Image:AP

Everyone knows you aren’t likely to get top dollar for your trade if you give it to a dealer instead of selling yourself. But what if you think the dealer straight up lied about the value of your car only, to profit from it later? Unfortunately, your options for recourse are limited.

Recently I got a note from a reader who was pretty ticked off when the dealer told her her trade-in was worthless, only to find out that they were able to sell it.

“I traded in a 2004 Hyundai Santa Fe for a 2018 Hyundai Elantra. I was told my trade in was worthless and would be junked. I received zero trade value for the deal

Then a few weeks later, I get an email from Carfax and it had the following info: oil change due, registration due in 10 months, sold at auction. MO registered. I researched VIN no. and the outstanding recalls I had were now completed.

They liked to me about my trade being worth nothing and sold it. Can I go after them?”

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As usual, I got an opinion from consumer protection attorney and friend of Jalopnik., Steve Lehto:

“Dealers always want to get your car for as little as possible. Their statement about the value is merely an opinion anyway and if you feel your car is worth more you should shop around and get more for it (or sell it yourself). But did they break any law or do something you could sue them successfully for? No.”

As Steve said, the key point to understand is the dealer is not assigning an actual dollar amount to your trade. What they are really saying is, “This is what we are willing to pay.” The reality is that for most major car dealers, they don’t see a lot of value in cars that have a lot of age or miles on them. They are usually referred to as “auction cars,” meaning the dealer isn’t going to attempt to recondition it and put it back out on the lot. They are going to send it to an auction and hope for the best. Sometimes the dealers make a few bucks for these auction cars, sometimes they don’t. However, if your old car is in decent shape they will usually give you something for it, even if it is just a few hundred bucks.

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What this dealer did was certainly slimy, but not something you can sue them over. The truth is, if a dealer gives what you feel is a crappy offer on your trade, you are under no obligation to take it. There are plenty of alternatives. If your car is worth under $10,000 selling it to a private party will usually be your best bet, though the process can sometimes be a hassle. A place like CarMax will pretty much buy anything, but aren’t always going to get top dollar. However, if your dealer says your car is worth zero dollars, something is better than nothing.

Lastly, you can always donate your vehicle to any number of local charities that take cars. If the dealer won’t give you much for your trade, you can at least feel good that someone in need will have a vehicle to get them around.

Just like buying a car, it pays to do your research and have options when it comes to selling or trading. While you can’t sue a dealer for something like this, if you think they were dishonest in the deal they gave you, you can always express your frustration on those customer surveys.