I went to buy a car as a Christmas present to myself. I traded in my old car to purchase the newer car. I was waiting for my payment book from my new lender. When I didn’t receive it in January, I called the lender listed on my paperwork, and they said that they didn’t have a loan for me. I called my old lender and found out that the loan hadn’t been paid off on my trade-in. The dealer said they were having trouble financing me, but that they’d be able to get it worked out. I called back in February and I still didn’t have a loan with the new company. At the end of March, the dealership told me to bring their car back. When I asked for my trade-in back, they told me that it had been sold to someone else. I’m spending a lot of money now paying for rides or begging rides from coworkers. It’s embarrassing. How can they treat me like this?
Yikes! That sounds like a terrible situation, and I’m sorry that this happened to you. Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon for a dealership to sell a customer’s trade-in and then tell the buyer to return the car they were trying to purchase. This is one reason why spot delivery, or the practice of letting a potential buyer drive off in the car with the promise that the dealership will secure financing for the buyer, is illegal in many states. The practice lends itself to all manner of automobile fraud, including yo-yo financing. Dealerships are permitted to engage in these types of sales in Georgia, but my response to you will not delve into why the practice is allowed here.
Your question is whether the dealership is allowed to do this to you. The short answer is no, because by its agreement with you, the dealership represented that it would not sell your trade-in until it had located a final lender for you.
In the many papers that you signed is probably a conditional sales agreement or bailment agreement that disclosed to you that the financing was not final when you drove off of the lot. These documents usually state that the dealership is letting your borrow the car until it locates a bank or finance company that will lend you money. You also signed a retail installment sales contract or simple finance agreement. That’s the document that describes how much money you’re trying to borrow. It also identifies the lender to which the dealership was attempting to assign your finance agreement. This is most likely the bank or finance company that you called in January. The finance agreement should note that you traded in a vehicle, describe the trade-in vehicle, and state that there is a balance owed that will be paid off with the funds from the loan you are seeking. Read together, these documents typically state that the dealership does not have a right to sell your trade-in until it assigned your loan to a bank or finance company.
I see another other red flag in this interaction with the dealership. Did you have to get another temporary tag in order to continue driving the car? Temporary tags in Georgia expire in 45 days from the date of sale, and the dealership is not permitted to issue another temporary tag to you. The county tag agency can issue one extension. I wonder if you received an extension from the county tag agent, or if the dealership violated the law and issued another temporary tag to you.
What can be done now?
All is not lost. You may have a fight on your hands, so you should consult with an automobile fraud attorney to determine the steps that should be taken to get relief. You can take these steps in addition to speaking with a private attorney:
- If the dealership is a franchise dealer (sells new cars), then you can file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Unit at the Georgia Department of Law (consumer.ga.gov).
- If the dealership is an independent dealer (only sells used cars), then you can file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Unit at the Georgia Department of Law (consumer.ga.gov) and the Used Motor Vehicle Dealers Licensing Board (http://verify.sos.ga.gov/verification/). Used car dealers in Georgia are required to maintain a $35,000 surety bond. You can send a letter to the board to request the surety bond information. According to current policy, you will need to include a copy of the bill of sale and buyer’s guide with your request.
- Copy the dealership on your complaint to any government agency. It may convince the dealership to work with you toward a resolution.