Avoid the Ripoff: Know Your Credit Score Before Buying A Car

Honda commercial actor finds a drama he didn't expect when he tries to buy a new Civic

Dennis Singletary, a commercial actor who has also appeared on sit-coms The Cosby Show, Martin, The King Of Queens, and Hannah Montana, got a dose of personal drama during his April experience at Power Honda in Valencia, CA.

As TMZ originally reported, Singletary went to buy a four-door Honda Civic under the "The Really Big Thing" promotion he himself pitched on national TV commercials for Honda. The deal provides 0% down, low finance rates and monthly payments of $190.

The commercial is below:

Singletary had his Experian credit rate confirmed at 709, "prime credit," at the original dealership he visited, but there were no more Civics on the dealer's lot.

When he went to Power Honda in Valencia, CA, though, the dealer refused to give him "The Really Big Thing," because he clocked Singletary's credit score at a far less stellar "near-prime" 663, either an underestimate, or the result of taking the lowest of the low, medium, and high credit score options. The dealer stubbornly stuck to his guns, even when Singletary got the original dealer on the phone and had him confirm his higher credit score.

The irony of the situation -- that the pitch man couldn't get the deal he had been paid to tout on TV -- was not lost on Singletary.

Instead of the $190 a month he would pay with "The Really Big Thing," he was told he'd have to put $2,000 down and pay $272 a month. Though he does well for himself as an actor, he said the $80 differential was too substantial to take lying down.

"That's two tanks of gas a week," he said, "or $2,400 over a three-year lease that they're trying to rob me of. It's fraud. It's blatant fraud."

It wasn't actual legal fraud, of course. But it does represent one of the practices car dealers will use to get a customer to pay more for a vehicle and vehicle financing even though lower cost options are available. Remember -- a dealership's goal is not to give you the best deal, but rather maximize its own profit from the transaction.

Originally, Singletary was deciding between a Hyundai Elantra and the Civic. He and his wife already have two cars, but with his constant commute from his home in Valencia to gigs in L.A., he thought having a thriftier alternative would be prudent.

In the end, the actor bought a two-door Civic from a third dealer at the "Big Thing" promised rate, but not without making a fuss.

Though he made repeated calls to Honda's customer service department and wrote a letter of complaint to corporate, he didn't hear a response from Honda management until TMZ published its item.

"I got a call on Monday morning from Honda," Singletary told AOL Autos. "They said they can call and get the other dealership's side of the story. We've been playing phone tag ever since."

"I still haven't heard from a manager in corporate," he added.

He was told by the Better Business Bureau, to which he complained, that the agency would investigate the case.

Honda seems neither concerned nor embarrassed.

"I'm not aware of any direct outreach," said Chris Martin, a spokesman from American Honda, about efforts for Honda executives to reach Singletary. "It was kind of an unusual story to say the least. From the coverage we read, he was able to get into a car and get the deal that he wanted, so it was a happy ending."

Martin also made clear that Singletary's association with the commercial wouldn't earn him preferential treatment from the company.

As for the discrepancies in credit score, Martin said approval of credit checks goes through Honda Finance for quality and control. Each dealership, though, can choose to use whatever credit report they want. Why would the dealership not want to give Singletary the deal? One obvious reason might be a shortage of Civics because the deal was so successful, making the more costly (to the dealer and Honda) "Really Big Thing" offer not as necessary to move excess cars on the lot as it was when the deal was first advertised. Remember -- the first dealership was out of Civics.

Power Honda did not respond to repeated requests to explain its side of the story.

It remains to be seen if Singeltary is asked to do more Honda commercials after his public complaints, but he is determined to spread the word about what he feels is an unfair practice. "It's about educating America to the different scams that are going on," said Singeltary.

Though he's pretty miffed about the situation, he does view it all with a sense of humor.

"It's comical in the way that it happened, and it was comical in the way that they acted," he says. "He [the sales associate at Power Honda] was being very arrogant and saying, 'Do as you like, Mr. Singletary.' And I did."

The Bottom Line: How To Avoid The Rip Off

The Early Bird Gets The Financing Worm

If you plan on getting financing for a new car, get your own credit report and score two months in advance of buying or leasing. This will allow you time to correct errors on file that might be lowering your score. Errors are common, and it's important to be proactive and leave yourself enough lag time to beautify your credit and nix any blemishes.

Don't Go In Without Ammo

Don't show up to lease or buy a car without having your own credit report in your hand. Any dealer can drum up a deficient credit score for you by taking the lowest of the three reported scores. When making a big decision on a car, you might be swayed or more vulnerable under the pressure. Defend yourself! Go to www.annualcreditreport.com for a free credit report, or to Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, and get one you may have to pay for.
If It's Broke, Fix It

Should you come across any errors in your credit, send a certified letter to TransUnion, Experian and Equifax, the three credit bureaus, and ask for the mistakes to be excised from your file immediately. The law requires that all errors be stricken within 30 days, so the two- month advance cushion is a safe bet. Be sure to send a certified letter and not regular ol' snail mail, because this alerts the credit reporting agencies that you are aware of the legal parameters that allow you to sue should they not fix the errors within the 30-day period.

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