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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85 Customer Reviews for TrueCar

Average Customer Rating: 1.6
Rating Snapshot:
5 stars: 8 4 stars: 4 3 stars: 3 2 stars: 2 1 stars: 68
Bottom Line: 18% would recommend it to a friend
Showing 1-11 of 85
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  • 2 out 2 people found this review helpful

    Spam calls

    • Mar 9, 2017

    I signed up with TrueCar to get some prices on a car I am looking to purchase in the summer. Since signing up, my phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from all different kinds of car dealerships. I since then have just been sending all of my calls to voicemail and calling back my actually important calls from doctors, my school, and work.

    It's a nightmare. DON'T sign up for TrueCar. They will sell your phone number and life will never be the same.

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

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  • 4 out 4 people found this review helpful

    2017 Subaru

    • Michigan,
    • Mar 3, 2017

    I have been looking at buying a new car for many years. Each time I find one I like, I used TrueCar to get a good price. The day came to finally purchase my new car. There is only ONE TrueCar dealer in the state of Michigan. The price they quoted was supposed to save me over $1,200. I went to my closest dealer to compare te price as the TrueCar dealership was a hundred miles away. My local dealer beat the TrueCar price by over a thousand dollars. TrueCar is a true rip-off.

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

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  • 5 out 5 people found this review helpful

    "Guaranteed savings" isn't guaranteed. Complete baloney.

    I received a TrueCar "Guaranteed Savings Certificate" that had a guaranteed savings amount of $2,033 off the MSRP of a new 2017 Honda CR-V. Local dealers refused to honor it. I called and emailed Truecar to get help, but they would not. Even after five calls and four detailed emails.

    This "guarantee" isn't a guarantee at all. It's nothing but an "approximate savings."

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

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  • 7 out 7 people found this review helpful

    Generates a lot of unsolicited calls

    • North Carolina,
    • Jan 26, 2017

    In order to see any useful information, TrueCar makes you enter your phone number and email address, which TrueCar immediately shares with hundreds of car dealers, who start calling you immediately. So expect a LOT of phone calls and emails as soon as you look anything up on TrueCar.

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

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  • 5 out 6 people found this review helpful

    TrueCar.com, outsourcing car salesmen's jobs to the car buyer

    What a great idea! Condensing all the objectives behind all the lies car salesmen tell, all the smoke and mirrors chicanery car salesmen use, all the meaningless mumbo-jumbo car salesmen spew, and bait and switch into a database full of illogical and nonsensical doublespeak, thereby making the ill-advised car buyer the impression that the "fair price paid to dealers" for cars that is spit out by a database has some basis in reality.

    The "fair price" is based on input by the car seller, and we all know what bastions of truth, fairness, and honesty they are.

    To the the extent that a particular car's price varies from its outrageous sticker prices, those variations are influenced by such external forces as consumer confidence in the economy, the seasons of the year, production levels of the car, post-sale data on the car's safety, serviceability, maintenance costs, operating costs, and etc. Consider what would have happened after the Ford Edsel first came out if buyers had relied on a TrueCar report when deciding on how much to pay for one.

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

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  • 12 out 13 people found this review helpful

    "So Now You're An Expert?"

    • Phoenix, AZ and Bakersfield, CA,
    • Dec 15, 2016

    Well, if you've just read the accompanying, undated editorial, "About TrueCar", and assuming you have connected brain cells, you've just learned what everybody else already knows: True Car's biggest stock in trade is B.S. And that includes all the traditional sub-categories that come with it, including lies, hollow promises, double-talk, excuses, bait-and-switch, explanations, usurious financing, inflated insurance, trade-in allowance secretly padded back into the sales price, and a host of other tricks, schemes, scams, deception and board games that have characterized the auto industry - and the horse-trading industry before it - for the past one hundred years.

    So, let's analyze True Car's claims:

    1. "This is the way car buying was always meant to be!" Really? Then why wasn't it that way done a century ago? B.S.

    2. "Learn what others paid for the same car." How? Because some computer software crook engineered some made-up data into an app? Where's the proof? How many cars were surveyed? How many buyers were consulted? Over what recent period of time? B.S.

    3. "Take your Certificate to any TrueCar Certified Dealership and pick up your car." What makes a 'TrueCar Certified Dealership'? What criteria is used to make them "certified"? Does TrueCar's certification mean all other car dealers are lying, dishonest, crooked thieves? B.S.

    Congratulations! As True Car says, "Now you're an expert!"

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

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  • 11 out 11 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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  • 11 out 11 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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  • 8 out 8 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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  • 7 out 11 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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  • 6 out 7 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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