Dealer won't refund my deposit

March 15, 2016 15:21 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

I paid a car dealer $300 as a deposit to confirm that I was interested in buying a particular car. He assured me that the car had a clean title and had not been in any accidents. He also assured me that he would return my deposit if I found any problems with the car. I got the VIN number from him and found out from CARFAX that the car had been in an accident.  I showed the CARFAX report to the dealer and asked him for my deposit back, but he refused to return it. What can I do?

Consumer Ed says:  

While many consumers are under the impression that there is a law which entitles them to a refund for a car deposit if they choose not to buy the car, this is not the case.  Usually, whether a deposit is refundable or non-refundable depends on what's written in a contract, on a receipt, or posted at the dealership.  But if there’s nothing that states otherwise, or if you agreed with the dealer that the funds would be returned in the event that the car had previously been in an accident, then the dealer should be required to refund the money.

In this case, if you believe that the dealer has no right to keep your deposit, you have several options.  The first thing you should do is write a letter to the dealer requesting that your money be returned. Send the letter via “Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested,” and pay the small additional fee to obtain proof of delivery. You should also submit a complaint to the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org), and ask their mediation department to contact the dealer to attempt to get your deposit back.  You can also submit a complaint to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at www.consumer.ga.gov, or by calling 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123 (outside metro Atlanta).  If you used a credit card to pay the deposit, you should also consider disputing the charge with your credit card company.  Even if you take this route, the assistance of the Better Business Bureau and the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit described above may still be helpful.  

If none of the above options result in the return of your deposit, you may want to consult with an attorney who can help you explore other legal options you may have. 

To avoid such issues in the future, and to help you avoid doing business with companies that use deceptive tactics, make sure you select a reputable auto dealer before you begin shopping for a car. You can research dealerships through the Better Business Bureau’s website (www.bbb.org).  In addition, make sure that before you give a deposit to a dealer, you require that he or she create a written document stating the purpose of the payment, and under what circumstances, if any, you are entitled to a partial or full refund.  Finally, make certain that you read that document carefully and in its entirety before you sign it or hand over any money for a deposit. 


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Can car dealer back out of deal once contract has been signed?

January 21, 2016 13:11 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:

Yesterday afternoon I purchased a new car and was able to get a great deal.  However, today I received a voicemail from the dealer, asking me to come back in to discuss the deal.  From his tone, I assumed they didn't make any money on the deal.  Regardless, the contract was signed and accepted.  I took delivery of the vehicle and paid them on the spot, with a check from my bank. Can the dealership back out of this deal or demand more money?

Consumer Ed says:  

This sounds like a case of “seller’s remorse.” Generally speaking, there is no “cooling off period” – i.e., a legal right to cancel a vehicle purchase contract for either the buyer or the seller. Once all of the requirements for completion of the transaction are satisfied and you have signed the necessary paperwork, you have bought the vehicle. However, it is important that you read all of your vehicle purchase documents carefully. Although unlikely, if the dealership retained the right to back out of the contract, if the contract provides a basis for modifying certain terms later on, or if some event or act must occur in order to finalize the deal, the wording of the contract should include those provisions.  If such provisions are not contained in your contract, it would appear that your transaction is complete, and therefore the seller should not be able to change the terms of the agreement once it has been signed.  If the seller tries to change the terms, you need to consult with an attorney before agreeing or taking any action.


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Odometer and dealer sticker did not reflect true mileage on used car

October 27, 2015 16:00 by Consumer Ed

Dear Consumer Ed:  

I bought a car at a used car dealership. The sticker on the window read “89,000 Miles” and the odometer reflected the same number.  The paperwork the dealer gave me had the same mileage but also had “TMU,” which means “true miles unknown.”  I now want to return the car because I discovered through an AutoCheck vehicle report that the car actually has 300,000 miles on it.  The dealer is saying I can’t return it. Help!

Consumer Ed says:

Under these circumstances, you may have limited options in returning or refunding your vehicle if, as appears to be the case, the dealer correctly disclosed information regarding the vehicle mileage. Federal law requires sellers to disclose the miles on the odometer, and, if the seller knows that the odometer reading is different from the number of miles the car has actually traveled, include a disclosure indicating the true miles are unknown.   It appears that the dealer who sold you this car made the appropriate disclosure to ensure that you knew the 89,000 miles odometer reading was inaccurate. 

You may still have some recourse, however, if you can show that the dealer knew the actual vehicle mileage at the time of sale.  If the dealer knows the real mileage, then he or she must disclose that number and is not lawfully able to hide a higher odometer reading by using the “TMU” designation.  

Clearly, at some point, the vehicle odometer was altered.  Although not necessarily suggested by these facts, it is possible the dealer may have unlawfully manipulated the odometer reading.  AutoCheck may be helpful in determining the approximate time the odometer discrepancy occurred.   If the appearance of this discrepancy coincides with the dealer’s purchase or acquisition of the vehicle, this could suggest the dealer unlawfully altered and/or replaced the odometer and then disclosed the mileage as “TMU” in an effort to cover its actions.  The law prohibits sellers from changing the odometers in this fashion and misusing the “TMU” disclosure.  Both of the instances above would be an unfair and deceptive practice under the Georgia Fair Business Practices Act as well as under applicable federal law.  You may have a claim under these laws if you can prove the dealer engaged in these practices.

With very few exceptions, however, purchasing a used car is an activity that is almost always at the buyer’s risk.  Unless you can show that the dealer knew the real vehicle mileage or altered the odometer to begin with, you may be stuck with your higher-mileage vehicle.  You can visit the website of the Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Unit at www.consumer.georgia.gov to learn more about your rights in these situations or to file a complaint against the company.

 

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