When Car Dealers Make Mistakes, Who Should Pay?

2012 Chevrolet Traverse

I’m going to spill a secret here.

Once, when I went to the grocery store, I asked the checker for a book of stamps. I got the book of stamps. But the stamps were never rung up, and I never paid for them.

I did what any good American would do. I didn’t say a word and kept the secret until blabbing it to the world on a blog. I hope I won’t get arrested now, because apparently, if it were a car I had underpaid for, that’s a real possibility.

A Jalopnik story tells the tale of a man in Virginia who got arrested after buying a Chevy Traverse for 33 grand instead of the 39 grand the dealership determined the vehicle was worth. I won’t rehash the whole story here, but the guy ended up in jail for theft after the dealer called the police, only to bail himself out, find himself carless, and walk 5 miles home. All charges were dropped upon review of the signed purchase agreement, but the man has countered with a $2.2 million lawsuit against the dealer.

In another recent case, this one in Australia, a dealership accidentally posted a 1994 BMW 320i for $1, which was purchased immediately. In that case, the dealer lost out on about $3,000. The dealer’s response?

I thought, ‘Whoops’, but it is what it is. You can only laugh about it. It was the cheapest car ever sold by the dealership and hopefully the only car we sell for $1. Obviously not an ideal outcome for us as the seller, however, we are firm believers in the auction process and for it to be fair to buyers and sellers alike.

How about that difference, huh? Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with dealers making a fair amount of money on car deals. They deserve it and should be profitable. However, when a mistake is made, I don’t believe they have the right to harass customers and beg for more money. Or have them arrested. Personally, I’d avoid the Virginia dealership but gladly give my business to the Australian one.

There is a double standard here. Had either of these customers found out they overpaid by thousands of dollars, you can bet they’d knock down the doors demanding a refund. This is the world we live in, though. When a business undercharges, or forgets to charge at all, they should eat the cost.

Should a car dealer be able to go after a customer for more money after making a deal?


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  1. YOU ARE A PIECE OF WORK, the situation you explained is theft and you are encouraging others to do the same. I hope you burn in hell for it. KARMA

  2. Can’t find anything online on this situation. Bought my husband a car on the fly a month ago. His truck broke down and works 5 hrs from home and works 2 weeks away at time. Of course since he got it. He barely had drive it at all.

    He has bad credit so after he got declined at one dealership he went too. Sales guy sent him to another place and told him that this place could help him.

    On contract signing. Lady was flying through papers. Said car cost this, this is your rate and and fees which is totaling this and here is where u paid down payment of $2500. Guess with all the rush and all what lady said was right. I didn’t see other part she didn’t state. It had a total after down payment to be financed. Which of course should show cost after fees and rate, minus $2500 down payment we made.

    Well was looking into husband car and just happened to decide to look over his paperwork. And see they added $2500 to total financed after down payment.

    Example: total after cost dealership was selling car, plus interest rate, fees and taxes was $18865.59. After Down payment says total sold price is 21,365.59. Therefore I was not only Did they add the amount I payed in down payment instead of taken that amount off total. When it was suppose to be taken off total; not added. But also the total $2500 extra added to loan not needed. Means cost in rates was charged more cause they over charged me in financed. Equaling another over $1000.

    What can I do or is there anything? Is this listed a a fraud. Do I have a case at all…

    To ask them to pay me the difference on what they over charged me on loan financed? Or have a chance on them releasing Me from the contract?
    Cause after this.. I don’t trust them to do business with them. Me and hub can share car for now and I take him to where he works. And they can have this drive twice, over charged car. Rather do that then deal with shady people.

    Any advice on my options with this?

  3. I just bought a van . I was not given the $2,000.00 for my trade-in, what can I do?

  4. I signed a contract agreeing to give the dealer a check for somewhere around $10,000 from the bank I got approved from plus my car I traded in ($1000) plus a $500 down payment and 2 installment payments of $250… All of what we agreed to (verbal agreement along with a contractual agreement) the dealership has been paid ($10,000 check from bank, trade in car, $500 downpayment and both $250 installments) and now they want me to pay $315 because they made a “mistake” on the contract and it was actually supposed to be an additional $315 because they lowered the price of the car so I could be approved for my loan. Technically the bank owns the car now until I pay it off… Do I just ignore the dealership on the $315 “mistake” they made since I’ve already paid them everything agreed to in the contract that we BOTH signed???

  5. Went to buy a car listed for 10,995. Owed 10,000 still on my car. Dealer said they would give us 6,000 for trade and pay car off. Went to bank, loan officer had contract in hand with amount being financed being 10 thousand and some odd dollars. She called dealership for confirmation. Draft was sent to dealer. We receive a call that we still owed over 4,000! Dealer actually screwed up #2 contracts. Now we are trying to buy our car back..bank is hesitant to pay out that money because car isn’t worth that much. There is more involved here..can someone help?

    • Car listed $10,995
      Owed $10,000 on current car
      Dealer said $6000 for trade
      That means they gave you less than what you owe! You have a balance of $4000
      Which will “roll over ” to $10,995 new car
      Which means now your $10,995 Car is $14,995
      The bank may think that is too much for that particular vehicle.
      I’ve been in your shoes. Typically they will only do a “roll over” if the vehicle you are looking to purchase is newer ( as new as possible!) With low miles!
      Good luck! Fyi- brand new kias are dirt cheap!

  6. I just bought a car with GM suppliereally discount. The dealer let us take the car and we did not give them the discount number. But now I found out I get the friends and family discount which is more. Should the dealership give us back the difference.

  7. so, my son bought a car from a dealership he works at (he’s a tech). 60 days after the deal, the dealer calls me (mom) to ask if I received a check from the bank. I did receive a check from the bank, it was an over payment on the final loan. I called the bank and asked what it was for an even asked if was sent in error. They stated it was an over payment and that it was not a mistake. The dealer now states that the bank was supposed to send that check to them. We checked my son’s paper work and see the amount of the over payment worked in to his loan (hail damage repair costs). Well, the money is gone (60 days later) and the dealer now wants me to make arrangements with them to pay it to them on a monthly basis. Mind you the original car was in my name and my sons, the new car is just in my sons name. This is a pretty big sum ($7500) and I am no dummy when reading the paper work, just trying to figure out what in the world they are trying to do here…

  8. If a dealership has a post for a new 2017 Silverado for 6 passengers with rear camera for free (big typo mistake) they should give me this truck for free no?

  9. I purchased a car last week, paid cash. The dealer (not a big dealership) called today to say he made a mistake in the calculations and I owe him $250. What do I do?

    • This is EXACTLY what I am going through now. I paid cash which was to include tax, license, and registration. The owner of the dealership noe texts me, with threats to ruin my credit, and is holding my registration tags. Do I pay him the $250? I think his mistake, I paid total given on invoice. I have the title to vehicle, and duplicate tags from DMV, but he is still bothering me for money.

  10. SO I went to the dealership to purchase an auto, he texted me to see when we would be there, told him stuck in traffic be there soon. So he texted me back as we were pulling in parking lot the truck was sold, he knew this before when he texted me earlier. Any way they “found” another one that would be there in a couple days, we signed the purchase order, loan approved. We went home excited, called the dealership the next afternoon to ask about the truck, they were putting a lift on it, was then told, the truck was sold… The salesman didn’t even call me to let me know. Is this legal, we have a signed agreement! (They even tried to charge us for something they threw in due to selling the truck we can to purchase in the first place, found it out when singing docs, really gotta read them before signing!) what can I do, this seems so wrong!

  11. So I recently went to a dealership and tried to purchase a truck. I got a pretty good deal and signed a deal. Well the bank decided they couldnt finance the truck because the bill of sale was higher what they would pay. Dealers wouldnt budge an neither would the bank. So I was forced to give the truck back after a week of driving it. Now we had also traded in a car. Now almost a month has gone by and I get a notice in the mail saying my car was paid off… I call the bank and they say the dealership paid it off. What do I do? The bank also says the title is going to the dealership. Now they paid 13500 of the rest of the car loan. The car is worth 10K. Now when they figure this out which I assume they havent what will happen? I’m assuming there isnt much they will be able to do except maybe call the bank but I assume the bank is going to be well the loan is closed and they may be stuck with the taking the car because I refuse to refinance the vehicle and feel like I just got a free pass. Let me know if anyone else has had anything like this?

    • James. What was the end results. The exact same thing happen to me last week. Expect the dealer gave me my trade in back.

  12. I just bought a used car on tues we settled for price of 17000.00 in Fridays local news paper the price for same exact car same vin# the price is 15999.99. I went to dealership they asked me to come back at 300 today to speak to general manager. I am sick to my stomach. I am taking the add in with me, wish me luck!

  13. I recently purchased a new BMW 550xi, approximately 78,000. In any case it appears the dealership among some other mistakes, forgot to order my permanent license plates. Long story short, I’m without use of my car for a week now. The dealership gave me a loaner, not equal in model but a vehicle none the less. In any case, am I entitled to compensation for loss of use of my vehicle?

  14. @ Caspar Dioge I agree with you Casper! I have a friend that lives in the area of the dealership and according to them The dealer in question sold the guy a blues SUV, the guy came in looking for a black one but one was not available in the (stripped down special package promo model only one advertised to lure marks on to the lot), financing was secured on the blue SUV and 3 days later the $tealership calls up and states that they have a black one there now for the same price if the guy wanted to come back in they could swap out and redo the paperwork. The guy comes in does the swap re-signs all the contracts then 3 days later the dealer called and said they made a mistake and need to add $9k to the paperwork! A clear bait and switch tactic gone wrong.

  15. I hate to say it, but I hope the guy wins his 2.2 million dollar lawsuit. And I hope the dealership has enough “pride” and “honor” after all this to eat the cost, rather than force the employee who made the mistake(s) to pay for the cost difference. Afterall, it’s the dealership that pockets all the profits………

  16. An arrest!? That’s unbelievable and I had to look it up from another source to believe it. Wow. Seems like a terrible business practice. Makes me want to just buy used from a previous owner.

  17. Some interesting comments including an admission from a former dealership employee admitting some deceptive practices, and outlawed in most states. Some dealers are starting to ask buyers to sell some onerous and absurd terms, such as agreeing to binding arbitration in case of disputes or wholesale dismissal of buyer rights under state consumer laws. Smart consumers read the contract and flee when they realize they’re sitting across from a 200 pound rat.

    The operative principle in these deals is “good faith” and the example of the Virginia man is a clear case of good faith dealing. The real stinker here are the stupid cops who were dumb enough to arrest someone in such a case. Guess the main qualification to be a cop in Virginia is to be someone’s relative and any knowledge of the law is gained from losing lawsuits. (which they will if the victimized buyer is smart enough to sue the cops, too, for false arrest.)

  18. It is a fairly common practice for deals to do a deal, allow the customers to drive the car home and then call them up, claiming a mistake and saying the customer owes more money.

    I have been witness to a half a dozen deals with friends where this is claimed and in each case, I determined the dealer was trying to upcharge the cusotmer for no reason, claiming a “mistake” on their part, needed to be rectified.

    Perhaps there are legitimate reasons, but in the cases I sat in on, I found the dealer had tried to slip in unwanted and uninstalled accessories, or added a long term warranty to try and boost profits, or some other ADP (additional dealer profit) item.

    It just boosted my belief that dealerships are a vast criminal class that buy their way into respectability. In no other business would this kind of behavior be tolerated in business, but in car sales, for some reason, it’s a case of “Come catch me, come F**k ME!” This won’t end until some dealers are jailed for fraud, racketeering and grand theft and the keys tossed away.

  19. This is an interesting conversation and its good to hear from some dealers here. As a car buyer, I’d be pissed (excuse the langusge) if I were asked to come back and write another check. I’ve heard of things like Jason explained before, but I can’t imagine it happening to me. Then again, I’m the kind who either pays cash or uses my bank financing so the odds are low of that happening to me. It’s an interesting business, and it seems like more regulations might be good. Thanks for the honesty here, Mike and Jason.

  20. As a former dealership employee who made a series of mistakes (mostly small), I’ll tell you how it should work and how it does work.

    First, understand that most dealership “mistakes” aren’t actually mistakes at all. The dealership will offer to secure financing at a specific set of terms, and if those terms aren’t found, the dealer has right to either a) ask the customer for more money or b) take the car back (assuming the consumer signed a disclosure to this effect). Consumers howl about this practice (rightly so), but it’s not a mistake if you sign a piece of paper acknowledging this exact scenario can occur.

    We used this tactic fairly regularly when a customer had bad credit, the thinking being that we would either convince a bank to do the loan or we would convince the customer to give us more money after they’d been in the car a while…and it worked.

    This practice isn’t illegal, but some states would like to make it that way. In all honesty, I think that’s a good idea. If dealers can’t roll a car until financing is secured, consumers are more likely to make rational economic decisions.

    Next, if the dealership makes an honest mistake like forgetting to collect a down payment or failing to get the customer’s signature on a document, most people understand and help the dealer make it right. I made both of these mistakes a few times, and all but one person was happy to come back and fix it. The one exception turned out to be a liar (he falsified his credit application), so we had to get that car back anyways.

    Finally, if a dealership makes a mistake in their own favor, they’re supposed to call the customer and give them the good news. If we forgot to credit a rebate, for example, we ALWAYS called them and offered to cut them a check or re-sign documents.

    This is how it should be.

    However, in the real world, some dealers try to trick customers and some customers try to trick or cheat dealers. I have no sympathy for either party. What’s more, if a dealership manages to convince the local police to arrest someone, there’s a very good chance that person was in the wrong…you don’t get the cops involved unless it’s serious, and they don’t like to get involved unless they’re reasonably certain a crime was committed.

  21. Mike-
    Thank you for this! Yes, of course there is more to the story and it does appear the dealership asked numerous times for the customer to come back and discuss the situation. It’s a fine line for sure. From my end (the consumer side), once the paperwork is signed the deal is done and errors should be caught during the sales process. Granted, we don’t know everything that happened and there could much more to the story that remains unknown, but from the basic facts it seems the dealership overstepped. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the lawsuit. Again, thanks for the .02, quite valuable, and hope to see you here again.

  22. Careful, we are treading on a fine line here. I am sure there is more to this story. I am sure the dealers accounting office did not just see this oversight and call the police. Was the customer called and asked to come back in to review the errors? Was he given the chance to make it right or bring back the vehicle? If so, and he blatantly avoided the dealer and would no bring the car back, then he stole $6,0000.00.

    Mind you that before any paperwork is ever signed figures are always discussed beforehand. And most customers usually shop on the INTERNET now before buying.

    Also, Customers do come back all the time and ask for a lower price. However, it usually is on a much smaller scale, because you never could have overcharged them that much the first time, they would never have allowed it. Customers are savvy now. They no exactly what they are doing when purchasing a vehicle. For the most part the customers are usually more prepared and well versed then most salesman before they ever step foot on a lot.

    Just my .02,

    Mike Mattingly

    Mattingly Motors

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