Dealing with car dealers is usually at the bottom of everyone's list of fun things to do. Depending on where you are purchasing the vehicle from it can be a miserable experience or a tolerable experience. It is rarely a great experience. However, you can have a better experience if you follow some of the tips below. This list is not exhaustive. It may not work in every situation, but these are some tips I have learned over years of representing clients that have been ripped off by car dealers or people that have bought a Lemon. It is my hope, these tips may assist you in getting a good deal and prevent you from buying a jalopy.
1) Research the Vehicle Price before going to the dealership: If you are thinking of buying a new or used vehicle you should be able to price the vehicle through various internet sources. You can use the Kelly Blue Book or Edmunds guide online to compare prices of vehicles. You can also compare prices of similar vehicles on Craigslist or Auto-Trader. If you do this before ever setting foot on the car lot, you will know whether or not the vehicle is over-priced. Once you have a price in mind you stick to it no matter what. If the dealer refuses to accept your offer, then WALK AWAY. If you are shopping using the "monthly payment" as the maximum amount you will pay then use a payment calculator. That will tell you the maximum amount of the price you can pay based on the monthly payment and the likely interest rate.
2) You Don't Have to Tell The Dealer The "Payment Amount" You Are Looking For or Other Information: Many people end up paying too much for vehicles because they shop for a vehicle based on the payment amount. The way this typically occurs is the consumer goes to the lot with a price and vehicle in mind. Most people finance vehicles, so the dealer asks, "What are you looking at keeping your payments at?" The consumer then responds with a number. That number then becomes the starting point. The dealer knows that if you say you want to keep your payments at $200.00 a month then you will probably agree to a $275.00 a month payment. Also, the dealer knows that they can tweak the financing and add-ons (see below) in order to keep you at your payment. For example, they may extend the loan term for a few years at a higher interest rate. On paper, your payments are what you want, but you end up paying thousands of dollars in interest and you may get locked into a loan on a vehicle for seven or eight years on a used car. The bottom line is that you can tell the dealer you don't want to discuss financing until after you have agreed on a final price of the vehicle. If the dealer refuses, then you can walk. You may also be able to obtain financing from your bank or a local credit union. If you get pre-approved financing for a certain amount of money, you can focus solely on the price of the vehicle. This enables you to steer clear of dealer shenanigans.
3) Research the Vehicle's History Before Going to the Dealer: In Oregon, the dealer should have the vehicle's identification number (VIN) on the online advertisement. This allows you to run a carfax or auto check before you ever meet with the dealer. The vehicle history report may show the vehicle's maintenance history, if it was a fleet vehicle or rental car, and if it has a clean title. This is invaluable information. However, be careful and do not rely solely on these vehicle history reports. Many times it takes the reports a few months to obtain relevant data to include in the reports. The reports are also not always complete. Dealers know this. As a result, it is common for a dealer to give a "clean carfax" report and then later a crash shows up that pre-dates the sale to you. That is why you should have a mechanic inspect the vehicle.
4) You Can and Should Have the Vehicle Inspected By an Independent Mechanic: The best way to prevent from buying a used vehicle that is a piece of junk (aka a Lemon), is to have an independent mechanic inspect the vehicle BEFORE you purchase the vehicle. Mechanics can tell you what you are getting into if you are buying a used car. There are a few different inspection services here in Portland that will actually drive to the vehicle (PDX Inspections, PDX Autoworks, Portland Motor Cars, Etc.) I don't recommend or endorse any particular mechanic or inspector, but you can contact them. Also, most dealers will let you drive the vehicle to a mechanic's shop for the inspection. If you have a mechanic you trust, take the vehicle there. Be Careful: Do not use a mechanic recommended by the dealer!
5) Dealers Are Not Required to do a Thorough Vehicle Inspection: I often get calls from people that purchased a vehicle that broke down shortly after the purchase. They often say "the dealer was supposed to do a [insert number here] point inspection." There is no requirement in Oregon for a dealer to conduct a thorough inspection of the vehicle. Unless the dealer agrees to do an inspection or advertises one, The Oregon Administrative Rules and other laws dictate the dealer's obligations. That is why YOU should have the vehicle inspected.
6) Dealers Make Most of their Money on Add-Ons, So Be Careful: If you did your homework on the price of the vehicle, then you know the maximum amount you are willing to pay before you go into the dealer. Once you have that number in mind you have to stick to it. Dealers are masterful at convincing people to go over that number by adding on various things that are financed into the price of the vehicle. Common Add-Ons are warranties, service contracts, paint protection, door edge guards, glass etching. The dealer maximizes profits on these items by marking them up as high as they can. If you feel it is necessary to purchase an add-on, remember you can negotiate the price of it. The dealer should tell you what the actual cost of the add-on is to the dealer. Also, Oregon law prohibits the dealer from conditioning the sale of the car on buying an add-on. For example, "the dealer cannot say I won't sell you the car unless you buy the warranty." You should not negotiate add-ons until AFTER you agreed on the final purchase price of the vehicle.
7) Dealers May Try and Fudge the Financing, So Review the Documents: Usually once a dealer has you in a car they turn things over to the F&I manager. This is the person in the "back room" that is unreasonable on price and financing. Many times at this point you have been at the dealership for hours and just want to get out of there. Dealers know this. That is why they will throw dozens of documents in front of you and tell you where to sign. I have had dealers admit under oath that they are trained to make it difficult for the customer to take the documents off of the table and read them. They do this by holding the document as it is laying on the table, pointing out where to sign, and then flipping the document over immediately after it is signed. They do this so you have no idea what you are signing. To prevent this, you have some options. You can ask the dealer to leave you alone with the documents so you can read them. You can also have the dealer hand you the documents prior to signing them. If they refuse, then you should walk out. You want to review the documents to ensure the purchase price is correct, the trade-in, if any, the amount is correct, the add-ons are things you actually agreed to purchase, the financing amount is correct, the interest rate is what you agreed on, the term of the loan (number of payments) is correct, and you agree with all of the terms. Click here to learn more about The Retail Installment Contract.
8) You Can Cross Things Out and Refuse to Sign Certain Documents: We live in a world of pre-printed forms. Many times people sign things without reading them. If you reviewed the documents then you will see language that you don't understand or you don't want to agree to. This is where you can use your phone to look up any terms you don't understand, and you can cross out the conditions and terms you don't want to agree to. For example, you should ALWAYS cross out any language saying you are agreeing to binding arbitration and/or forfeiting your right to a Jury trial. This is often buried in the "fine print," but you should always cross it out or refuse to sign any clause or stand-alone document that is forcing you into arbitration. Click here to find out why Arbitration is bad for Oregon consumers.
9) Negative Equity in Your Trade-In WIll Make Your Payments Much Higher: Assume you did your homework on vehicle price, you refused the add-ons, and are sticking to your bottom line and you have a trade-in that is worth less than the amount you owe on it. Dealers have a difficult time rolling in negative equity into a new loan because many finance companies are leery of extending credit to folks in this situation. This is due to the fact that the collateral on the loan for the new vehicle won't cover the full cost of the loan in the event of a default. However, dealers are crafty and can usually get financing if needed. They may get a co-signer, fudge numbers, claiming non-existent down payments, or other schemes to get the negative equity rolled into the new loan. If the negative equity is rolled into the new loan then most likely your payments are going to be MUCH higher than you anticipated. I get calls from many people that get home and review their paperwork only to find out that they have agreed to a $400.00 car payment when they thought they were only agreeing to a $250.00 car payment. Many times the reason for this is the consumer agreed to roll in the negative equity into the new loan.
10) There is No Automatic Right to Return a Vehicle In Oregon: There is a myth that many consumers propagate that if you buy a car you automatically have [insert number here] number of days to return a vehicle. I have heard people say it is 3 days, 7 days, 14 days, 30 days, and 60 days. Under Oregon law, there is no automatic right to return a vehicle that you purchased at a dealership. However, your contract or agreement with the dealer may allow you to do so.
11) The Dealer May Have 14 Days to Complete Financing for the Vehicle: Many people drive off of the lot in their new or used vehicle and then get a call from the dealer a week later. The dealer says financing fell through so they need to come back and agree to new financing terms. Usually, the dealer wants more money for the down payment or may want to increase the interest rate. This is called a Yo-Yo Scam or a bushing scam. This is legal, but only if, the dealer follows the law to the letter. This includes, but is not limited to, telling you that you have the right to immediately receive your trade-in back and/or your downpayment back. At the dealership, the dealer should have the trade-in ready for you to pick up and your downpayment ready for you to get if you do not agree to the new financing terms. Click here for more information on Yo-Yo Scams. If you review the documents (see above) you will know exactly what the dealer is doing and prevent the dealer from sneaking in new additional terms.
12) If It Isn't In Writing It Doesn't Count: Dealers make a lot of promises. Many dealers will tell a consumer that they will fix something on the car, or make an oral agreement about when the downpayment is actually due. These agreements typically are not binding, because the Purchase Agreement or the Retail Installment Contract has a clause that says that those documents contain the entire agreement. The bottom line is if the dealer promises something then get it in writing. If they refuse, then walk out.
The list above is not complete and everyone's situation varies. You MIGHT STILL GET RIPPED OFF even if you follow the recommendations above. Also, please keep in mind I do not advise clients who are in the middle of purchasing a car. I am a lawyer that represents Oregon Consumers, I am not a car buying advisor. This blog could be considered Attorney Advertising. If you think you have been ripped off by an Oregon Car Dealer or were sold a Lemon then call Ross Law PDX at 503.224.1658. Jeremiah Ross represents Oregonians in consumer cases, personal injury cases, and other cases where people are harmed by the negligence or intentional acts of others.