Does company have to sell car at low price listed in ad?

June 27, 2013

Dear Consumer Ed:

While looking online to find a low priced car, I found a car listed at a price of $22.  Does the company have to sell it to me at that price?

Consumer Ed says:

Generally, advertised vehicles must be sold at or below the advertised price.  While advertisements are not generally considered offers, it might be sufficient to create a contractual offer if someone is advertising a specific car at a specific price.  If it is an offer, then a consumer should be able to give the seller the advertised price and create a contract.  But, if an offer has a mistake in it, the seller may be able to withdraw the offer.  If the advertised price was unreasonable and obviously a mistake, as it would seem a price of $22 for a car would be, then the mistake would most likely mean that the seller does not have to sell the car to you at that price.  

However, if you inform the company about the advertisement, and it doesn’t correct the price within a reasonable time frame, then the company gives the appearance that it is attempting to deceive the consuming public.  It’s possible that the company is employing a technique known as “bait and switch,”  an advertising scheme in which products are offered without an intention to sell them in order to establish contact with consumers and get them to switch to a different (usually higher-priced) product.  This is unlikely given the unreasonably low price of the car; but if you think something is amiss, then you can submit a complaint to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Division online, or by calling 404-651-8600.  You can also contact the FTC online, or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).