Car Dealer Goes After Customer for More Money

Townsend and her Pacifica, photo by Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

Car salespeople can be a shifty bunch.

How many times have car dealers outright scammed car buyers, using every sales trick ever invented to maximize their profits on each sale?

I’ve known salesmen who brag about how badly they’ve screwed costumers on car deals, just to fatten up their commission checks. So on the rare occasion when I hear about a dealership getting screwed, it’s hard to muster much compassion.

Check out this story:

According to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Tammy Townsend leased a 2007 Chrysler Pacifica from Wasler Chrysler. When the lease was up in October of 2009, she bought the car from the dealer for $11,639. She scored a pretty good deal, right?

Too good, according to the dealership, which is now suing Townsend for $7,000. It seems someone at the dealership made an “administrative error,” and the car should have been sold for $18,505. The dealer isn’t accepting the loss and is actually blaming Townsend for not speaking up about the low price. Now she’s dodging repo men while fighting to argue that the dealer made the mistake, all paperwork was signed, and the car is hers.

Townsend told the Star Tribune,

You can’t sell someone something and then come back and say, “Whoops, I made a mistake. You have to pay more.”

She’s absolutely right, and I am loving the fact that she screwed over a dealership, even if it wasn’t intentional. What the dealership should be doing is reprimanding whoever made the error, not going after the customer.

Doug Sprinthall, vehicle operations director for Walser Automotive Group, said,  “She was told several times what the [correct] price was. We made a clerical error.”

Yeah, you made the error, Doug, so suck it up and enjoy being on the other end of a one-sided car deal.

Do you think the customer should have to pay the dealer in this situation?


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  1. Mistakes do happen. However, it’d be hard to come up with the Jury that would actually side with the dealership here. At best, they could get the car back in its present condition. I wish this mistake had happened to me :)

  2. @James
    In both cases the dealer set the price and therefore bears the responsibility for living with it. If a dealer had overpriced a car by $7,000 or even $700, any buyer would have every right to feel ripped off, and other car shoppers would have every reason to doubt the fairness of that dealer and avoid shopping there. If a dealer puts too low a price on a car or lease arrangement, that’s his or her fault, and he or she should have to live with that mistake.

  3. As a car salesman, I’d like to say that most of us are good, decent people. There are some bad apples outh there and we know that. As for the comment above, lets change the perspective around and imagine that hte customer had overpaid by $7000 dollars or even $700. She would be on the six o’clock news telling the world how she had been “ripped off” by these scammers.

    Why is the situation any different when reversed?

  4. All I have to say is let them have it! Those people at the car lots are shifty people. I as almost scammed my 500 dollar deposit and they were like whoops, that was a clerical error. I hope they take her all the way to court and I hope this lady makes as much hell for the dealership that they can. If they go to court, they are going to get ripped a new one because nobody has compassion for car lots. Plus it sounds to me like they decided to ask to the money after it had already signed and in the books. I know if she was paying 7k more, the dealership would be like sorry but there isnt shit we can do, you signed it…

  5. I’m with Michael on this one. Has there ever been a dealer in the history of automobiles who wanted the customer to get the best deal possible? Not a chance in hell. ALL salespeople want to sell for as much money as they can can wrangle out of a customer. jgoods says they are not looking to scam anyone. Maybe scam isn’t the right word, but ‘price gouge’ would sure work. Though I think scam is pretty accurate too… selling an item for above its value sure seems like a scam to me. I cannot believe the dealer in this story is going after the customer. Shines a bad light on all dealers and only serves to further scare the public into not trusting them. I sure don’t… especially because I am a woman.

  6. Sorry guys, but I know too many car dealers to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’d go even further than Tgriffith. I’d love to hear from someone who has leased a car and can actually explain the terms of the lease. Most people can’t. And that’s intentional. I know general managers of large dealerships who have bragged about “smashing” customers by achieving such high margins and conning them into paying so far over value. Now…I am also a capitalist. So it’s up to the customers to be informed and make good decisions. However, I don’t for a minute think that car dealers have the customers’ best interest in mind. They have their own best interest in mind, and this is simply a case of the dealership being in the position they normally put customers in. Suck it up. They can make $7000 back in 1 or 2 deals.

  7. Randy is absolutely right: These guys aren’t thinking about the PR consequences of what they are doing (or about the value of good publicity). Tgriffith is being pretty harsh on car dealers in general here (maybe he’s looking to generate a little controversy?). I’ve known and dealt with quite a few, and most are decent people, not looking to scam anybody, and they usually know the value of good PR.

  8. Hey guys– Speaking of mistakes, check your headline.

    As far as the car goes, it’s an interesting case. Do you think that a number of people who make a living at a car dealership should have known that the agreed amount for the car was short by almost half?

    Besides, most customers tend to be focusing on the monthly payment, not the net price. Most of these car sales or financing contracts are a mass of numbers anyway, so I’m not surprised a customer would miss the error. There’s no excuse for the dealer, though.

    By going after the customer, the dealer generates an immense amount of bad publicity which will probably cost far more than the $7000 mistake. An intelligent business person would use the situation to generate good feelings about the business. Why not ask the customer to donate $1000 to Haitian relief to settle the error, and then add $1000 from the dealer to the donation? That would probably get just as much publicity but in a positive way, and help some people who need the help.

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