Sara Routhier, Managing Editor of Features and Outreach, has professional experience as an educator, SEO specialist, and content marketer. She has over five years of experience in the insurance industry. As a researcher, data nerd, writer, and editor she strives to curate educational, enlightening articles that provide you with the must-know facts and best-kept secrets within the overwhelming worl...

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Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity-backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He also has an MBA from the University of South Florida. ...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Apr 9, 2012

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While certain models may be cheaper without upgrades, “packed” cars are completely loaded with features. Most dealers who commit a “packed” car scam do not offer any models without the upgradeable features, thus forcing interested auto loan borrowers to settle for an upgraded model if they wish to purchase a vehicle from that specific dealership.

Bait-and-Switch

Also called “option packing,” packed cars are sold to consumers by using a bait-and-switch tactic. Those interested in purchasing a specific vehicle ventures onto a dealership and asks for the lowest priced version of a particular model. Salesmen then ask the consumer what sort of features and upgrades they want. Regardless of what answers are given, the salesmen then apologetically informs the consumer that all they have are fully upgraded versions.

“When will you get more basic models?” is what consumers undoubtedly will ask.

But the salesmen plays dumb, and tries to convince the consumer to purchase what they have since it may weeks or even months before they receive something more basic.

Even More Money Lost in Financing

If a consumer agrees and goes to the negotiation office, the salesman attempts to leech even more money from his victim through dealership financing.

Packed cars are more expensive than their basic alternatives, so the auto loan required to finance a packed vehicle is much higher. If a consumer originates that financing at a dealership, he or she can expect an interest rate of several percentage points higher than they otherwise would have qualified for if they worked directly with a lender. This is because dealerships receive a kickback from lenders for originating auto loans at higher-than-average interest rates.

How to Avoid this Car Scam

To avoid such scams, consumers should first do their research and determine what the maximum amount they’re willing to spend on a vehicle is. Then they should get pre-approved for an auto loan by speaking directly to a lender. The forms on this site will allow consumers to get in contact with multiple lenders, allowing the consumer to select the very best offer.

Then when the consumer ventures onto a car dealership, they can be very firm as to what they can afford. If a dealer insists that the consumer settle for the more expensive “option packed” vehicle, the consumer can walk away and visit a different dealership. After all, vehicle upgrades and options are supposed to be exactly that: optional.