Car shopping is one of the few things in society that hasn’t improved whatsoever. Car dealerships are systematically designed to make you feel like you’re getting ripped off. They basically hold you hostage until you agree to their terms and by the time you leave, you’re so beaten down you don’t even know whether you got a good deal or not. Unfortunately for these customers, the car dealership tried to do a little more than just give them a bad deal.
All content has been edited for clarity.
That Clause Was Entirely To Rip People Off
“In June 1950, my father received an official letter notifying him that his reserve status in the U.S. military was being changed to active duty due to the impending ‘Police Action’ in Korea. My parents were engaged to be married in 1951, but they decided to move the wedding up to the weekend before he was to report for re-activation at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois.
Having decided to marry sooner rather than later, my parents would need a car quickly. So they headed to a Kansas City Chevrolet dealership. They ordered a new well-equipped black 4-door that could be made promptly at the local assembly plant and put down a $200 deposit (equivalent to $2,000 today). The week of their wedding, the dealership called to tell them their new car was in and ready for them to pick up.
They went to the dealership and a porter drove around a pea-green business coupe without a back seat, no radio, no heater, no whitewall tires, no outside rear-view mirrors, no turn signals, no carpet. The basest model available. My parents were stunned. The dealership explained that was available and offered it to them. My parents were not pleased and declined the car, asking for their deposit back. Here comes the scam part.
‘Nope,’ the sales manager replied, ‘take this car or nothing and no refund of the deposit.’
Due to heavy demand for cars, the dealership had a tiny print clause in the sales contract they’d signed that said, ‘or a reasonable substitute.’
Of course, my parents argued to no avail that a car with no back seat was not a reasonable substitute for the expensive model they’d ordered. The sales manager just laughed and walked away.
‘Pay for the rest and take it, or don’t pay the rest and leave it,’ he said.
They left it.
Hurriedly, my parents went to a used car dealer who treated them nicely and fixed them up with a used 1947 Ford 4-door sedan, even taking $200 off his asking price when he heard about the lost deposit. My parents figured the used car dealer barely broke even on the car, which proved to be a good one.
My father reported for induction, but it was delayed and eventually canceled. So my folks returned to Kansas City and got on with their lives. But the final part of the scam: they were in their ’47 Ford at a stoplight when, just as it turned green, a new black ’50 4-door Chevrolet — identical to the one they’d ordered — rolled past them. Driven by the sales manager at that Chevrolet dealership.
To this day, nobody in my extended family has ever since purchased a new car made by General Motors and likely never will. That’s how long the outrage over their treatment has extended and lasted.”
Some People Have No Shame
“My elderly father had just called me in Florida to say he found a ‘cherry,’ one-year-old, low mileage minivan at a great price sitting on his trusted local dealership’s lot. He was helping to rebuild an old theater organ and needed something bigger to haul his tools and all the other stuff. I used my POA to have a check cut from his home equity credit line. His ‘new’ van was paid in full and good to go. Or so I thought.
A few days later, he offhandedly remarked there had been a glitch in the van’s title work, or something when he went to pick it up. He said the apologetic and very nice F&I guy explained the changes and assured him fixing the problem was no big deal. It should have been a red flag, but dad was happy. And I was busy with the new job and the new house. I let it slide.
His heart gave out about two months later. When I returned home to Pennsylvania for his funeral and to begin settling his estate, I spotted a thick manila folder on the kitchen counter where dad likely figured his only child would find it when the time inevitably came.
The folder contained a bunch of stuff, including the minivan paperwork. I flipped through the pages and discovered there were two sales contracts. For two different minivans. The first was for the low mileage, year-old van that matched the vehicle he’d described over the phone. It indicated paid in full.
The second contract, stashed in the back of the folder, was for a much older, much higher mileage model that was seemingly identical in appearance – and identical in price – to the year-old van he described over the phone. It came with a 48-month, high-interest finance agreement. I pulled the VIN from the van parked outside in the garage. It matched the number found on the paperwork for the older, high mileage, dealer-financed budget lot car. What, I wondered, had dad done this time?
The lady at the bank was also confused. She confirmed the home equity check had, in fact, cleared. The dealership had been paid. The bank also confirmed dad’s credit report showed he’d taken out a mysterious used car loan around the same time and in the same amount as the bank transfer. What, she also wondered, had my dad done this time?
Dad’s vision had remained fairly sharp over the years. He was a retired airline/corporate pilot and, like most pilots, good eyesight was something he prided. But he sometimes needed help with the small print. And he shunned reading glasses.
It’s likely he never really looked at the ‘revised’ paperwork the dealership’s F&I guy handed him that day. And it’s equally likely that’s what the F&I guy was counting on. They took his full price check, got him to sign a redundant loan at terms that would make a street shark blush, and then sent him off in a different and much cheaper car than the one he thought he was buying.
Dad, clearly, had been scammed. A bait-and-switch. With a twist. A widower – my mom had lost her battle with cancer two years earlier – he lived alone. He had no local family. Maybe, for all they knew, he had no family at all. And he had money, credit, and a tendency to trust people. He looked like the perfect mark.
The dealership, figuring the old man would never notice, had apparently grabbed a nearly identical van from the ‘buy here, pay here’ lot and switched it with the creampuff dad thought he was buying. They also conned him into signing loan papers on a car he’d already paid for. I figured dad had put those papers on the counter because he likely suspected, but didn’t want to admit, he might have been had. And now, I reckoned, he was counting on me to find out. And make it right.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, financial abuse is the third most frequent crime against the commonwealth’s elderly. Thirty percent of elder abuse cases involve some type of financial exploitation. Like my dad. But very few of these victims likely had a kid with years of experience investigating and reporting on consumer fraud. One whose employer bought ink in 55-gallon drums. One with a direct line, on speed dial, to the attorney general’s office. And, of course, the local media.
The F&I guy, recently imported by the dealership’s new absentee corporate ownership, kept me waiting nearly 45 minutes. He was busy, he grunted. What did I need? He kept calling me ‘pal.’ I tossed the folder on his desk. It was like I’d just plopped a turd on his stack of extended warranties. He gave it a quick glance and pushed it aside.
‘Can’t help ‘ya,’ he smirked.
But I could tell he knew. The eye twitch gave him away.
‘I’m gonna have to ask you to leave, pal.’
The civil complaint drafted by my dad’s lawyer on behalf of his estate crossed the court clerk’s desk two days later. The guy was a carnivore. He was also a long-time friend. He’d come to know, and like my dad. And he was outraged. The filing was brutal. It went for the throat. It was also a piece of art. Theft, fraud, conversion, elder abuse. Plus some stuff I think he made up. All attached to a mountain of exhibits, including a newspaper ad for the budget lot van my dad was tricked into ‘buying.’ The dealership was left with nowhere to hide.
‘Somebody’ must have tipped the reporters at my old newspaper. The piece ran page one, above the fold. The TV talking heads also got the story. Funny how that tends to happen when you have a bunch of friends in the business. The resulting coverage was a PR disaster for the dealership. Similar switcheroos began surfacing.
The ‘can’t help ya, pal’ F&I guy was suddenly nowhere to be found. And the corporate suits were now clamoring to settle. Money back? You got it. Tear up the loan papers? Done. And you can keep the van. Consider it a gift. The AG’s office provided the nail in the coffin. And the perp walk. The place is now a bowling alley. Or something.
This kind of overt fraud is, of course, rare. It’s a needless risk when there’s easy money to be made on floor mats, pin striping, extended warranties, VIN etching, undercoating, and dealer fees. It’s a far more subtle, and far less messy, form of fraud. And, of course, it comes with a seemingly endless supply of suckers.”
He Didn’t Owe Them Anything And He Knew It
“Back in the day (I was about 22 years old) I was looking at the Chevy S-10 pickups. I wanted to buy one but wasn’t really ready to do so. The biggest problem I have with dealerships and salesmen is that they won’t just let you shop, they want to make that sale, not really caring if it’s the right deal for you or even if you can afford it.
So, I go into a local dealership and start looking at what they have to offer and a salesman approaches me. We talk for a bit and I tell him I’m just looking. He says that’s fine we have a lot of trucks. But, deep down I know he doesn’t really mean that I can just look. So, after a bit, he asked me if I was going to trade something in. I told him maybe and he said, let’s have a look at it so you’ll know what you can get for a trade-in.
My mistake was handing him the keys to my 6-year-old car. He went off with it and someone took it for a drive and into their service department.
After a bit, I said it was time to leave and he mentioned I had been looking at one particular truck more than the others. He said I can probably get you a great deal on that. So, off he went into his manager’s office and came back with a number written on a piece of paper.
It wasn’t a terrible offer for my car, nor a terrible price on the truck. But, I had just started looking and told him that I wanted to shop around. He said, hold on I’ll be right back. He came back with a better offer and said it was a one-time deal.
I told him no, and that I needed my keys and car so I could go. He said okay but came back instead with an even better offer than before. I still told him I wanted to look around. He said he understood and went I thought, to get my car. Instead, he came back with an offer of free oil changes on top of the deal he was giving me.
I declined and to try and get away from the salesman said, ‘You know I’d like to talk this over with my father and ask his opinion.’
He looked at me very seriously and said, ‘How old are you? Do you really need to ask for Daddy’s advice?’
I was greatly offended and decided I wasn’t going to let it slide, so I said, ‘You’re right I’ll take the truck.’
Smiling really big, he led me into the finance officer’s office and handed him some paperwork. He said we will get this truck cleaned up for you while you do the paperwork.
It was near closing time and the porter went and got the truck off the lot and took it inside. We talked finance, extra warranty, extra rust proofing, and an extra bed liner, I said yes to all of it. The porter cleaned the truck and the finance officer filled out paperwork.
I said I decided not to trade the car in and they brought me my keys. I asked a lot of questions regarding payments and anything I could think of to delay everyone from leaving.
The lights in the lot were shut off and the few remaining service department and salesmen left. It was just me, the porter working on cleaning the truck, the salesman, the finance guy, and the manager left at the dealership.
When the porter pulled the truck around and brought the keys in, the finance guy handed me the paperwork and said, ‘Sign here and here, and then here and here.’
I looked him in the eye and said, ‘I’ve changed my mind.’
He had a confused look on his face and said, ‘Excuse me?’
I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t want this truck.’
Then I stood with keys in hand and said, ‘See ya.’
He said, ‘Wait a minute,’ and called the salesman in and said, ‘He said he doesn’t want the truck now.’
The salesman said, ‘What’s going on, why don’t you want the truck now?’
I just said, ‘Forget you! You insulted me with the comment about asking my daddy and held me hostage by not giving my keys to my car back. Forget you!’
As I walked towards the exit, he said, ‘Come on man, people stayed over to take care of you.’
I turned and flipped him off and then got in my car and drove away.”
Did He Think They Just Wouldn’t Notice?
“When my uncle retired, he decided to treat himself to a brand-new Corvette. He shopped for weeks, finally choosing a loaded model in a bright racing yellow.
He was so excited on delivery day. I drove him to the dealership and when we arrived, his new car was out front, facing the street but parked very close to the wall of the showroom. He didn’t care because he’d be driving his new car and I would be driving my car. The salesman rushed him through the paperwork, gave him the keys, and said he had another appointment to get to. This annoyed my uncle considering the amount of money he had just spent. But he was still excited, so he hopped in and fired up the 427 engine. I told him I’d follow him to the gas station; this happened in the days when a dealership provided just enough fuel to get you to your first fill-up.
He pulled out and turned right down the boulevard. A few blocks later, he pulled into a station, then swung the Corvette around so the tank fill would be on the right side for the pump. My mouth fell open in horror as I watched him swing around. The entire passenger side of the car, the side that was against the wall at the dealership, was totally smashed. Dents, paint ripped down to the fiberglass, trim completely missing. The car was destroyed on the passenger side. I pulled over and tried to warn my uncle before he saw it but I was too late. He had gotten out with a big smile on his face, ready for his first fill-up with his brand-new Corvette, only to see this total mess. We both stood there dumbfounded for a moment, but soon anger took over.
We immediately returned to the dealership and found the salesman, who was on the phone. I had to restrain my uncle from hitting this guy, he was screaming at him at calling him every name in the book. We went outside and showed the salesman the car, and he had the nerve to accuse my uncle of being the one who damaged the car! By this time a small crowd had gathered around the scene, and finally, the owner of the dealership came out.
The salesman admitted that he had smashed the car when he was bringing it out of the storage lot, and didn’t want to lose the sale, so he hid the damage by parking it so it wasn’t visible. The owner immediately fired the salesman, apologized to my uncle, and gave him a loaner car for free while they ordered a new Corvette, then when he came to pick up the replacement car, the owner gave my uncle a check for ten grand back from what he had paid for the car. Because of all of this, my uncle didn’t sue the dealership, but the story made the newspapers and the dealership folded less than a year later. That salesman’s actions were the scummiest I’ve ever come across.”
So He Was Entitled In Every Aspect Of His Life
“I was in the market for a new car. It was the only time I was about to make a trade with a relatively decent car for trade-in. I usually drive my cars until they just die.
So I was letting them check over my car for the trade-in value while I was deciding between two cars. The trade-in value would determine which new vehicle I could afford to purchase. They kept telling me that they could not give me the trade-in value until I decided on my new car. I got frustrated and told them just to give me back my old car.
The guy told me I had already sold them my old car and I would now have to repurchase it from them at retail value. What?
I asked where my check was for the sale, and he said, ‘Well that will be determined when you buy your new car.’
I told him that the ‘sale’ of the old car was not complete until I received my ‘something of value’ which would be paid for the car. He wouldn’t let it go. I told him to show me the contract where I supposedly ‘sold’ them my car. He said that wasn’t mine to see. He said that because I wasted his time, I was obligated to buy another car from him.
The only one wasting time was him, playing the shell game that every dealer plays. He kept getting more and more agitated that I was not buckling. I told him I wasn’t buying anything until I knew what the bottom line would be, and I could see he had no intention of telling me.
He finally, without thinking it through, said, ‘I bet you are the kind of girl that if a man takes you out for a nice dinner and buys you flowers, and spends his time with you, that you don’t put out.’
I was dumbfounded. He threw my keys at me, told me I was not worth his time, and to leave. Needless to say, I left as quickly as I could. After that statement, there was no telling what he would do next.
And yes, there were witnesses to his tirade. The guy was fired and the dealership is no longer in business.”
“I arranged to buy a vintage Volvo from an infamously shady dealer in the Portland, Oregon area for a suspiciously low price. Upon arrival, the car was not running and had a dozen issues not described in the listing. He offered me an alternative vehicle to ‘make things right.’
After receiving cash for the substitute, he said I could take it on an ‘extended test drive while we find the paperwork.’
Weeks later, I’m still tooling around in the car and addressing a bunch of mechanical issues the dealer had supposedly fixed. After it left me on the side of the road twice due to a fuel injection electrical fault, I called the guy and told him I wanted to return the car.
He pushed back saying a return would be ‘complicated.’
I frankly stated, ‘Listen, the car isn’t even in my name yet because you haven’t found the paperwork. This should be easy.’
He replied, ‘Wait, we’ll find the papers right now, stay on the phone.’
While holding I can clearly hear a woman in the background say, ‘Oh isn’t that Frankie’s car? He came by to pick it up and we couldn’t find it.’
Amazingly, he asks ‘Did Frank pay for the work we did?’
‘Then tell him we totaled it out and give him something else.’
These people had sold me a customer’s car! Long story short, I got my money back when someone tipped me off as to who Frankie was and we both showed up at the dealership together. It was like something out of a movie; these grifters really do exist.”