Many used car buyers feel ripped off when their cars break down and the dealer won’t help them out later, despite promises made by the salesman at the time of the sale. When the aggrieved buyer calls an attorney to see what can be done about it, the news is rarely good. Things said by the salesman are almost never binding. Regardless of what they said, in most states, they can get away with it. And this is probably the most important thing you need to know when car shopping at a dealership.
Anyone who has ever shopped for a car at a dealership knows that salespeople can say all kinds of things. “This is a great car.” “This is a one-owner car.” “This is a demo driven by the dealership owner’s wife.” “This car has never been in an accident.” Beyond condition, many sellers feel compelled to make vague promises about the future of the car. “If this car breaks down, you call me and we’ll take care of it for you.”
Can a buyer rely on anything the salesperson said during the sale? When people call my office to complain about this after they’ve been shot down by the selling dealer, I ask them to pull out their purchase agreement. I don’t have to see it: They’re almost all the same (at least in Michigan, but I’ve heard similar stories from other states). They contain a clause specifically stating that the salesperson cannot bind the dealer by any verbal statements. The only way that can happen is if the statement made by the salesperson is written onto the Purchase Agreement and then signed and agreed to by another representative of the dealer. And this is almost NEVER done.
Here is a typical example. Note that on the Purchase Agreement, the language is written in ALL CAPITALS.
Once you sign the Purchase Agreement, you are presumed to have read and agreed to all its terms including that one. Everything spoken to you by the seller that is not on the Purchase Agreement goes out the window.
Can you do anything about this after the fact? Probably not. But you CAN do something about it next time you are car shopping. Whenever the salesman says anything to you that you think is important, ask if it can be added to the Purchase Agreement. If they won’t allow it, you know you cannot rely on it later. And it will also give you a good view of what the seller can and cannot do for you.
Steve Lehto is a writer and from Michigan. He specializes in Lemon Law and frequently writes about cars and the law. His most recent books include , and . He also has a where he talks about these things.