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Wrong Car, Wrong Price

All Ina and Bill Fossett wanted was a new car capable of carrying his mobility scooter, a kind of motorized wheelchair. They also liked the idea of being environmentally conscious and getting good gas mileage.

So in May, they went to the Toyota dealership in Newnan, Ga., and asked about a new, 2009 Camry hybrid. The salesman said the car, priced at $28,043, could be fitted with a hitch receiver for the scooter. He also sold them an extended warranty for $4,123.

In just two hours, the Fossetts signed a loan for the entire purchase price and took the car home. A few days later, Bill found that the owner's manual specifically warned against attaching any kind of hitch to the back of the car.

Dismayed, the Fossetts asked the dealer to take the car back, but they were rebuffed. Afraid they'd be stuck with a vehicle they couldn't use, the couple struggled to find a compromise. At the end of a long day at the dealership, they accepted another 2009 Camry—a used V6 with 11,000 miles on it—in a straight trade for the hybrid.

The next day, Ina found a year-old window sticker in the glove box that showed they'd paid just $300 less than the car's original asking price. "We felt emotionally sick and embarrassed," wrote Ina. At that point, she just wanted to give them their car back, have them cancel the loan, and be done with it. But the dealer refused.

Since a couple of months passed before the Fossetts wrote to "On Your Side," I did not have strong hopes of being able to help them. They'd done a few things right, though: They notified the dealer fairly quickly of their dissatisfaction, and rather than driving the used car, they kept it parked in their garage. Yet this deal wasn't easily going to be undone. The Fossetts had signed a sales contract and a loan agreement.

The dealership's owner, Walt Gutierrez, was quick to return my call. After I questioned him on the numbers, he balked at taking the car back but offered to write a check for $3,000.

However, that wasn't the Fossetts' goal. They wanted out.

I didn't quite know what to do next until I realized Mr. Gutierrez might be swayed by the prospect of a relentless presence on his doorstep—not me, but Ina Fossett. I telephoned Walt once more and asked him a simple question—"Do you really want Mrs. Fossett ringing your phone for the next dozen years?"

The dealer sighed. I could almost hear him pondering the possibility that he'd become Mrs. Fossett's new hobby. "You have a good point," he said, and agreed to take back the car, void the warranty, and pay off the loan.

While the loan payoff didn't cover the $2,532 that the Fossetts had put toward upgrades and loan payments, they were OK with that. They realized they shared responsibility for the deal gone dud.

As of this writing, the Fossetts are still without a car. Ina assured me that when they look again, some things will be different. "I'm going to take my calculator with me," she said, "and I'm going to know exactly what I'm paying for."

As their story demonstrates, it's easy to end up unhappy if you're in a hurry. Here are three things I strongly suggest you do when buying a car:

1. Plan on making it a month-long project. Do your homework on prices, features, owner satisfaction, and trade-in values—before you go to the dealership. Buying a car is a major transaction and needn't be accomplished in a single Saturday afternoon.

2. Read each document before you sign it. Take the documents to a knowledgeable third party, and ask that person to inspect them, too. This time allows you a gut check on whether or not the deal is right for you. If the dealership won't let you walk out with the paperwork, the deal's off. Just leave the papers on the desk and head out the door.

3. Visit CarBuyingTips.com, which has lots of information on how to protect yourself when buying a new or used vehicle. For good comparisons of makes and models, try CarAndDriver.com.

Recovered by "On Your Side": $31,730.73

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