Bad Car Deal

Q: I recently purchased a new 2004 Nissan Xterra. I put $400 down, plus my trade-in. When I went to the dealer to [settle] the balance of $600, [the situation grew out of control]. They told me to see another financial officer, who said my paperwork “mysteriously disappeared,” and I had to do the paperwork all over again. Then he went on to say that I had to show more income and provide five references! I returned home with my old vehicle, which had a flat tire, and without my money. They even offered me a 2005 Nissan Altima, none of which I wanted. What do you suggest I do?
–M. Holden, New Castle, DE

A: The scenario you describe sounds like a scam that some dealers engage in to get customers to pay a higher interest rate or to purchase a more expensive car. The reality is that the dealer knew your income and credit situation before you left the lot, which indicates they also knew the type of financing that you qualified for.

To get your money back, have all of your paperwork, such as your contract, available. Although you went back to the dealership, I suggest you return once more — with some support this time, such as family members who are stern negotiators. Make an appointment with the general manager, explain the situation, and only deal with him or her to get your money back. You can call your state’s attorney general’s office to file a complaint. You can also contact the state, county, and city consumer protection offices, which can mediate complaints and conduct investigations on your behalf. Before you go shopping for your next car, read about car buying and negotiating (October and November 2004) in the Shopsmart section.

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