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Monday, October 30, 2023

Get it in Writing... Especially When Buying a Car

You'll agree that you've never bought a new or used car where the dealer didn't get all phases of the transaction affecting him in writing. You didn’t read everything you signed because it's too voluminous and includes undecipherable fine print. Most of this vast paperwork is signed after you “thought” you'd bought the car, and your salesperson has already thanked you for “buying” the car and introduced you to the “business” manager. What you've signed so far is probably just a simple worksheet, which you probably did read but has no legal significance. In fact, the fine print on the worksheet says it's not legally binding. You read very little of the vast amount of legally binding documents in the business office. These are the documents that the dealers' lawyer prepared and/or recommended to protect the dealer’s interests, not yours.

The best way to balance the scales and protect your interests is to commit to writing all the commitments and promises made by the salesperson and sales manager. This can be cumbersome and time-consuming in a one-on-one, in-person transaction inside the dealership, although it can be done. My recommendation is that you buy your car online, which requires either email or texts. Minimize the use of the phone call and, when necessary, confirm in writing.

The most important item you need to commit the dealership to in writing is the out-the-door price. The definition of out-the-door is the price you can write on a check, present it to the salesman in exchange for the car you purchased, and drive it home. The second most important thing to get in writing (text/email) is the complete description of the car including VIN, MSRP, mileage, color of exterior and interior, and all the accessories and options. Finally, confirm in writing any promises your salesperson made such as a free loaner car whenever your car is in for service, a free detail, car wash, or tank of gas, etc.

These text/email communiqu├ęs are, technically, not legal signed contracts, but when responded to and accepted in writing by the dealership, they are almost as good as a signed contract. They constitute prima facie evidence to the court. The dealer knows this and knows that if you did sue and took him to court, he'd lose and likely be responsible for, not just making you whole, but your legal fees, as well as his.

If a dealer won’t respond by email or text confirming your written comments to him, you've found out that he was lying to you upfront, without having to waste a lot of time arguing.

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