I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even play one on TV, but I’ve learned a lot from my lawyers, the plaintiff’s lawyers, and my customers in the last 52 years I’ve been a car dealer. I don’t get sued much anymore, but back before I became a “Recovering Car Dealer” I did. There’s something to be said for “The Law School of Hard Knocks”. One thing is that you tend to learn your lessons well and rarely forget. Here are five tips which, if followed by you, can make your car buying experience a lot safer.
- Get all promises in writing. Car salesman love to talk, and most of what they have to say is targeted to induce you to buy the car. Be sure that all relevant promises and comments are written on your vehicle buyer’s order. Not quite as good, but better than verbal, is a confirming email or text from the salesman. Some examples are, “after you buy this car, I’ll be sure you get a free service loaner whenever you bring it in for service”, “Bring your new car back next Friday and I’ll give you a free set of floor mats” and “the blind-side warning sensor is standard on the car we ordered for you”. Probably the most promise by the salesman to get in writing is “this is the out-the-door price plus government fees only.”
- Always bring a friend (witness) when buying. When I have an important meeting or negotiation, I always make sure I have at least one more person in the meeting than the other party. You’ve heard the expression, “He said-she said”. This means that a judge won’t find for one party or the other when both claim something different was said. Furthermore, a car salesman is less likely to make false promises in front of a witness.
- Get a signed copy of all documents you’re asked to sign. Be sure you get thesebefore you drive the car home. Ideally, you should read these documents, but in reality, no one does, including me. It’s virtually impossible to read and/or understand all the documents (especially with fine print), that you’re asked to sign. I believe that lawyers created these lengthy, voluminous documents unnecessarily and on purpose so that we require their services. Remember that you won’t see any legal documents until after you think you’ve bought the car. You probably signed another document called a “worksheet”, and the salesman and manager might have shaken your hand and thanked you for buying the car, but it’s not official or legal until you sign a lot more documents in the F&I or business office (also called “the box”). There is one very important document you’ll see before you go into “the box” and that’s your credit application. Be sure that you get a copy of that.
- Get the cell phone numbers of the salesman and key managers. I’ll guarantee that the salesman will almost insist that you give him your cell phone number. Before, you do that, insist that he give you his number, and tell him you want his manager’s cell phone number too. While you’re at it ask for the cell phone numbers for the service manager and general manager. You’d be amazed at how hard it can be to contact anyone in a car dealership AFTER you’ve bought and paid for your car. Even if they don’t answer the phone, you can text your message. This is a matter of record and legally binding. Also, when they know you do have their cell phone number, their likely to be more careful about making promises they can’t keep.
- Ask the F&I/Business manager to delete the Arbitration Clause on the Vehicle Buyer’s Order. Almost every car dealer includes an “arbitration agreement clause” in their purchase contract. You may have bought lots of cars and never seen, but it’s there in the fine, voluminous print. This clause says that you agree not to sue the car dealer for any reason. In other words, it says that you want to waive your right to a judge and jury of your peers, one of your most precious rights as an American.
Whether you want to “stick to your guns” on all these recommendations or not, just using some of them is better than none. Also, by merely asking you’re signaling that dealer that you’re alert and aware. Too many car-buyers are too timid and afraid they’ll offend the nice car salesman or his manager. These are the customers that are most likely to be taken advantage of.