What To Do If A Dealership Rips You Off

Illustration for article titled What To Do If A Dealership Rips You Off

Getting hosed at the dealership is no fun, especially if you don’t catch it until after you’ve made the purchase. It’s a crappy feeling to realize you paid more than you should have, and while there isn’t often much you can do legally, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try something.


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.

In a previous installment, I talked about what you should do if the dealership “made a mistake” on on your contract and should have charged you a bit more. It turns out, that’s not really your problem.

It goes both ways. If the dealer pumps up the price without you catching it and you sign the contract, they don’t have an obligation to help you wind back the deal either. However, you may still have a window of opportunity to get something out of the deal. This week’s letter comes from someone who ended up paying a bit more for a Toyota 4Runner than he thought.

This past Friday, my wife and I finally decided to pull the trigger on getting a bigger vehicle. We decided to trade in my 2009 Corolla to get a 4Runner. With two large dogs and babies on the way, we figured it was a sensible purchase.

We went to a reputable dealer nearby and found a 2016 we both liked.

To make a long story short, when we went inside, they showed us the paperwork on it and they were offering us $33K on it. Not terrible, but not the best price. We shifted gears to the terms of the financing. The sales guy left and came back with his better rate and payments than what I was pre-approved for, so that was great.

Long story short, they had jacked up the price of the vehicle to $37K. Now I readily admit this is 100% my fault for not going back through everything he brought me back with a fine-tooth comb, especially on such a large purchase. I didn’t catch this until Saturday night going back over the paperwork.

I feel like such an idiot that I got hassled so badly. My question to you - is there any recourse? Should I try going straight to the sales manager and see if they’re willing to do anything?

Feeling quite dumb.

Yeah, that sucks. At least you bought a 4Runner and, if you were so inclined, you could probably sell it to a private party for close to what you paid. But, strictly legally speaking, you have no recourse.

A contract is a contract, and there is no “cooling off” period where you can cancel the deal.

All is not lost though. You can give this a shot. Contact the general manager or the owner of the dealership. You want to find the top manager and say something like, “I just bought this 2016 4Runner and I think someone made a mistake with the contract. It was supposed to be a $33,000 car and it says here I paid $37,000 for it.”


Now the reason you handle it this way and not by tossing a brick wrapped in the contract through their window is because chances are, the general manager didn’t have any specific knowledge of the details on your deal. Give them an opportunity to save face and see if they can do something.


This is a good rule of thumb in any customer service situation where you are at a disadvantage. If you come in with the boxing gloves on ready for a fight, they are going to get defensive and not want to help you out. If you present it like a problem they can solve, you are likely to have a better outcome.

Maybe they actually care about giving people a fair deal and will cut you a check for the difference. It happens. Perhaps they will offer some free service or another perk. Sometimes, the folks who are really in charge do want to make things right.


There may be a point, however, when niceties fail. That’s when you need to act like a wartime consigliere and make them an offer they can’t refuse. Look them dead in the eye and say “Look, I know that those customer service surveys are really important to you guys. If you go out of your way to make me feel a little better about this deal, I will go out of my way to make sure you get high marks on those surveys.” What you are not saying directly, but clearly implying is “Since you went out of your way to rip me off, when asked I’m going to make sure you get the lowest scores possible.”

(Note that these surveys are generally only for new and certified pre-owned cars; if you’re buying used, you may be SOL here.)


If the dealer offers no resolution and essentially tells you to pound sand, you’ll just have to chalk this up as a learning experience. Take a half hour out of your day to call Toyota and preemptively tell them about the customer service you experienced. If you also get a survey, sit down with a nice cold one, and hit those zeros down the line. Then feel free to go on sites like Yelp and Dealer Rater to put this dealership on blast.


Of course, hammering the dealer on a survey isn’t going to give you the same amount of satisfaction as getting that couple of grand back on your bank account, but at least their actions will not go unnoticed by Toyota. And maybe, just maybe, someone else will read your review and shop elsewhere.

This post has been updated to clarify what kinds of dealerships take survey recommendations.

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)


Frisky Dingo

I feel like there’s more to the story than this.

Like, they just increased the price to $37,000, and everything else stayed the same?? I don’t see how that’s possible.

They clearly go over every line on the contract and bill of sale with you when in finance, and it would have plainly showed the price at 37K, instead of 33K. It’s not an easy oversight to make. There should have been AT LEAST 4 separate documents that showed the selling price- Buyer’s Order, Title Application, Bill of Sale, and Contract.

This just doesn’t add up.