Up until the late 1970s it was not common to see heads of auto companies on television, but then-new Chrysler chairman Lee Lacocca broke new ground.

Facing declining sales and bad finances that forced the company to seek a federal government bailout, Lacocca and his marketing staff came up with a radical proposal.

Buy a car, get a check.

Those lines were uttered in Chrysler commercials that aired throughout the mid-1970s and revived by Lacocca as the company pushed its line of K Cars in the early 1980s. Sales of the Aries and Reliant shot through the roof as Chrysler offered rebates to new-car buyers. Johnny Carson parodied the marketing stunt on The Tonight Show, saying the government was getting into selling military equipment (“Buy a tank, get a check!” Carson said, to laughter).

The important thing was the manufacturer rebate was now a part of the new-car experience. No matter what auto companies and dealers have done to wean consumers off of rebates, nothing sells a new car like cash back in the bank. There are other ways to lure the buyer as well.

Cash rebates

These are the most common incentive, and they range in value from lower rewards for low-end vehicles to higher rebates for pricier cars and trucks. Unlike the old “buy a car, get a check” days, often dealers will simply lower the price of the vehicle by the amount of the rebate. Maybe the dealer has some wiggle room to work with and bought the cars for a much lower amount. That way they can still offer the rebate and make a little money on the vehicle in the process.

Loyalty to the brand

If you have bought a car before from a certain company, the company loves seeing repeat business. They want you to come back, so the best way to do it is to knock a certain amount off the price of a car. It is usually a smaller amount, anywhere from $500 to $1,500, but it is enough to bring a customer back into the fold. Dealers may do this as well to encourage a customer to return to a dealership.

Free or discounted services

The most common thing a dealer offers is an oil change, but what that does is get you back in the dealer at least once every month or two. If the service team finds something during that time they can let you know about it. Many times it is something small, but if the car is under warranty and it needs repairs that is the best way to find out. More dealers are offering lounges with soda and snacks, in addition to wireless internet and places to work on a laptop computer. If your car is in the shop and you have to be with it, you might as well get some work done, right?

When it comes to services, many dealers offer them in a package. For example, Ken Garff Ford in Salt Lake City groups together oil changes, tire rotations and car washes in one fell swoop, preventing you from having to make multiple visits to the dealer for services that could all be done at once. Most companies offer the same set services, but Porsche goes to the next level and offers car cleaning, upholstery repair, cosmetic detail, etc.

Not every dealer and auto company offer the same services. Check around and you will find things are different where you go, but one thing is certain. Dealers will do anything to lure you in or get you back, so you will be well taken care of regardless of who you visit.


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