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What is the Build & Buy Car Buying Service?

How subscribers can save money on a new car

Last updated: February 2014

As an extra benefit to ConsumerReports.org, Consumer Reports, and ShopSmart subscribers and to purchasers of Consumer Reports' New Car Price Reports, Consumer Reports is pleased to offer access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional charge. Intended to complement Consumer Reports' suite of auto ratings, reviews, and buying advice, the program, administered by TrueCar, Inc. 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. 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 to a program participant by a participating dealer. 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 Car Buying Service?

  • Upfront dealer pricing information (in most states). The program provides you access to robust, current information about the make and model of vehicle you may be interested in buying. Plus, you can access this information before even visiting the dealership.
  • Guaranteed Savings off MSRP (in most states).  In most states, the program allows you to obtain a Certificate from a participating dealer that will guarantee you a certain amount of savings from MSRP on any in-stock vehicle of the same make, model, and trim as the "virtual vehicle" you configure on the website. In some states, guaranteed savings are not available, but in this case, you will receive a Certificate containing an estimate of what you could reasonably expect to pay at a participating dealer for your "virtual vehicle" as configured on the website, based on analysis of current market data.
  • Pre-screened dealers. The program includes more than 6,500 participating dealers nationwide who have been certified by TrueCar for their commitment to providing high customer satisfaction, have been trained on the program, and have agreed to follow strict guidelines of conduct.
  • Easy-to-use tools. The program allows you to quickly configure a "virtual vehicle" with the trim, color, and options you want and then get a Build & Buy Car Buying Service Certificate. In most states, this Certificate will provide an Estimated Dealer Price, which is an estimate of the pricing available to Consumer Reports subscribers from participating dealers in your area for the "virtual vehicle" you configured.  In some states, Estimated Dealer Prices are unavailable through the program, and in those states, the Certificate will provide a Target Price, which is an estimate of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your "virtual vehicle" as configured, based on analysis of current market data. This Certificate can be applied to any in-stock vehicle of the same make and model on the dealer's lot.
  • Your identity is safeguarded.  You can use the 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 Dealer Price (or Target Price in applicable states) is initially displayed. 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.
  • No obligation.  There is never an obligation to buy when using the program. 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 all applicable vehicle specific manufacturer discounts for in-stock vehicles.

How does the program work?

Step 1

Configure your "virtual vehicle" by selecting the make, model, and trim level that you want to buy.  Then specify the exterior and interior colors, and choose the options that interest you. After you have done this, the program will display an Estimated Dealer Price, which is an estimate of the pricing available to Consumer Reports subscribers from participating dealers in your area for the "virtual vehicle" you configured. In some states, Estimated Dealer Prices are unavailable through the program, and in those states, a Target Price will be displayed, which is an example of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your virtual vehicle as configured, based on analysis of current market data.

Step 2

Verify your contact information.  At this point, the selected dealerships are described only in terms of their distance from your stated zip code, and your identity is hidden from them. If you choose, you will then have the option to send your contact and vehicle information to any of the dealers, and the dealers' identities will be revealed to you.

Step 3

Once you select the dealers you would like to work with, you will receive a Certificate from each dealership.  In most states, your Certificate will include an Estimated Dealer Price as well as a Guaranteed Minimum Savings off MSRP for any in-stock vehicle of the same make and model as the "virtual vehicle" you configured. In some states, your Certificate will provide a Target Price, which is an example of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your "virtual vehicle" as configured, based on analysis of current market data. Either way, your Certificate(s) will reveal the names of the participating dealers(s) you selected in Step 2.

Remember, 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.

Step 4

Contact your selected participating dealer(s) for a test drive.  Print your Certificate or have it available to show on your mobile device so you are identified as a Consumer Reports subscriber and receive all appropriate savings.  Make sure to check the expiration date of any listed incentives.

If you decide to select a different vehicle on the lot, the dealer can generate a new Certificate for you that will show your new pricing information with your Guaranteed Savings (where applicable) and available incentives.

How does my Guaranteed Savings work?

In states where Estimated Dealer Prices and Guaranteed Savings are available, the Certificate you receive from the participating dealer entitles you to a certain amount of savings from MSRP on any in-stock vehicle of the same make, model, and trim as the "virtual vehicle" you configure on the website.  In some states, Estimated Dealer Prices and Guaranteed Savings are not available, but in this case you will receive a Certificate containing an estimate of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your "virtual vehicle" as configured, based on analysis of current market data.

If you choose a different vehicle on the lot than the "virtual vehicle" you configured, the dealer can generate a new Certificate for you.

What is TrueCar and what is its relationship to Consumer Reports?

The Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service is administered by TrueCar and offered as a service to our ConsumerReports.org, Consumer Reports, and ShopSmart subscribers and to purchasers of Consumer Reports' New Car Price Reports. TrueCar, an entity independent of Consumer Reports, contracts with large membership organizations, including Consumer Reports, to provide their members and subscribers with access to current local market data on new car pricing, upfront dealer savings (in most states), and a means to contact participating dealers who are committed to providing program users with a positive buying experience.  To participate, dealers must meet certain program standards, undergo periodic training, and agree to a code of conduct.

In addition to helping our subscribers, the Build & Buy Car Buying Service also helps Consumer Reports, a nonprofit organization, do its work. TrueCar pays a fee to Consumer Reports based on cars sold to program participants by participating dealers, 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, we may 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 from TrueCar 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 in the TrueCar Certified Dealer network must follow strict guidelines intended to provide you, the subscriber, with a better car-buying experience.

Here are some of the guidelines that dealers must follow:

  1. The dealer must ensure the confidentiality of all non-public personal information you provide to complete a vehicle sales transaction.
  2. The dealer will provide you with a hassle-free buying experience.
  3. The dealer will assist you with a test drive(s) once you arrive at the dealership.
  4. The dealer must successfully complete training on the program, including periodic updates.
  5. The dealer will pass any and all vehicle specific manufacturer incentives to you. Incentives are discounts that the manufacturer provides to increase the sales of a particular model.
  6. 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.
  7. The dealer will complete all necessary titling and registration documents, including in cases where you provide your own financing.  In addition, the dealer will send the applicable finance institution the application for certificate of title (or other appropriate documentation necessary in the jurisdiction where the transaction occurs) evidencing the VIN, customer signature, and finance institution as the lien holder. In Texas, the dealer will apply in your name for the registration of the vehicle, if the vehicle is to be registered, and a certificate of title for the vehicle, and file with the appropriate designated agent, each document necessary to transfer title to or register the vehicle.
  8. A trained dealer representative will respond to your inquiry through the program within twenty-four (24) hours by both phone and e-mail.  The dealer will contact TrueCar to resolve all customer complaints or program issues promptly.

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 from a dealer participating in the program and want to stop receiving e-mails from the Build & Buy Car Buying Service, use the unsubscribe link near the bottom of the e-mail you received. To stop receiving emails from participating dealers, please contact them directly.
  • 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 Consumer Reports customer service department.

We want the service to be a positive experience for our subscribers. TrueCar and Consumer Reports will work together to review every complaint and issue that is reported.

How do I know what the price is?

The program allows you to quickly configure a "virtual vehicle" with the trim, color, and options you want and then get a Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service Certificate. In most states, this Certificate will provide an Estimated Dealer Price, which is an estimate of the pricing available to Consumer Reports customers from participating dealers in your area for the "virtual vehicle" you configured. In some states, Estimated Dealer Prices are unavailable through the program, and in these states, the Certificate will provide a Target Price, which is an example of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your "virtual vehicle" as configured, based on analysis of current market data.  With this information and your program Certificate in hand, you are well positioned to recognize a fair price and determine what you are willing to pay.  The actual price you pay, of course, will be determined by you and the dealer based on the final car you select on the lot.

Is the Estimated Price I receive the lowest available?

In states where an Estimated Dealer Price is supplied through the program, the Estimated Dealer Price represents an estimate of the pricing available to program participants from participating dealers in your area for the virtual vehicle you configured.  The Estimated Dealer Price should be competitive in your local area and is formulated to include all available incentives.  But as an estimate, it may not be the absolute lowest price for which a specific vehicle can be purchased.  Conversely, you might not be able to purchase a given vehicle for the Estimated Dealer Price.  The actual price you may obtain from a participating dealer 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.

In states where a Target Price is supplied through the program, the Target Price represents an estimate of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your "virtual vehicle" as configured, based on analysis of current market data.  The Target Price should be competitive in your local area and is formulated to include all available vehicle specific incentives.  But as an estimate, it may not be the lowest price for which a specific vehicle can be purchased.  Conversely, you might not be able to purchase a given vehicle for the Target Price.  The actual price you may obtain from a participating dealer 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.

Additionally, the information on this website and other Consumer Reports publications includes a great deal of specific advice on how to negotiate the best deal.

Does the price estimate on my Certificate include all fees?

Your program Certificate includes a list of fees included in your Estimated Dealer Price or Target 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 fees and charges as required or permitted 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 in your area who participate in the program will not have that exact car in stock. 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 ultimate price you receive may vary between participating dealers.
  • Custom order a vehicle with your configuration.  Some automakers allow you to place a special order for the vehicle. A downside to this approach 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. Ordinarily, the specific features included on the car you select will affect your price.  If the car has fewer features, your price will normally be less; if it has more features, the price will normally be more.
  • Shop around. You're under no obligation to purchase a vehicle through a dealer participating in 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. The ultimate price you agree on for a vehicle will be used in calculating the capital cost (price of the vehicle, for the purposes of the lease). Please note that some manufacturer incentives may not be available with some lease programs and other factors influence lease pricing.

Can I use my Estimated Price on a used car?

No. The Estimated Dealer Price represents an estimate of the pricing available to Consumer Reports subscribers from participating dealers in your area for the virtual vehicle you configured, which is a new vehicle.  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.

What determines the dealers I have the option of contacting through the program?

After configuring your virtual vehicle, the program presents dealers in your area, based upon a formula that considers pricing levels, location, and customer satisfaction ratings.

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 fair deal on a new car.

The Consumer Reports Build & Buy Car Buying Service provides you access to robust, current information about the market price in your area for the make and model of the vehicle you may be interested in buying. This information helps you recognize a fair price and determine what you are willing to pay. It also directs you to pre-screened dealers who agree to follow guidelines that help ensure a great customer service experience. In most states, the program allows you to obtain a Certificate from a participating dealer that will guarantee you a certain amount of subscriber savings from MSRP on any in-stock vehicle of the same make, model, and trim as the "virtual vehicle" you configured on the website. In some states, guaranteed savings are not available, but in this case you will receive a Certificate containing an estimate of what you could reasonably expect to pay for your "virtual vehicle" as configured, based on analysis of current market data. There is never an obligation to buy when using the program. You can always change your mind about the vehicle, price, or dealership, or whether you want to buy a car at all.

If you prefer to identify dealers on your own and purchase outside the TrueCar Certified 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?

The Consumer Reports Build & Buy Service differs in several important ways from dealer lead-referral systems presented on a number of other car websites.

  • 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, although dealers are able to contact you about their offering. And if you tell a TrueCar Certified Dealer that you want no further contact because you've chosen not to purchase, the dealer has agreed to honor your request promptly. 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 in an effort to resolve the situation to your satisfaction.
  • To participate in the Build & Buy Car Buying Service, TrueCar Certified Dealers must adhere to specific program guidelines and training (see "What guidelines must participating dealers follow?"). In traditional lead-referral systems, there is no such rigorous program guidelines or training requirements.
  • Finally, participating dealers have agreed that all vehicle specific manufacturer incentives (which may include 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. Traditional lead-referral systems contain no such requirements.
  • So we hope you will make full use of all the advantages available to your through the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.  There are still many potential potholes to watch out for as you negotiate your deal, and we hope you get exactly the car and set of options that will work best for you at a price that is right for you.
   

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