Monday, June 13, 2011

Always Get It in Writing

Many readers of this column call me for advice and to tell me horror stories about their dealing with unethical car dealers. Of course it would be much better had these readers called me before they bought the car.

I have written over 200 columns for Hometown News and given advice on a variety of subjects which should make your car buying, or servicing, experience safer and more pleasant. There is one piece of advice which, if strictly followed, would eliminate over 90% of the problems car buyers have with car dealers. That advice is “always insist that all promises and commitments made by the car sales person or sales manager are put in writing”. The written commitments should be signed by the sales person/manager and you and you should retain a copy.

These are just some examples of promises made by sales people and sales managers that were not kept: (1) Sign the contract, drive the car home, and if you change your mind within three days you can bring the car back and we will refund all of your money. [When the customer brought the car back, the salesman claimed he never said any such thing] (2) After signing a 36 month lease, the salesman assured this customer that, if she got tired of this car in less than 36 months, she could just bring it back anytime. [Of course the leasing company didn’t agree with the salesman on this]. A customer was promised that she would be able to get free loaner cars anytime she brought her car in for service. [The service department didn’t know anything about this. They don’t offer free loaners]. The business manager, also known as the F&I manager, told the customer that the warranty/extended service contract he was selling her covered 100% of anything that went wrong with her car. [When she came in for a brake job, the service manager showed her the fine print in the warranty contract that said maintenance items were not covered]. The salesman told the customer not to trade his car in on the new car because he owed way more on the car than it was worth. He told him to just let the bank take her old car back and because she was making her payments on time on her new car it wouldn’t harm her credit rating. [I don’t think this requires any explanation]. Customers are promised that they can bring their car back after they buy it and have CD players, leather, running boards, and floor mats, and other accessories installed as part of the deal. When they come back, none of the managers knows about this and the salesman can’t be found or doesn’t “remember”. I could list dozens more of these anecdotes.

You have very little chance when it’s your word against the salesman’s or sales manager’s. You have even less of a chance if it’s two against one. Do not be timid about asking that everything you are promised is put into writing. If the salesman objects to this or hesitates, you have to ask yourself why? Another reason for having all promises committed to writing is that the salesman or sales manager may not work at that dealership anymore when you come back to collect on his promise. He may have actually been sincere, but now he’s gone. Will his replacement believe you?

It’s a good idea to carry a note pad with you when you are negotiating to buy a car. I wrote a previous column entitled “Never Go Car Shopping Alone”. When you have an ally with you, she can take notes while you are negotiating. Also, if you do forget to commit a promise to writing, your credibility is enhanced when it’s two against one instead of “he said/she said”. When you are signing the final documents, you have your complete set of notes detailing promises, assurances, and commitments by the salesman. Then, all you have to do is have these signed by both parties and be sure that you get a copy.

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