Friday, March 18, 2011

NWR: Reading your contract

I'm going to take a small departure from talking weddings to discuss a recent legal issue I had.  Many brides tend to fit the mold of young women who have spent the last few years gaining independence, but are still inexperienced in many areas.  I'm one of them.

This January, my ol' faithful truck finally exceeded its value in repair costs.  I'd been thinking about replacing it for a few years, but my 1995 Toyota was nothing if not solid so it wasn't until my repair shop quoted me $500 to replace some parts that I figured it would be smart to use that money toward getting a new/used car instead of continuing to pump money into a dying car.
M saying goodbye to the truck right before we traded it in
I went into the process worried about being scammed, knowing that young women are looked upon as easy prey by dealers.  To reduce that risk, I brought M with me to all my appointments and only looked at what I thought were reputable dealerships - big names with multiple franchises, certified by the car makers.  I did some research, test drove a few cars, and decided to just buy a new car since the model I was looking at didn't have a huge price difference between the recent older models and the 2011. 

I was planning to finance with a loan through my bank, but when I got to the dealership they offered me a 0.0% APR, 5 year loan.  It sounded too good to be true!  They ran a credit check and my credit score was excellent, so the deal proceeded.  M and I read though the paperwork and everything looked great.  I traded in my truck for $400 toward the new car price, and drove home that night in my new car.  And that was the end, I thought.

My 2011 Toyota Yaris!
About 3 weeks later I got the first phone call.  One of the finance managers was calling to tell me they had made a mistake with my paperwork, and had accidentally offered me the APR for the 2010 model, not the 2011.   He apologized profusely for the mix-up - which he said was a unique and rare mistake - and said I had two options:

  • Trade the 2011 Yaris I'd bought for a 2010 model and keep the same APR, or
  • Resign my contract with a higher APR. The going rate for the 2011 was 3.74, but he was willing to resign at 2.74 to compensate me for the trouble

I was shocked, but not knowing any better said that I'd come back in to the dealership on Saturday and resign the new contract.  That night, when M came home I told him what a bummer it was that my great deal didn't pan out.  He was confused and angry on my behalf, and insisted I search online to see if they were legally able to force me to resign.  The whole situation screamed "SCAM" to him, and so I began googling to see if anyone else had been in a similar position.  I'm glad I did, because I found tons of message boards and attorney's pages describing what they called the "yo-yo", or in other cases, "spot delivery" scam.

In my case, it wasn't that my credit was bad, but that they offered me a deal that Toyota wouldn't finance.  Whether it was an honest mistake or a tactic to get me in the door and buy the car (bait and switch scam), the dealer was refusing to pay the difference in interest costs and forcing me, the customer, to pay for their mess.  I read through my contract with a fine-tooth comb and found two things:
  1. My contract was dependent on financing being approved.  At the time, I took that to mean my credit had to check out, and since I saw the credit report and was told I was approved, I didn't think I had to worry about it.  Now I realized they would use this clause to negate my contract since it wasn't approved by Toyota.
  2. The third option:  Instead of resigning or trading in my vehicle, my contract said I could return the Yaris if the contract wasn't approved, and receive my trade-in or downpayment back.
I contacted the dealer and told them I wanted to cancel the contract, and that under the terms of my contract, expected to be driving home in my Tacoma if I brought back the Yaris.  But of course, they had already sold or scrapped my truck.  He offered me the $400 that they trade in was valued, but I dug my heels in and said that $400 wasn't the same as a working car.  I pointed out that this meant they were in violation of their own contract, and were now liable under the Virginia Consumer Protection Act.  The financing manager said this was out of his control and arranged for the legal department to contact me the next day.  Weeks ticked by and I heard nothing from them, after repeated attempts to get back in contact.  I wondered if I would need to find my own lawyer to settle the matter, and waited for the day when I would wake up and find out that my car had been repossessed.

Then, earlier this week, I got my first bill for the Yaris.  I held my breath, and went to their financial website to check out the terms.  My 0.0% APR was right there in black and white.  Is it over?  I'm not sure, but my guess is that the dealer's legal department decided it would be more profitable to just pay the difference in interest than to take back a "new" car with 1500 miles on it and try to resell it.  Not to mention the legal complications from them having sold my trade-in already.  And now that I've made my first payment to Toyota, I imagine they'll have even less of a leg to stand on.

The moral of the story (and how it related to weddings!)


READ YOUR CONTRACT.   We, as brides, hear this all the time, but it's not just about making sure the price and date is correct.  It's about knowing your rights as a customer and covering yourself if the vendor promises you one thing and delivers something else.  If there is a mistake on the big day or any of the days leading up to it, don't let your vendor push you around into paying for something that wasn't your fault.  Remember, weddings are a billion-dollar industry and there be sharks in them waters.  

Finally, be prepared to walk away.  I love my little Yaris and would have been sad to return it and have to start the car buying process all over again.  But I knew I did not want to sign another contract with a dealership that had already proven I had little value to them as a customer.  When I said I wanted to return my car and cancel the contract, I meant it, and was fully ready to walk away.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe who that worked out for you. I'm pretty much dreading the day my toyota dies and I need a new one, because I have no idea how to buy a new car. It sounds like you were in what could have potentially been an awful situation, but glad to hear it worked out for you!