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Truecar Review

How Does Truecar Work | Truecar Review

By now, most people have heard of Truecar, but do you know how Truecar works?

In simple terms: TrueCar is an online platform that connects car buyers with certified dealers.

So that’s it?

Not in the least!

My Key Takeaways On TrueCar:

  • TrueCar is an online car buying service matching buyers with dealers to purchase/lease vehicles. It provides pricing data on new, used, and certified pre-owned cars.
  • TrueCar claims to offer buyers a “fair price” by showing what others paid locally, but fair is subjective. TrueCar’s fair price is the average between highest/lowest prices paid.
  • TrueCar does not necessarily provide the best deal, just an average local market price. Pricing is based on MSRP which most people don’t pay.
  • Savings claims include standard rebates/incentives available anyway. TrueCar prices exclude common dealer fees and charges.
  • Dealers themselves set TrueCar prices based on desired profit per vehicle. TrueCar just delivers the dealer-set pricing to buyers upon request.
  • There is nothing unique about TrueCar pricing compared to other auto buying services. It simply shows what dealers want to make plus average local sale prices.
  • TrueCar claims its pricing is within 1.1% of actual sale prices on average. But individual vehicle deviation can be much higher.
  • Customer reviews show mixed experiences – some praise transparency but others cite inaccurate quotes and bait-and-switch tactics from dealers.

What is Truecar?

The truth is that Truecar is simply an online Car Buying service that connects Car Buyers with a network of Car Dealers to purchase or lease a car.

True car provides pricing information on the following:

  • New Cars
  • Used Cars
  • Certified Pre-Owned Cars
what is truecar

What Makes Truecar Different

Their claim to fame is that by giving you access to see what others have paid for similar vehicles in their local area, they can help you get a fair price on a car by receiving upfront price offers from participating dealers.

Now you’re probably wondering: What is a “fair price”? 

And you are not alone because the truth is that “Fair” is actually subjective, meaning- Its definition is going to be different for literally everyone. 

For the purposes of True Car, fair is typically defined as being average or comparable to other dealers’ advertised prices. 

The Truth About Truecar

This means that instead of getting a “Deal” by using the service, what you are actually getting is a price that’s most often somewhere in between the lowest and the highest prices people have paid in your area.

Pros and Cons of TrueCar

the pros and cons of truecar

Pros:

  • Provides real local pricing data based on recent sales to benchmark deals. This transparency is unique.
  • Large dealer network expands inventory selection. Helps buyers find specific vehicles.
  • User-friendly search tools and vehicle research resources. Makes shopping and comparing easy.
  • Quick online offers for selling vehicles. Gives sellers a baseline number for valuation.
  • Now offers a vehicle delivery service through their distance retailing program. Provides added convenience.

Cons:

  • Pricing not guaranteed, could change once at dealer. Creates potential for bait-and-switch tactics.
  • Must share contact info for pricing details. Leads to spam calls and emails from dealers.
  • No control over actual purchasing and selling process with dealerships. Experience will vary.
  • Revenue model creates conflict of interest between serving buyers vs dealers.

In summary, TrueCar does bring a sense of transparency to car pricing and makes the shopping process more convenient for buyers with their new delivery service option.

However, the nature of their dealer marketplace means pricing and experiences are not fully in their control and are heavily influenced by the dealers.

So,

Buyers need to be cautious when navigating dealerships.

How Truecar Compares To Similar Services

Comparisons to Other Services

TrueCar differs from other popular car-buying services in a few key ways,

but the main difference is that Truecar is the only service that uses data from actual car sales in your area, whereas everyone else uses advertised prices to calculate what you should pay for a car.

  • Carvana – Carvana is an online used car retailer that buys and sells cars directly whereas TrueCar connects buyers and sellers with local dealers. Both now offer delivery.
  • CarMax – Similar to Carvana, CarMax buys, sells, and owns their own vehicle inventory. TrueCar is just a marketplace, but they have partnered with ACERTUS to facilitate vehicle delivery.
  • Autotrader – Autotrader is a marketplace like TrueCar. However, Autotrader focuses more on listings and does not provide pricing data or connect buyers and sellers.
  • CarGurus – CarGurus is also an online marketplace focused on listings like Autotrader or Cars.com. Their pricing tools are also based entirely on advertised prices.
  • Edmunds – Edmunds offers research tools to compare models and calculate payments. However, they do not connect buyers with sellers or provide real pricing data like TrueCar attempts to do.

Truecar Pricing System – Explained

Unlike CarGurus or AutoTrader, which provides you with pricing based on advertisements, TrueCar’s pricing system provides its users with a price analysis by using data sourced from real car sales in your area.

With this data, they aim to tell you if a dealer’s price is Great, High, Excellent, or fair while also showing you how many recent sales fit into each of these categories (Example below):

true car price graph
true car price graph

The Benefit of This Pricing System

The apparent benefit of providing consumers with pricing based on actual sales data would seem to be a simplification of the car buying process along with the potential for eliminating price negotiation, which,

As everyone knows:

Is the biggest reason why people have wanted to avoid car dealerships for decades.

But does it actually work? Does True Car really show you what others are paying?

See: “The transparency of Truecar Pricing” section further down in this article for the answer.

Truecar Customer Reviews

Truecar Customer Reviews

I ran a few searches across several review websites and compiled a few key points made by real True car customers that created reviews about their experiences. Here is what I found:

Positive reviews about TrueCar:

  • TrueCar provides a digital automotive marketplace that makes it possible to buy used and new cars, research car values, or list your own car for sale online.
  • TrueCar gives consumers more confidence to buy by providing them with more information.
  • TrueCar claims to promote transparency in car buying.

Negative reviews about TrueCar:

  • TrueCar is a ruse by providing a lower auto quote at a connected dealership. Once you get to the dealership, the price is higher. TrueCar does not send alerts.
  • TrueCar may not be interested in getting you the best price.
  • Some customers have reported that TrueCar’s quotes are not always accurate and may not reflect the actual price of the car.

Is The Truecar Price Accurate?

Is The Truecar Price Accurate
Is The Truecar Price Accurate

When considering if the Truecar Price is accurate, we first need to see what’s included and not included in the prices you’re shown.

As we discussed above, paying the Truecar price is relegating yourself to average pricing,

And here are the facts:

Truecar prices are based on MSRP (Manufacturer’s suggested retail price)

The problem with that is that MSRP is a price almost no one pays unless you are buying a limited-availability or high-demand vehicle.

Important Statistic: TrueCar claims pricing within 1.1% of actual sales prices on average.

It gets better:

These “savings,” or discounts from MSRP that you are shown include cash rebates and incentives that almost everyone is already entitled to whether you use the service or not. 

Additionally, here are some important costs True Car leaves out:

  • Dealer fees
  • Administrative fees charged by the dealership
  • Dealer installed Accessories
  • Extended warranties
  • Finance Charges
  • Protection Products (My Favorite)

So, the next logical question should be:

Who Sets The Truecar Price?

Truecar-Picing-Autohitch-Review

Car dealers set the TrueCar price; in fact, I’ll tell you something that most car buyers forget in the face of good marketing:

Car Dealers Always Set Their Prices!

What Truecar actually does is take what the dealership says they wish to make in profit on a certain vehicle, then at your request, they deliver those figures to you in the form of a price.  

The bottom line about Truecar Pricing:

There isn’t anything special, unique, or exclusive about Truecar Pricing or similar Auto Buying Service models. 

You are simply paying a combination of the following:

  • What the dealer has declared they want to make on a car
  • The prices others have recieved for that vehicle in your area (Consisting mainly of Rebates and Incentives you get either way).

The Truecar History You Probably Didn’t Know (But Should)

In 2012 Truecar was put so far into a corner that it nearly had to close up shop. 

Why? 

A third of their 5600 car dealerships canceled their subscriptions practically overnight, which in large part led to a loss that year of 75 million dollars. 

The reason for all of those dealer defections?

The Truecar business model was overwhelmingly helping car buyers and driving down dealerships’ margins.

In fact, they did such a good job of driving down the price car buyers paid that they simply became unbearable for most dealerships. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, True car was also going after dealerships in their advertising, putting a bad light on the businesses that paid their bills, not very bright!

How-Does-Truecar-Work-A-Truecar-Review

In 2012 Truecar was a strong advocate for car buyers and lower prices, and their effectiveness at lowering those prices caused dealers to strike back with a vengeance.   

The question you, as a car buyer, should ask is: 

What has Truecar changed about the service that has put them back in the good graces of the dealerships?

Can You Negotiate on Truecar?

Yes, you can negotiate prices on Truecar; however, remember that Truecar’s own policy states that prices offered on their site are not guaranteed. So, if you negotiate with a dealer on True car, the price could still change when you arrive at the dealership.

Tip: You’re better off negotiating directly with the dealer at the dealership.

How Does Truecar Make Money?

Truecar makes money from fees paid by the Dealership, but only when someone actually purchases a car.  Truecar Dealer Fees are generally:

  • $299 for a New Car
  • $399 for a Used Car

This type of payment system is a bit hard to keep track of, especially when you factor in how clever dealers can get to claim that a buyer didn’t really come to them through Truecar (To avoid the fee), but this is why Truecar has agreements with dealers to gain access to their books-  So the transactions can be verified.  

Truecar Revenue Over The Past Few Years

Fiscal YearRevenue% Change from Previous Year
2022$161.52 million-30.29%
2021$231.7 million-15%
2020$274.81 million-22%
2019$353.61 million

Source: https://stockanalysis.com/stocks/true/revenue/

Is Truecar a Trustworthy Site?

Yes, Although they practice what some perceive to be deceptive marketing techniques, Truecar is, in fact, a legitimate business and does work with certified dealerships.

TrueCar Buying and Selling Process Explained

If you’re new to TrueCar, let me take you through the key steps for buying or selling a car on the platform so you know what to expect.

Buying a Car on TrueCar

First, you’ll search for the specific car make, model, year, and features you want. Applying filters helps narrow it down to the perfect vehicle.

  • Use the search filters to find the exact car you want
  • Narrow by make, model, year, price, features

Next, check the price analysis for that car showing what others in your area recently paid. This allows you to benchmark pricing and aim for a competitive deal.

  • See what others in your area paid for the same car
  • Compare to MSRP and invoice price
  • Benchmark to negotiate a competitive deal

When you’re ready, submit your contact information so TrueCar can connect you with guaranteed offers from up to 3 local dealers who have that car.

Those dealers will reach out with details on pricing and availability. Make sure to compare all the offers side-by-side and negotiate if needed.

  • Get multiple dealer offers to compare
  • Negotiate for the best pricing if you want

Once you decide on the best offer for your needs, you can finalize the deal at the dealership or complete the process online and have your car delivered.

Selling a Car on TrueCar

Selling your car on TrueCar is pretty quick and straightforward. Just input your car’s VIN or license plate number to get an estimated value instantly.

  • Input VIN or license for an instant value estimate

You’ll need to carefully enter information about your car’s specs, condition, features, and history when prompted.

  • Provide comprehensive details on your car’s specs and condition
  • More details leads to a more accurate offer

Expert Tip: If you’re tempted to alter the facts to raise the number, beware that this will only lead to disappointment when the dealer lowers their offer after they inspect the vehicle.

After submitting your contact info, local TrueCar dealers will provide guaranteed “True Cash Offers” based on your car’s details. This pre-set offer is honored for 3 days.

  • Get guaranteed offers from local dealers
  • Cash offers are valid for 3 days

As soon as possible, take your car to the TrueCar dealer you chose since these offers do have expiration dates.

As I mentioned above, the dealer WILL inspect the vehicle before confirming their offer and providing you with payment.

Expert tip: Yes, there will be dealers that will offer you less no matter what in an attempt to get more profit; this is why visiting multiple dealerships is essential. Competition keeps dealers honest!

Truecar Review- Video

My Final Thoughts

In essence, TrueCar is simply displaying dealer-determined pricing metrics designed to make a certain profit on each vehicle.

There is nothing inherently unique compared to other third-party car-buying sites and TrueCar ultimately has no control over the actual buying experience at local dealers.

While TrueCar can streamline the research process and provide helpful localized price comparisons, buyers should still enter the dealer negotiation fully informed.

TrueCar cannot and will not guarantee you will get the absolute best or lowest price, so caution is still warranted.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Does Truecar Include Taxes

No, Truecar does not include the Sales Tax or any other State or Govt Taxes in their pricing.  The reason for that, of course, would be very simple:

It’s just too difficult to calculate all of these taxes.

According to the Truecar FAQ, this list is what is also not included in their services:

  • Dealer Installed Options (Addendum) 
  • Title
  • Licensing
  • Documentation Fees (Doc Fee)
  • Other State and Govt fees
  • Dealer Locate Fees for out-of-stock vehicles
  • “And any other charges or Fees allowed by law

2. How To Delete Your Truecar Account

I noticed a lot of Car Buyers asking how to delete a Truecar Account, and the answer is:  There is no way to unsubscribe from Truecar.  To permanently delete your account would require that you contact Truecar directly and request (In Writing) that your account be deleted from their back end.

3. How To Use Truecar To Negotiate Car Price

The Bottom Line:  You can’t use Truecar to negotiate a car price because Truecar doesn’t offer a special discounted price on a car. 

Think about this-  If you contact a dealership that uses Truecar or Costco, they will often ask you if you are a member of Truecar, USAA, or another program like Costco. 

If these services offered insider discounted prices on cars, why are the dealers trying so hard to give them to you without even being asked? 

The answer is simple: 

These services are unique forms of marketing and advertising for car dealerships.

Sources and Citations:

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Steve Momot - Author

Steve Momot - Author

Steve, a seasoned expert in the automotive industry, formerly held a car dealer license in Florida. With extensive experience spanning across car trading and mechanical work, he founded Autohitch. His mission? To guide both buyers and sellers through the intricate maze of car purchasing, ensuring a seamless and informed experience. Outside of the automotive world, Steve has a passion for fishing and capturing the beauty of nature through photography.

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