About TrueCar

Founded in 2005 and based out of Santa Monica, CA, TrueCar’s primary goal is to “make the car buying process simple, fair, and fun,” by helping consumers establish fair prices, and locate trustworthy dealerships. The company aims to accomplish this by issuing localized price reports (or “certificates”) for specific vehicles, which can then be taken to a TrueCar Certified Dealership near you.

TrueCar claims that its certified dealers have currently sold more than 951,000 automobiles, and have helped consumers save more than $2.3 billion in total—with an average of over $4,000 in savings per transaction. TrueCar also partners with a wide variety of organizations, such as AAA, Consumer Reports, and USAA to help educate consumers on the best ways to achieve a “hassle-free” car buying experience.

TrueCar holds a B- rating with the Better Business Bureau, which is based on two closed complaints within the past three years. In addition, the company has more than 36,000 Facebook likes, and nearly 10,000 Twitter followers. Online reviews tend to lean toward a “fair” or “poor” experience, with the majority of complaints being that dealerships did not honor the TrueCar certificate price.

Locating a Vehicle Using TrueCar.com

The first time you use TrueCar.com, you might notice that it seems very similar to some of the more well known auto pricing sites like Kelley Blue Book and NADA. However, unlike either of these popular choices, less than 25% of nationwide auto dealerships have met the TrueCar’s “rigorous membership criteria,” and are certified by the company. As a result, only these Certified Dealerships will be displayed in your search results.

To begin using the website, you’ll first need to select a vehicle make and model, and enter your zip code. From here, TrueCar will then redirect you to an area that details specifics such as MSRP, average price paid in your area, your target price, and even a loan payment calculator.

In order to move on to the “Dealer Pricing” page, you’ll be prompted to enter your first and last names, physical address, as well as your email address. Here, your target price will remain visible, as well as the distance to TrueCar dealerships who have a vehicle that matches your criteria (although no details other than mileage are shown).

After clicking “Next,” you’ll land on a page that allows you to print your TrueCar certificate (see the following section for additional information), and to contact the Certified Dealer of your choice. Before doing this though, you can also further refine your vehicle’s specifics, such as must-have features and color, view trade-in estimates, and even outline your purchasing strategy. You’ll also be required to enter an account password at this time.

It’s important to note that, if you’re sensitive to excess emails cluttering up your inbox, during our research we received more than 10 dealer emails almost immediately after this step was complete—without being aware that we contacted them to begin with.

What is a TrueCar Certificate?

Once the above steps are complete, you’ll finally be able to view your complete TrueCar certificate. This will contain information such as your name and address, your Certified Dealer’s name and address, and your vehicle’s year, make, model, and specified features. Next to an official-looking barcode and certificate number at the top, you’ll read the following: “TrueCar estimates that [User Name] will save at least [Average Savings] on ANY in-stock [Vehicle Year, Make, and Model].”

At the bottom of the page, you’ll also find step-by-step instructions such as:

  1. Go to Myers Ford.
  2. Ask for Jim Smith or Jane Jones.
  3. Present your Certificate to Jim Smith or Jane Jones.
  4. Buy your car!

Based on these instructions, you could be excused for thinking that this certificate entitles you to pay no more than the “target price,” but this isn’t the case. After reading through TrueCar’s FAQ section, these price reports (aka “certificates”) are only intended to “estimate… what you can reasonably expect to pay for a vehicle configured with your preferred options.”

In layman’s terms, this means that you essentially received an estimate, just as you would through KBB or NADA, and the “Certified Dealers” are under no obligation to honor it. So this brings us to the question…

Bottom Line: Is TrueCar Worth It?

While TrueCar does appear to be a legitimate company with a passion for engendering easy, transparent purchases between auto dealerships and buyers, the real value provided by the website seems to be hazy. Based on a wide variety of customer feedback, here are the primary reasons why:

  1. TrueCar provides no guarantees that their Certified Dealerships will honor your “target price.” Without a guaranteed price, there seems to be little reason to go through the process in the first place.
  2. TrueCar provides no details on how dealerships become (or remain) certified, nor how these dealerships train their TrueCar sales assistants. How do consumers know that the training process is legitimate or beneficial?
  3. There is little to no oversight regarding your car buying experience. If you have a poor dealer experience, there seem to be no repercussions from TrueCar.

So, should you use TrueCar? The answer is: it depends.

When you’re searching for a new or used car, you know that the more information you have at your disposal, the better your overall buying experience can be. With this in mind, the most useful feature of TrueCar seems to be the ability to see what others in your general area have paid for similar vehicles. Other than this, there don’t seem to be any benefits in spending the extra time to sign up for the site, entering all your information, printing your certificate, and limiting yourself only to TrueCar Certified Dealers.

Pros:

  • Completely free of charge
  • Can help you save an average of $4K on your next auto purchase
  • Receive a printable certificate that can be taken to the nearest Certified Dealer

Cons:

  • You will be required to enter personal information in order to obtain a certificate
  • Overall value provided by TrueCar seems to be a little hazy
  • Excessive emails after signup

More on Buying a Car:

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79 Customer Reviews for TrueCar

Average Customer Rating: 1.6
Rating Snapshot:
5 stars: 8 4 stars: 4 3 stars: 3 2 stars: 1 1 stars: 63
Bottom Line: 19% would recommend it to a friend
Showing 1-11 of 79
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  • 1 out 1 people found this review helpful

    Prices not accurate nor are they really good prices.

    • Alabama,
    • Nov 30, 2016

    After spending three months comparing prices on used automobiles from three different neighboring states, I have come to the well-educated opinion that TrueCar is just not a good vehicle to achieve a good pricing point when buying an automobile.

    The 600 pound gorilla in this deal here is the hidden fees. Now before you begin to wonder about hidden fees, the cost to use the service is paid by the dealer that you get your price from. However, that dealer has to pay a fee in order to sell you a car, so if you just walk up off the street without using a referral website, then you could conceivably come out ahead of where you might be should you be referred by another entity. We know there is no free lunch people, if a car dealer pays a fee to sell you a car, in the end, you're the guy or gal that pays the fee, so in essence you're paying to get a price tag that might not be as good as you could get should you do the research like I did.

    I included TrueCar in my research, along with thousands of other websites, direct to dealer sites, other sites and the prices were within a few thousand dollars, but all in all TrueCar was slightly higher. And remember just because everyone else is paying more for a car than what they should pay, does that mean you have to do the same thing, just because an average price is presented is that a good price? I really do not care what someone else pays for a vehicle, it's all about what I pay. So with all that in mind, when shopping for a car or a truck I found that the TrueCar service presents premium prices before presenting filtered search results, (thus pushing certain deals ahead of what you are looking for). All in all it's not compelling or even interesting.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 3 out 3 people found this review helpful

    Waste of time

    I am looking for a specific car with a MANUAL transmission. I checked out Truecar and the price looked good so I put in all of my info. Within 4 minutes I started to get phone calls and emails. I made sure (I thought) that they had the car I am looking for. I had a dealer that said they had exactly what I was looking for and was willing to meet the price target of Truecar so I went down.

    First, we sat down and they asked me all of the stuff that I put into the website. Really, again? I was thinking they had all of the info already, but whatever, so I did it again.

    Then I asked to test drive, they took me to the make and model that I was looking for but in a darker color than I want and not a MANUAL transmission. I said, "what's this I am looking for a silver, white or tan with a stick."

    The guy said "oh are you sure? My paperwork says automatic."

    I said, "when I put the request into Truecar and when I spoke to so and so I specified manual." I paused then said, "do you have this car in a manual any color?"

    The guy said, "Hold on let me check what we have."

    We went into the waiting room and he went somewhere. When he came back he said, "They sold the last manual right before you arrived." He paused and said, "we can get you the same car in auto for the same price or we can order it for you."

    Liars.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 2 out 2 people found this review helpful

    It is useless.

    I used this site in May 2015 when I bought Toyota Prius. It was a very useful website. It showed car prices. You could print a certificate with a car price. It is useless right now. It does not provide the price at all. It just shows "Dealer will provide price". Why do I need this website?

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 4 out 7 people found this review helpful

    The Reason Why

    Question: How would anyone know how much someone paid for a car?

    DMV? No, that information is private as is all other legally documented information.

    I had a prospect show me a a TrueCar price on a car that was on the water traveling to the US from its country. The car didn't exist in the US, yet they claimed to have data showing what people were paying for a car that no one had. Was this a mistake, or just fraud?

    The reason dealers don't want to sell a car at the TrueCar price is that they would be working for free in most cases. Ask yourself, what benefit is it to sell something that you're not making money on? Do YOU work for free?

    TrueCar does not take into account how rare and in short supply a car might be. Ask yourself, if you had 1 of only 5 in existence, would you just give it away? I think we all know the answer.

    Solution: If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, should your wife always be as tall or as thin or whatever as the next man's? If she's not, did you get ripped off?

    Buying is easy. If you see value, then pay for it. What does what someone else claimed to pay have to do with you? Maybe they are just a cheapskate? Who cares. If you like it, buy it.

    A discount is not a constitutional right. Money simulates the economy. You make your money, why not let others make theirs too? Unless you're a hypocrite.

    A discount is a transfer of financial responsibility from the person who wants the product, to the person who has the product. In all fairness, shouldn't the person who will enjoy ownership of the product be the one who pays for it?

    I am all for getting a good deal, but I never try to get one by taking food off the table of someone else.

    I buy what's already on sale, clearance, or marked down. If I do work a deal with someone, I am reasonable and understand that NO ONE (including me) should work for free. I put myself in a person's shoes, asking myself how much I would charge for this job, service, etc.

    At the end of the day, a good deal is in your mind, not in your pocket. Don't be a hypocrite, let others make their money just like you've been fortunate enough to make yours.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 3 out 4 people found this review helpful

    A Ploy to Dealer Margins

    • Sumter, SC,
    • Aug 21, 2016

    I am pretty sure TrueCar is a ploy to raise dealer margins. They don't want people to coming in to haggle over prices. I have bought several new cars over the last 5 years and I have compared what I paid vs what TurCar said was the good deal and I paid far less. True example, 2015 Ford Focus ST Base with an MSRP around $25,500. Then add on this Fee That Fee they wanted $26K and some change out of the door. I drove away with that car for $23,000 out the door. TrueCar said something like 25,900 was good deal. Yeah right.

    Don't be fooled, there is a lot of wiggle room for auto dealers on new autos. The key is to be prepared to walk away. Go in, tell the dealer what you are willing to pay and accept nothing less. Don't play the 'let me talk to the general manager' game. Be nice, be respectful but make sure you are prepared to walk.

    Another example, not a true car one though, I bought a 2010 Silverado Z71 Ext Cab used with 34K miles. The dealer wanted $27.9K I offered them $24K. We couldn't make a deal and I left. They called me back after a couple of weeks and asked if I still wanted it, I said yes and got the truck for $24K, Not one penny more. Remember to be prepared to walk. They hate the thought of loosing a sale. Peace.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 3 out 5 people found this review helpful

    It really works

    • Nashville, TN,
    • Jul 24, 2016

    It's not a magic bullet, but it works as a tool to negotiate the price you are willing to pay. When we first got to the dealership, the "best" price our salesperson gave us was $22,000 (tax, title, dealer prep, out the door), over a five year period at zero down, zero percent interest. That was high.

    After looking at the numbers, get a quote on paper to leave the dealership with you, if your dealer will not do that, run quickly away from him/her. Once you have the high number you can start backing stuff out, like buyers protection or Gap insurance. If you get the deal down to where it should be you will not need Gap insurance. Gap is defined as the amount owed vs the value of the vehicle, the higher the price you pay and the higher interest you pay, the more Gap there is in case you want to trade it, or sell it, or total it.

    And remember, do not EVER BUY when you go to the finance guy to sign all the paperwork, any kind of product from him/her. They are paid a commission on that, the more "protection" they "give" you, the more money they get from the insurance company they represent or the dealership you are buying from. Just nod and say no, no, no.

    Many consumer advocates specifically advise AGAINST buying any supplemental protection from the dealership or from a third party after the sale. They are expensive and carry deductibles plus they may not really protect you because of the fine print at the bottom of the contract. Again, if he/she insists that you buy additional protection, run as quickly as you can. If the deal is a real one, they will call you back. Remember, they need to sell, you don't have to buy their car.

    So now the work begins. What is the best price for your needs. All of what I have written assumes that you know exactly and precisely what car (color, model, extras) plus precisely HOW you want to pay for this car. Don't rely on the dealer to help you. He wants to sell a car, that's his only goal. Get your facts straight, stick to your guns, go forth and shop.

    Where can you get real numbers about the best price for the car you have locked in your brain? TrueCar works well, but make sure you do not talk to the dealer on the phone UNTIL you are ready to close. So, I suggest email or fax only. TrueCar will require a phone number and that's ok. But, you could use a Google voice number that will transcribe phone messages so you can use this as leverage against dealerships, one against another. So, understand that if you put your cell phone down you are going to get covered up with calls.

    TrueCar will give you the baseline numbers but that still may not be the real number. Why? There are many reasons for that. But be assured, the car dealership WILL make money regardless of what anyone tells you. They will not sell you a car below costs. They must make a profit. But, that profit can be trimmed down.

    So, in our example, the car for my daughter was pretty basic, end of year model. $22,000 was the original price, right? What if I told you that we finally bought that exact same car for $16,000 OTD. That's $6,000 in our pockets with a little work. Remember, start very low, you can always go up, but if you offer high, you can't go down. And never ever make a deal right after you drive a car, even if the dealer says that this model is few and far between. That's BS. Good luck, stand your ground, be fair, communicate, and watch what you say or sign.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • 4 out 4 people found this review helpful

    TrueCar experience at Central Houston Nissan

    On July 14, 2016, me and my family went to Central Houston Nissan to purchase a vehicle. We had been to the TrueCar website through USAA and we were going to get my 20 year old her first car. On the website it stated that there was a 2015 Nissan Versa in stock (VIN 3N1CN7AP2FL815222) with 28,302 miles at this location and had been for the past week. We filled out everything necessary for the USAA car loan so there wouldn't be any problems. We also called before going to make sure that the car was still there and were told that it was. When we got there we were suppose to ask for a guy called "T".

    We got there, asked for "T" and he went to go get the key for the vehicle. With the key in his hand, he went outside to look for the vehicle and claimed he couldn't find it. So we went back to his office and he said that he would find another vehicle for us because that one was just purchased by the auction. The other vehicle he showed us was a 2014 Versa with higher miles for a higher price. The vehicle had a lot of dents and scratches and smelled horrible when he opened the door. He pointed at two other cars too but was locked on selling us the 2014 and only showed the inside of that one.

    When we got back to his office my husband was angry by then because he felt like they were trying to mess with us. Long story short, we ended up leaving without a car and an hour drive back home. The car we wanted is still on the TrueCar website as being in stock and is also on the company's website. There were other cars that were around the price we were willing to pay but "T" never bothered showing those to us. He had told us that that was the only car in our price range but of course it was a higher amount. This was a horrible experience for me and my husband and also my daughter who was a first time buyer.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 3 out 3 people found this review helpful

    Don't let them fool you

    I wish I would have done some research on TrueCar before I used it. Since it was a service offered by my bank as part of the car buying process, I assumed it was legitimate. TrueCar pulls the MSRP of a new car and promises that the "certified dealer" will give you a little over a $1,000 off the MSRP. When we go to the dealers website their current price is less than what TrueCar is promising. Then you look at the small print on the dealers website that says that in order to get that lower price you have to finance through the dealer and not through your bank or TrueCar.

    So we get to the dealer and the first thing they want to do is run my credit even though I have approved credit through my bank. Then they come back and make me an offer based on the MSRP (way too high). Then they come back and say if I finance through the dealer they will give me 8.99% financing on a price $3,000 lower than TrueCar. No way! When I decline and attempt to leave, they come back with 0.9% financing based on a price $2,000 less than MSRP. What, do they think I am stupid? I attempt to leave again. Then they come back with a printout of how much they actually paid for the car. Not sure how real that was, anyone can print out anything and swear it is true. Then they try to negotiate something between what I want to pay and what they say they paid for the car.

    The really sad part is the my bank was offering me 1/2 percent less in interest if I used TrueCar. So it sounds to me like both the bank and the dealer are getting a kickback from TrueCar. Anyway, the dealer tried to convince us that we only paid $300 over what the dealer paid for it. Really? Yes, I finally bought a car for the dealers advertised price if you use their financing, but I used my bank financing. I love the car, but after we had a night to sleep on it, we are not happy about the price we paid based on everything we were learning. I hate having to buy a car. It was absolutely necessary, but this game is horrible. There has to be a better way.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 2 out 6 people found this review helpful

    TrueCar is great. Dealers are Crooks.

    • Long Beach, CA,
    • Jul 16, 2016

    I got the best deal I ever got on my car. TrueCar is a great app. It's the dealers, they don't want to sell it to you for the price that it shows on the app. It took me 11 hours at the dealership to get the car I wanted. They just drag their feet all they could. He told me no this is how it works. I had talk to someone at TrueCar and they told me how it works. Told them to call the lady I talked to. They didn't do it but I got the car for the price on the app. Sales people don't make the money they want to make. They are a bunch of thieves and crooks.

    Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this to a friend

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  • 5 out 7 people found this review helpful

    New Version, Old Game

    It's called bait and switch, just a new variation of the old shell game. Really rotten experience with this as it doesn't provide the customer any leverage, what it does do is provide the customer with a false sense of hope and to a new car buyer (son), that can be pretty frustrating.

    TrueCar will search inventory, but in the meantime, your information goes out to the dealerships in the area that are paying that extra fee to have TrueCar send them your info. They're on the horn within minutes, whether via email or phone, trying to get you to come in and see their inventory. When you're looking for a specific make/model that turns out to be looking for a needle in a haystack, this is beyond frustrating. Just tell me, do you have the manual transmission hatchback or don't you. So now we're dealing with the dealerships that will get the vehicle from another location, to the tune of $500-$1K.

    Um, excuse me, but we could just drive to that dealer and get the car for a fraction of that cost, and isn't that actually a savings to the dealer who isn't having to carry it in their inventory? Yeah, no. You'd be better off going old school and negotiating the price with your financing already set up through your bank, sell your trade-in yourself, and get the vehicle they put up on ad. Thank God I have intuitive call blocking, otherwise I'd be going postal right about now.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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  • 5 out 6 people found this review helpful

    A bunch of crap

    • Lecanto, FL,
    • May 13, 2016

    it was nothing but a sales ploy set up by the car dealers. You will get a better price of the street in my opinion.

    Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this to a friend

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