What to Do If You’re Scammed by Car Dealership

February 13, 2020

It’s always upsetting to learn that someone’s overcharged you for something. When I was asked the question “What can you do if you’re scammed by a car dealership? ” By one of our readers, I knew I had to answer it.

Legitimately, if you’ve signed all the documents, completed your purchase, and driven your new car home, legally, in most jurisdictions, there isn’t much of anything you can do. In the eyes of the law, you’re the owner of that car. That doesn’t mean there aren’t practical steps you can take to try and resolve the issue, however.

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If you feel that may have been taken advantage of, overcharged, or outright scammed, here’s the steps I would recommend you take.

Talk to dealership management

Once you’ve realized something fishy happened, you may want to immediately call your salesperson. I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Or, at least if you do call your salesperson, only do it to get through to the sales manager. The salesperson isn’t going to be able to do anything to help resolve this issue, and they probably won’t want to if they did something nefarious.

When you do get through to a manager, the first thing you should try and do is appeal to them to “do the right thing.” You’ll want to talk to the sales manager, or better yet, the general manager (GM).

Don’t threaten, scream, or yell at the GM. In my 42 years in the car business, rarely did I see this tactic pay off. Car people are real people, just like you and me. They have families, and friends, and they can be swayed to help people in need. You’re that person in need, and we can convince them to help you.

Start out by approaching them as a human being and appeal to them on a human level. Ask them to do what is morally right. You might frame it exactly like that by saying something along the lines of, “Rarely in life can we make a wrong right, but now is one of those opportunities.” If you were legitimately scammed by a dealer, this tactic should work.

Be prepared to explain what the issue is and provide what you think would be a fair solution. The last part is critical. Come prepared with what you think would be a fair resolution to the problem. When you tell the GM what they need to do to “make things right,” the GM hears, “Great, I can resolve this problem, save the customer, and maybe even look like a hero.”

By providing a solution, you are showing the GM good faith. This will encourage the necessary conversation that will ultimately lead to an acceptable resolution for everyone involved.

My experience has shown that this type of approach usually leads to a reasonable resolution. Personally, and during my 42+ year career in the car business, I am (and always was) more inclined to help a friendly person solve a problem than a screaming, threatening person.

Do you ever wonder how much car dealers mark up used cars? You might enjoy this article if you haven’t read it already: How Much Do Dealers Markup Used Cars?

Talk to dealership ownership

If presenting your issue to the general manager doesn’t resolve the problem, your next best bet would be to contact the managing partner, dealer principal, area vice president or the owner of the dealership.

I can tell you from experience that if I couldn’t resolve a customer issue at my level (sales manager and general manager), and it made it up the ladder to someone of greater authority, they were going to do whatever they had to do to make the problem go away. I don’t mean this in a nasty way, rather it is to say that the managing partner, dealer principal, area vice president, or owner is too busy with other things to really want to deal with you. Use that to your advantage!

When I worked for the Penske organization, we had a regional VP that always reminded us that if a customer issue ever reached him, he would do whatever he had to do to make the customer happy (regardless of cost). His advice to us (his managers) was to simply handle the issue at our level so he wouldn’t have to.

With that being said, if you were overcharged on your new car, and you weren’t able to resolve the issue with the general manager, do your best to talk to the next level of authority. They’re likely to do whatever it takes to “make the problem go away,” and considering you want a fair resolution, this is one way to get it. At most dealerships you can identify this person on their website. If you can’t, call the receptionist and ask.

Legal and regulatory options

What if “talking it out” doesn’t work? Do you still have options if you were scammed, overcharged, or taken-advantage of by a car dealership? The answer is yes.

You can contact the Better Business Bureau, your state’s Consumer Protection Office, or even the Attorney General’s office. These three options could be time consuming, however the Better Business Bureau would try to broker a resolution in a more timely manner than the other two would.

The Office of Consumer Protection and the Attorney General’s office generally want to see a pattern of abuse by a dealership before taking action. You may need to wait years for enough complaints to be filed against a dealer before one of these agencies will do anything. This is frustrating, but it’s the reality of the situation.

Leverage social media

The court of last resort, so to speak, is social media. There are any number of sites where you can post a review of the dealership and share your experience. Once again, do it in a respectful manner, no name calling, no shouting, no threats, as Sergeant Joe Friday from the old TV show Dragnet would say,  “just the facts ma’am, just the facts.”

DealerRater is a popular review website. You can even find reviews of me on there!

Although it may feel “good” to write out a diatribe, do your best to be succinct and factual in your online review. This will more than likely elicit a positive response from the dealer management, and it surely will garner more of an appetite to “make the situation right” than something long-winded and over the top. Dealers want to protect their online reputation, because for a lot of them, that is how they find and retain customers. This means they’ll usually want to make amends for their wrongdoing to encourage a more positive review from you. 

So what should you do if you’re scammed by a car dealership? Whether be an overcharge, a bait and switch, or something in between, realize that you might not have legal standing for your issue, but you do have options as to how to address it. From my experience, these are the avenues I suggest you travel if you ever find yourself feeling taken advantage of at a car dealership.

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11 Comments

  1. Kristine M Cornejo

    Thank you for your recent post. I am now going through an issue like this myself have had nowhere to turn. I signed the contract but they still have the vehicle. I just received a letter from the finance institution stating that they had made a mistake on the contract and have now added 20 grand to the overall cost of the truck. I have tried talking to the manager multiple times And this was his solution to the 1st problem. I will try contacting the vice president And discussing any correction options with him. The contract States that arbitration is the only option. Any other advice Would be greatly appreciated thank you

    Reply
  2. Tashonda Parson

    Who can my wife talk to if the dealer is believe to scam you for more money

    Reply
  3. Michelle Cho

    Hello, I recently purchased a car and I believed I was scammed. The car cost $5999 and the car dealer said I had to put 2800 down on the car. I ask if this would be deducted from my base price and Henry and Israel both agreed it would. Well, they never deducted the $2800. I would look at the contract with the bank and wonder why my monthly rate was being deducted from $5999. I called the bank and inquired why I didn’t see my deposit and he indicated that was for the dealership! What the f… I don’t have $3000 just to give anyone and this in not what I was told. Please help mem

    Reply
  4. CJ Vega

    All along during my visit they kept assuring me they were going to give me the best deal!

    Indeed, a raking over the coals and a shaft is what they gave me!

    This is my 4th Consecutive Honda Purchases, 3 leases plus the current purchase and others since at least the year 2000!

    They have no influence with Honda Finance regarding their lending/credit decisions

    My loan APR is over 3 times the market rate at $5/day

    Bank Financing is out of their control they told me

    Not renegotiable with lending bank for 3 years because of agreement dealer-lender, not true I can go to other lenders they said, by the way my bank told me they only issue car loans through dealers

    less than 30 days from purchase I have 8 offers from different lending institutions to reduce monthly payment by at least $60/month

    I have options I am ok, they told me

    They see nothing wrong at all with the above scenario!

    They actually think this transaction was a fair deal!

    They would not budge and in spite of repeating several times they wanted to help me, after 1/2 hour they felt everything was fair!

    ==============================

    TIPS
    ==================
    1. Don’t do business with Coggin Honda, Atlantic Blvd., Jacksonville, FL!

    2. Research market well before buying, dealer and auto maker incentives and discounts and best prices. Buy at the end of the month.

    3. Research current local auto loan rates, get your loan from a credit union.

    4. Above all, don’t believe when they are telling you you are getting a good deal, that should be your red flag!

    5. Tell everyone if you have been swindled!
    https://www.flhsmv.gov/safety-center/consumer-education/consumer-complaints/#

    Other resources (if you have been wronged, make it right):
    https://blog.suretysolutions.com/suretynews/take-control-how-to-file-a-complaint-against-a-car-dealer

    https://carconsumers.org/wheretocomplain.htm

    https://www.flada.org/consumers/

    http://www.mvdti.com/lectures/complaints.html

    https://consumeractionlawgroup.com/car-dealer-rips-off/

    Reply
  5. Jessica Kozak

    My husband bought a car on August 19th 2021. It’s an 05 Chrysler, Town and Country. The transmission went in it September 15th 2021. Didn’t even have the car a month. Maybe drive 100 miles on it, and that’s a big stretch. Obviously this guy sold him a lemon. Is there anything we can do?

    Reply
  6. Robert

    I got juked the listing for the car I bought was 17,500, I signed the paperwork to find out they changed it to 21 without telling me! What can I do guys….

    Reply
    • SALLY HANLEY

      This just happened to my nephew on 1/26/22. They told us car was $17000. Paperwork says cost of car $22,000! I am in contact with a general manager there to try and get compensation or something!

      Reply
  7. Anna

    CommentI bought a new car, but after 10 days I opened the window at the car and could not close it, I turned to the dealer with a problem, they told me that they would replace the car without any problems, but when I arrived they told me that this brand of car was not available and advised me to take the other is slightly higher in price than the previous one. I agreed and signed the papers. I asked what these amounts were, they answered me that these are amounts with interest, do not worry, refinance at the bank. When half a year later I went to the bank to refinance, they told me that you were deceived. They bought the first car from me for half the price of the cost of the car, and did not change it. When I went to the dealership to sort it out, they told me that you had signed the documents, which means you agreed to all the conditions. And now I have to pay twice as much as the cost of the car. What to do?

    Reply
    • Lucy

      Gerald Nissan of Naperville charged me more for the truck and markup price can they get away with this? The truck was $26,000,000 and they charged $29,000,000 then a markup price $3,000 as well.

      Reply
  8. Estella Harris

    I contacted for a 2022 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy.
    Around 43000. I put $25000 down. The price rose to $ 88,000.00 plus at first, but afterwards down to 36000.00 and some. I was never able to aquire a tag or title because of the dealership saying the tag and sales had to be paid out of state because I was living in Illinois at the time and purchased the car Mississippi. Confusion set in because they sent paperwork on car to wrong place after much back and forth, up until they repo the SUV , I never had tag or paperwork? I spoked with a lawyer and she said They gave me a bad deal because I traded in a 2022 new car as down payment. They even offered to give me my trade in back because they couldn’t find away to work the paperwork on the car. I am so angry and frustrated. I don’t have a car to get around in and I’m disabled. I feel very strongly I was taking advantage of and given the shaft. They refused to work with me.

    Reply

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