I always stress that car buyers read the contract carefully before they sign, but what happens when you leave the dealership feeling good about your purchase and the dealer calls and says they made a mistake? Are you obligated to go back and resign a new contract?
Welcome to Ask Automatch! Where you get to ask me your burning car buying questions. Got a scenario or a situation and you aren’t sure what to do? Send me an email to Tom.McParland@jalopnik.com and I’ll try to help you out.
Over the past several months I’ve received a few emails from readers similar to the letter below.
Yesterday I drove to a dealership and traded in my car for a new Jetta. On the contract, they had the cost of the car at $19,999 and $4,500 trade-in value for my old car. So I put $7,000 down and ended up with a loan amount of around 10.5k, leaving my monthly payment under $200/month which is what I told her I was looking for.
I left the place and was halfway home (6-hour drive one way) and the lady that I signed my contract with called and said she made mistake, that she had subtracted my trade in value from the car price and again from that price. So, the car value was $24,999 and she subtracted $4,500 from it and then further down the contract, subtracted $4,500 again.
I asked what was the value now and it had obviously gone up $4,500 and increased my monthly payment beyond what I wanted. Then I asked what was next and she said she was going to send me the new contract in the mail.
My question is, do I need to sign this? Or should I call them and tell them I don’t want the car. I don’t want her to get in trouble, but I also wanted my payments under $200, which I told her from the beginning.
Basically, the scenario goes down like this: the customer buys a car, only to get a call from the dealership requesting them to come back to fix something. Of course in the new contract, the payment has gone up. Isn’t it strange that dealers never make the mistake of owing the customer more money?
If the buyer signed a contract then realized later they paid too much for the car, or were charged for something they didn’t want, most dealers wouldn’t be too sympathetic to winding back to the deal.
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According to friend of Jalopnik and courtroom badass Steve Lehto, who has handled a few of these cases, the buyer is in the clear and has no obligation to go back to change the contract in the dealer’s favor.
This is simple contract law and the best way to examine it is to ask what would happen if it was reversed. The only thing that would matter is that the Purchase Agreements often contain language saying, “This agreement is not binding until signed by [some variation on “a manager of this establishment”}. So long as it is signed by that person, they are good to go.
Some courts will void a contract if a party can show a legitimate mistake was made – such that it did not reflect the actual intent of the parties.
So how should you respond if you find yourself in the same situation? While vengeance is always an appealing option, it’s better to call the dealer’s bluff.
Tell the dealer that if they made a mistake to send their request to change the contract to you in writing. Ask them to send a copy of the contract highlighting the areas where they believe they made the mistake and a full explanation of the numbers as to how it was a mistake. Also, have them highlight the areas in the contract that give them the right to cancel such an agreement.
Chances are you will will never hear from them again. If you do receive such a request contact your local consumer protection attorney to see if you have a case. If, for some reason, you don’t have a case, you can always give the car back and walk away.