Dodge has announced the Challenger SRT Demon, a crazy fast car which will certainly burn some rubber and set some nice ETs at the drag strip. Of course, getting your hands on one of these limited-edition cars will mean that you have to fork over the money and get in line. But there is one more twist in this story which is making headlines. To buy the Demon, you have to sign a legal document specific to this model. What is the legal effect of this extra document?
The document in question is three pages long, counting the signature page. It is entitled an “ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.” The Acknowledgement, , is not as bad as you might think, but it does serve a purpose.
The Demon is sold with various equipment uncommon on typical street cars. For instance, you can buy one with no passenger seats. The car comes with skinny front wheels which are pretty much only useful on a drag strip, and enough hard-launching horsepower to get you in trouble in a hurry. It is clear that the Acknowledgement form is primarily being used by Dodge to guarantee that some knucklehead out there doesn’t buy one of these cars and then go tearing off and kill someone—or him/herself—and then try and sue Dodge for making the car exactly as it was advertised.
So what do you acknowledge when signing? There is a list of 15 items which is pretty much what I just wrote but in a bit more legalese. You will only use the features and applications in the vehicle when it is safe to do so. Otherwise people could get hurt and die.
“Track-Use” features will only be used on the track. “Drag Tires” are only suitable for use at the drag strip. And so on. All of these things are being pointed out to—and Acknowledged by—the buyer because of the Implied Warranty of Merchantability. That’s the law which states that a product can be used for its generally intended purpose. That is, a refrigerator will keep your food cold, a lawnmower will cut grass, a hair dryer will dry your hair. Yes, there is a law that says this specifically; it prevents manufacturers and sellers from claiming, “hey, we never promised the thing would actually work.” So, when you buy something and this warranty has not been disclaimed, you can count on these things.
What does a car do? Under the Implied Warranty of Merchantability, a car is generally expected to furnish “safe and reliable transportation,” from Point A to Point B in one piece and pretty much on time. It all falls apart when someone buys a brand new car and starts doing crazy stuff with it—harsh acceleration, drifting, whatever else the kids are up to these days. If someone were to bring a Demon to the Woodward Dream Cruise and launch it into the crowd, they might have been tempted to say “the car didn’t perform as a car should! It was unsafe!”
But those clever lawyers at FCA would then pull out this Acknowledgement form and show it to the court. “We specifically told Mr. Buyer that the car could not be operated in this fashion.” They’d then point to whichever of the 15 clauses on the form addressed the particular idiocy which brought the parties to court. Kind of hard to fight a claim based on something you acknowledged was unsafe at the time you bought the car.
Some fancy-pants lawyer out there might also try to raise the argument that there was an express warranty that the car could be raced. After all, the literature, advertising, and internet chatter about the Demon suggest it can pull hole shots and burnouts all day long, and no one ever gets hurt in the advertising. The Acknowledgement will go a long way in defending those claims, too. How can you argue with a straight face that you thought those activities were permissible when you signed a form saying they weren’t?
The key thing here is that the Acknowledgement is not a contract in the traditional sense. If you sign it, get your Demon, and then go out and do things contrary to the Acknowledgement, Dodge is not going to come over and take away your car. There are no ramifications to you simply for violating the agreement. The form simply puts you on notice of the things you should not do and will be held up later should you come after Dodge hoping the automaker will foot the bill for whatever you did.
One more interesting aspect is that the last clause has the buyer acknowledge whether the car was sold at MSRP (or below), or with a premium. If it was sold at a premium, the car’s delivery date will be pushed behind the ones sold at MSRP or below. While this is a funny concept, we're betting the bulk of these will still be sold at a premium. And since most everyone is at the “back” of the line, line position will no longer matter. But still, nice try.
Finally, it’s worth noting—and it doesn’t take a lawyer to figure this one out—the primary thing the Acknowledgement does is get FCA a ton of free publicity for their new product. People were talking about the car already, but they’re talking about it even more now. Have you heard about the crazy document they’re forcing people to sign just to buy one?!
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.