TrueCar Review: A Detailed Look at How It Works, Pros and Cons

By J.R. Duren
HighYa Staff
Updated on: Jun 7, 2019

TrueCar is a free online pricing tool for new and used cards that provides a “TrueCar Price Quote” based on local car sales data. In theory, you can use this price quote to take to the dealership and get the car for that price.

The website is unique in that it has relationships with around 25 percent of dealerships around the country, such that they can connect you with local car dealerships within minutes as you formulate a quote for the car you want to buy. This can be both good and bad, as we’ll explain later.

The company is based in Santa Monica, CA, and has been around since 2005. Over the past few years, the company’s services have become more popular and more controversial, a trend that’s resulted in opinions from major publications and average consumers.

In this review, we’ll highlight the good and bad of this service by talking about how it works, what customers and publications have said about it, compare it to other services similar to it and then end with a conclusion in which we weight the pros and cons of the service.

How Does TrueCar Work

The TrueCar service focuses on one thing: providing you a price for a car of your specific choice. What this means is that they’ll give you the ability to choose the exact kind of car you want—make, model, trim, etc.—and then they run that specific car through their national sale-price database as well as local sale prices to come up with a price they believe reflects the true value of the car.

In order to get this quote, however, you’ll need to provide them with a phone number. The only way you can set up an account and get a quote for the specific car you want is to enter a verification number that TrueCar texts to your phone. If you don’t provide them with the right number, you can’t set up an account.

This is a key factor behind one of the main drawbacks of the service, which is something we’ll talk about in the customer reviews section.

TrueCar quoteImage credit: CarBuyingTips.com

The quote includes estimates for monthly payments and such but, more importantly, gives you their estimate for what you should pay based on purchases of the same vehicle or similar vehicles in the area. They also offer a certainty rating for their price: the higher the rating, the surer they are your price is fair.

What’s also important to note is that TrueCar provides a “Factory Invoice” price, which is the dollar amount the dealership paid for the car after all the fees the manufacturer charged them.

When you compare the TrueCar price to the Factory Invoice price, you get a sense of how close your price is to what the dealership actually paid.

Now, according to the TrueCar website, the company uses car-purchase data from companies who amass car-purchase data from dealerships across the country. Their TrueCar price also includes the following, per TrueCar’s FAQ:

  • The configuration of the car you want
  • Customer/dealer incentives
  • Financing/loan data
  • Vehicle registration/insurance data

“We have 99.1% confidence that our projected Average Paid Price per new car sale in a given week is within $20 of the average price of all nationwide sales transactions during that week,” their site reads.

They follow that quote up with a caveat that cars that aren’t as popular and don’t have as much sales information will have more deviations in how much you should pay for the car.

Basically, TrueCar does a bunch of behind the scenes calculations to come up with a price they believe is a fair price to pay for the car. You then take this quote to a dealership and, in theory, the dealer will say, “You’ve got a deal.”

You can also use TrueCar to set-up a trade-in or a car purchase for a vehicle you own. You’ll tell the website the type of car you have, the condition it’s in and, if applicable, how much you owe on your auto loan or how much time is left on your lease.

At that point, they’ll give you a list of dealerships who offer to buy your car, along with a price range for what they could pay. The fine print notes, however, that these prices are guaranteed.

» See Also: Comparison of 6 Popular Used Car Websites: A Comprehensive Guide

How TrueCar Makes Money

Ivan Chong, founder of Lazy Finances, said that TrueCar makes their money by charging dealerships “around $400” a month to get leads from the TrueCar website. Chong provided us with a link to TrueCar’s SEC filings, in which the company explains exactly how they make money.

Based on the data we looked at, it seems that TrueCar makes around $333 for every car sold by a TrueCar dealership partner via a TrueCar quote.

TrueCar’s Fine Print: Three Important Limitations

Our research indicates that using a TrueCar quote isn’t quite as simple as walking into a dealership with your quote and leaving an hour later with your car.

TrueCar Sends Your Information to Car Dealerships

TrueCar’s FAQ page says that they send the information you input for your quote to multiple dealerships and, as we’ll show in a few minutes, that exchange of information could result in an onslaught of calls, texts and emails for local car dealerships.

TrueCar Price Quotes Don’t Guarantee a Sale Price

Your TrueCar quote is not a guaranteed sale price. One of the interesting sections of their FAQ page reveals that dealerships aren’t bound to the quote you bring in.

“Dealers generally will do their best to match the vehicle you have configured on TrueCar, but many times they will not have an exact match for the car you are looking to purchase,” the page reads. “This is not the dealer's fault, but rather a challenge with the way cars and trucks are manufactured and marketed.”

In other words, the quote you got for the exact car you want may not be valid because the dealership you go to may not have the car you want, even if TrueCar connected you with that dealer. What happens in those situations?

According to the FAQ page we mentioned above, you may have to buy a different car at a different price because a dealer isn’t guaranteed to have the exact car you want.

“Ultimately this can affect your expectations when contacting a dealer, so it may be helpful to keep an open mind about what the dealer may be offering as an alternative,” the site says.

Furthermore, the price applies only to vehicles that are in stock at a dealership. If they don’t have the car you want, there’s a good chance they aren’t going to honor your TrueCar price if you try to use it for a car that’s different from what’s in your quote.

TrueCar Focuses on Dealer Relationships

Over the past few years, TrueCar has made a well-publicized move away from consumers and toward car dealerships. Their website notes that car dealerships pay fees to be connected with TrueCar users.

“We ordinarily receive fees from our Certified Dealers in connection with the services. In some instances, we also receive fees from automobile manufacturers and/or third-party service providers,” TrueCar’s FAQ page says.

An article from Forbes elaborates on TrueCar’s move away from focusing on the customer and toward focusing on the dealerships.

“TrueCar made a name for itself by promising to get car buyers the best possible price, which made it an extremely attractive service. Now that the company is more focused on the dealer’s bottom line, it offers significantly less value to consumers,” contributor David Trainer wrote.

With this in mind, we think the research indicates that there’s a chance TrueCar may be more interested in helping the dealers with your business rather than giving you a realistic chance of buying a car for the price TrueCar says you should pay.

We believe this conclusion is warranted not only because of what TrueCar’s own rules say—a dealership isn’t bound to your quote—but also because of what Tru Car customers say.

Customer Reviews of TrueCar

TrueCar gets an average rating of around three stars on Trustpilot. At the time of publishing, the company received 1,191 reviews on the site.

Of the 20 most recent reviews, three were five stars, one was four stars and the rest were one-star reviews. The five-star reviews seemed to focus on the dealership who sold them the car and not TrueCar’s quote.

The one-star reviews, on the other hand, complained about some common themes:

  • Near instant calls from dealerships once you input your information
  • Users found better deals on their own
  • Dealerships wouldn’t honor the quote

One review by the name of “N. OB” said, they received “no fewer than 10 phone calls, 15 texts and 10 emails within 30 minutes of setting up his or her account. Furthermore, when the customer called TrueCar to delete their account, the company told him or her, “they don’t currently have a way to delete accounts.”

Now, we made our own effort to reach out to people who actually used the service and found someone whose positive experience tempered the bad recent feedback on Trustpilot.

Mark Aselstine, founder of wine website Uncorked Ventures, told us he bought a car through TrueCar in 2016. He said the process was simple but noted something interesting. The dealer from which he ended up buying his car told him that the TrueCar Price Quote he received was, in reality, the price that the dealership told TrueCar was the cheapest they could sell it for.

In other words, in this case, it seems that TrueCar’s Price Quote wasn’t based on all the data their site claims but, rather, the lowest price a local dealership could offer.

“Overall, it was a good experience, it helped us cut through much of the usual frustrating aspects of car buying and helped us know almost immediately who was a reputable dealer and who wasn’t,” he said.

The Bottom Line: Pros and Cons and How You Can Make TrueCar Work to Your Advantage

Based on our research, we believe TrueCar’s strengths are that it is a free service and there is a possibility that you can take their Price Quote into a dealership and close the sale quicker than you could without a TrueCar price.

We see the site’s two main downsides being the onslaught of calls, texts, and emails you may receive once you submit your phone number when you set up your account, and the fact that the dealership does not have to honor the price quote you get from TrueCar.

With these things in mind, we think there is one very clear way to use TrueCar to your advantage. If you’re the type of person who likes to bargain at dealerships, then you can leverage TrueCar’s Price Quote because it’s most likely based on hard sales data in your area.

If the dealership is asking for a price that they know people aren’t going to pay, your quote can be a tool you use to bargain them down.

The second way you can leverage it is, assuming the dealership takes the price you bring them, then TrueCar is a simple way to buy the car you want at the price you want without having to deal with the back-and-forth that’s common at car dealerships.

If you aren’t the bargaining type and you don’t want to go through a dealership experience but you want to deal with a fixed price, take a moment to read through our review of Carvana. The site provides you with straightforward pricing as well as a selection of primarily late model cars in ads that feature excellent photography. For additional options for buying a car, see our review of Vroom.


Customer Reviews

Start your review of TrueCar:
  • 109 Customer Reviews
  • 12% Recommend This Company
1.5 out of 5
5 star: 6% 4 star: 3% 3 star: 3% 2 star: 3% 1 star: 82%

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  • Do not waste your time with True Car, they are Fake Car

    • By Armtech,
    • Florida,
    • Jun 24, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    I went with a TrueCar offer to my local dealership and I was told that Truecar is an advertisement Internet website, and they don't sell cars. They just confuse peoples mind.

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


  • A pile of junk

    • By Mike,
    • Pennsylvania,
    • Jun 26, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    I was looking at two vehicles, and heard about TrueCar. I put in the info about the cars and they emailed me three quotes from three different dealers with exactly the same price. I immediately got suspicious. So I did my own research, and found that I got a lower price on my own, at the three dealers that they recommended. So if you want the best price, do the research yourself. Buyer, beware.

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


  • Scam Alert

    • By Rob,
    • NJ,
    • Jun 12, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    TrueCar is nothing but a scam. They may or may not honor the price that's "guaranteed" (which it's not in any sense). The only thing that's guaranteed is that if you use TrueCar you WON'T get the best price as dealers pay TrueCar $299 on the sale of a new car.

    Where does that money come from? It's from you over-paying on your new car. Use Edmunds and KBB and skip this scam.

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


  • Absolutely no Good!

    • By Buddy Taylor,
    • Orange Park Florida,
    • Apr 12, 2014
    Overall Experience:

    Try to contact them. Good Luck my computer security certificate issues disallowed any correspondence with them or to them.

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


  • Do not waste your time

    • By K,
    • Santa Monica, CA,
    • Jun 28, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    Do not waste your time. I got a certificate for a Toyota Tacoma from Toyota of Santa Monica. After I drove all the way, dealer told me they don't have such a car at this price. I contacted the customer service and received no answer yet. I think they have a contract with dealers to just make people walk in to dealers. Use your old buying skills.

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


  • TrueCar sucks

    • By John Marciano,
    • Connecticut,
    • Jun 28, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    I thought, at first, that True Car was a good tool to judge invoice price verses MSRP, etc. and figured it would be a good tool to help price a new car. I signed up to check it out and started getting calls from dealers 15 minutes later. Had to go in and change my account to bogus info to get it to stop.

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


  • TrueCar.com and their funny Pricing.

    • By Potential Buyer,
    • Jul 1, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    So I noticed that the price vary day by day on TrueCar and thought it was normal. Until yesterday when I accidentally putted in the city next to my house's zip code and found out that they offering the exact same vehicle for $1,500 less than my zip code (same dealers).

    So then I proceed to contact the dealers myself to get the best price and was offered $500 below TrueCar's price (my zip code's offer).

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


  • Fraud Operation

    • By Roger,
    • Worcester, MA,
    • Jun 25, 2014
    Overall Experience:

    Classic Bait & Switch operation by the car dealerships participating in this scheme.

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


  • Fake Car and not a Truecar

    • By Ricardo Long,
    • Florida,
    • Jul 2, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    Don't waste your time with TrueCar, it is just a website that messes up your mind and gets paid for you to drive to the dealership.

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


  • Just another dealership con game.

    • By Jackson,
    • Atlanta, GA,
    • Jul 2, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    Checked out a car listed on their site yesterday. Got dealer down $1388. had done my homework and researched on KBB, Edmunds and checked the Carfax. Set a target price and we were $600 apart. I wouldn't budge and they wouldn't either so I walked. Bottom line, just do your homework and be prepared to walk. Dealers will never change and TrueCar is not going to help you one bit working your deal.

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


  • Did not get a good price at all

    • By Brian,
    • El Paso, TX,
    • Jun 8, 2015
    Overall Experience:

    I was in the market for a Honda Civic SI. I went to the dealership and negotiated to 22.5K. I went to TrueCar as they claim they will get the lowest possible price. The lowest price they quoted me was 27.5k for the exact same car, then I tried Edmunds and KBB and they both said the average people paid for that car was between 22.5-25.5. After that I told the dealership I would go somewhere else as TrueCar did not get me the price I was looking for.

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


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