuration. Some automakers allow you to place a special order for the vehicle. The only downside is that custom orders typically take several weeks to arrive, and sales incentives and/or prices may change during that time.
- Buy a similar model from the dealer's inventory. The dealer may have the same car with slightly different features. Obviously, that will affect your price. If the car has fewer features, your price will be less; if it has more features, the price will be more. The dealer is required to show you the invoice price for any vehicle offered through the program.
- Shop around. You're under no obligation to purchase a vehicle through the Build & Buy Car Buying Service, so you always have the option to negotiate a price on your own with dealers outside the program.
Can I lease the vehicle instead?
Yes. Prices are valid for vehicle leases as well as purchases and will be used in calculating the capital cost (price of the vehicle, for the purposes of the lease). See the Build & Buy price certificate for specific advice on how to negotiate a better lease deal. Note: some manufacturer incentives may not be available with some lease programs. However, under program guidelines the dealer is required to include all incentives for which you are eligible in the dealer price presented to you.
Can I use my Estimated Price on a used car?
No. The Estimated Price is only good for a new car. That said, it's always good to compare the price for a new car with what's available among used cars. Late-model used cars, in particular, provide some of the best value when car buying. That's because they typically have relatively low mileage, are equipped with modern safety features, and, because they've already taken their biggest depreciation hit, are priced considerably lower than similar new cars. On average, a new car's value drops about 47 percent in the first three years.
How does TrueCar figure out which dealers to present to you?
After configuring your car, the program presents up to three dealers in your area, including the one with the lowest price levels for the car you requested, the dealer nearest, and one or more dealers in your area with a high customer satisfaction rating.
What's the difference between Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service and Consumer Reports.org Cars Best Deals Plus?
These programs offer you two different ways to get a low price on a new car.
The Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service lets you configure and buy the car you want for a competitive low price with a Minimum Savings off MSRP. It also directs you to pre-screened dealers who agree to follow guidelines that help ensure a great customer service experience. The service is free and you are under no obligation to buy.
If you prefer to identify dealers on your own and purchase outside the TrueCar dealer network, Consumer Reports Cars Best Deals Plus gives you the tools you need. This service provides unlimited new-car price reports, which include the Consumer Reports Bottom Line Price. The Consumer Reports Bottom Line Price is the dealer-invoice price, minus any customer rebate, dealer incentive, or holdback amount. This figure provides a good place to begin your new-car price negotiations. Cars Best Deals Plus also helps you research which car to buy, with more detailed road-test reports and owner-satisfaction and reliability information than is published anywhere else. The service costs $13 a year, in addition to your ConsumerReports.org annual subscription.
How does the Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service differ from price-quote services on other car-shopping Web sites?
This program differs from dealer lead-referral systems—typically presented as price-quote services on popular car websites—in several ways.
- Under typical lead-referral systems, consumers' contact information is often sold and re-sold. Under the Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service, your contact information is never sold or re-sold. And if you tell a dealer that you want no further contact because you've chosen not to purchase, the dealer will honor your request. If you purchase a vehicle through the program, the dealer from whom you purchased may contact you from time to time as part of its post-purchase program. Such contact is outside the control of the program but in the unlikely case that you receive too many unwanted contacts after asking the dealer to reduce or eliminate e-mails or phone calls, contact TrueCar, which will work with the dealer to resolve the situation to your satisfaction.
- To participate in the Build & Buy Car Buying Service, dealers must adhere to strict guidelines governing their interactions with the consumer (see "What are the customer service guidelines that program dealers must follow?". In traditional lead-referral systems there is no such rigorous list of guidelines.
- Dealers who participate in the Build & Buy Car Buying Service must have at least one representative on staff who has completed TrueCar's program training. This helps to ensure that the dealer provides a high level of customer service consistent with program guidelines.
- Finally, all manufacturer-to-dealer incentives (unadvertised payments that the manufacturer offers a dealer for selling certain models) are passed to the consumer under the program, helping to lower the purchase price. Lead-referral systems make no such guarantee.
- So we hope you will heed the detailed advice that comes with your Build & Buy price certificate; there are still many potential potholes to watch out for as you negotiate your deal and, we hope, get exactly the car and set of options that will work best for you.