Some car dealers switch the paperwork at signing

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There’s a new practice at some franchise car dealers where they do switcheroo on the paperwork when you go to buy a vehicle if you haven’t done your homework upfront.

Here’s how it works: You go in to negotiate the purchase of a car. (That in itself is a mistake. See below.) You go through what’s called “the grind” for several hours with the salesperson. Finally, you reach a deal on a price. Then you’re turned over to the F&I (finance and interest) department to finalize the paperwork.

The New York Times says that’s where the dealership tries to sell you extras like protection plans, maintenance plans, extended warranties, etc. At some point, they show you your deal on a computer screen and start going through it line item by line item. But that’s a fake screen. The catch is they print out a different set of paperwork and that’s where the dispute on facts arises.

The consumer signs those papers and they’re a completely different agreement with different costs and expenses than what you were shown on the computer screen. Now I ask you, what kind of person is proud of this game of three-card monte?

Here are some keys things to keep in mind so you can avoid this rip-off:

  • Before you sign your name to any contract, take the time to go through it and read it carefully.
  • Never negotiate at the dealership. The key is to do all your homework from your home or office. Get an instant guaranteed price online at a site like CarsDirect.com or Overstock.com and then see if a dealer can beat it.
  • If you’re a member of a credit union, arrange financing with them in advance. If you’re not a member, you could even try your own bank to get financing approval. Never finance at a dealership, unless they can beat financing you’ve secured elsewhere.
  • Dealerships should only be used to take delivery of a vehicle. That’s it!

Editor’s note: This segment originally aired in May 2011.



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