Promises, Promises…..


Promises can be vital to sealing a deal.  Verbal promises can be enforced but written promises are SO much better.  And this is definitely true when talking about vehicle purchases.  Used cars often come with lengthy, checkered histories and to be fair the seller may not really be able to account for whether and how previous owners maintained or service them.  If you purchase a used vehicle and are provided with substantial let alone full service and repair records you are in rarified air. 

Commonly a used vehicle shopper will look at vehicles and kick a few tires before narrowing the search to a few possibles.  As the focus narrows to one particular vehicle there is inevitably some conversation about the vehicle’s history or condition.  The conversation could go something like this:

         Dealer:  So you like this used Lemon…..errr.. Lexus vehicle, eh?

         Shopper:  Yeah.  Sure looks nice.  How does it run?

         Dealer:  Fantastic.  This vehicle has been through our zillion-point checklist and passed with flying colors.  No worries with this one.

         Shopper:  Has it ever been in a wreck?

         Dealer:  No sir.  No damage I see.

         Shopper:  How does the engine run and is the transmission in good shape?

         Dealer:  Engine was rebuilt less than 5,000 miles ago so it is practically brand new.  And the transmission shifts like a new one. Here…I’ll go run get the keys and you can take it for a spin…….(dealer brings keys; shopper drives vehicle around the neighborhood and the two return to the dealership)

          Shopper:  Well it sounds good and runs pretty good.  I noticed when I was test-driving the steering wheel was a bit tight… what’s that about?  And while I really like the interior I noticed the CD player does not work?  Can we get that fixed?

          Dealer:  My mechanic can fix that steering column tightness lickety-split.  On the CD thing I can take the vehicle to a local shop and have them fix that.  So are you interested in the Lemo….er, Lexus?

          Shopper:  Depends on what numbers you are talking.  Let’s go to your office and see what we can work out.

          Dealer:  I thought you would never ask.  Let’s take that walk…(dealer and shopper go to sales office and strike a deal.  Paperwork signed; vehicle sold “as is” with no warranty or “we owe” statement).

In our example the dealer will refuse to fix the transmission and CD player since the salesperson—who is no longer with the dealership—failed to put the promises of repair in writing. And did you notice the shopper neither asked for nor received any proof the vehicle had not been wrecked? Can we say asking for trouble?

Unless the shopper got the promises to fix the stereo and the steering column issue in writing he   is truly at the mercy of the dealer as to whether these items are fixed.  The bill of sale and retail  installment sales contract both contain the standard “all promises must be in writing or they will not be enforceable; all implied warranties are disclaimed and denied” language.  The shopper did not get a “we owe” statement from the dealership.  (“We owe” statements, which are common given at new car dealerships and large dealerships, are essentially written promises to perform certain work or repairs on a vehicle even after the buyer takes delivery.  This is the written assurance you need.)

Unfortunately I am frequently contacted by used car buyers who are frustrated because the verbal statements of vehicle condition and verbal promises of vehicle repair are ignored or forgotten altogether once the paperwork is signed and the keys are passed.  This does not have to be the case.  Demand all statements of the vehicle’s condition and promises to repair the vehicle be placed in writing and signed by the salesperson.  If the salesperson is reluctant to put the statements and promises in writing take this as a sign.  Maybe not a sign that you should walk away from the car but definitely a sign that you should have the vehicle checked out by a mechanic you know and trust.  Isn’t it worth spending a few hundred dollars to find out about major problems now versus spending several hundreds of dollars locked into monthly vehicle payments and additional hundreds of dollars to fix problems the dealership refuses to fix? 

Broken promises can cost you time, money, and aggravation.  Few things are worse than having to pay for a vehicle that will not provide you good service.  Click here and here for just a couple of sources of information on how to protect yourself when shopping for a used vehicle.  If you have broken promises related to your vehicle purchase contact the O’Neal Law Office for a free consultation.

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