Online car referral companies advertise specific vehicles that consumers can purchase at their local dealerships. Customers browse online for a specific make and model of car, and a car referral site will suggest where to go to get the best price for that specific vehicle. The referral company will show the customer what the price of the car is, including all fees but no taxes.
This is not illegal, and it is not illegal for car companies to pay advertising fees or subscription fees on a monthly basis to such sites. What is illegal is when the dealership pays a direct marketing fee for each vehicle sold. In this case, it becomes similar to a commission for the online car referral company. In some cases, referral companies are alleged to have been paid up to $300 for each car sold.
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A further concern is the risk of bait-and-switch tactics, where the car a customer chose online is no longer available when the customer goes to the dealership, and the dealer then attempts to sell a different automobile or a similar automobile but with more expensive features.
Some states are investigating lawsuits against online car referral companies, alleging they violate regulations against kickbacks. Consumers who have used such car referral companies may also be eligible to file a lawsuit.