Some car salesmen will stop at nothing to make a quick buck, even if that means some insanely unethical practices. But these customers knew what they were doing, and confronted these shady practices in quite the dramatic fashion. Content has been edited for clarity.
Things Got Way Too Personal Way Too Fast
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. Excuse me?! 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 the payment 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 says that because I wasted his time, I am 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 am not worth his time, and he wanted me 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.”
Sales Tactics Get Violent
“I don’t know if I’d call it a scam, but there were definitely some dirty tactics involved. I was fairly young and looking for a used car. The first dealership I went to had an SUV I was interested in, so I asked to test drive it. He told me he’d have to hold on to my license, which seemed reasonable. I did like the car, but since It was the first one I had looked at, I told him I would probably be back, but I wanted to see what else was available. He completely ignored me, took me into his office, and slapped the paperwork down in front of me. He started pressuring me to sign, all the while still holding onto my license. Every time I asked him to give it back, he would change the subject and continue pressuring me. He even went so far as to accuse me of wasting his time if I didn’t want the car in the first place. It wasn’t until I told him that he could either give my license back, or I would call my dad, who was a sergeant on the police force, to come straighten it out. Of course he handed it back immediately and pretended to not know what I was talking about. After I left, I told my dad anyway, and he directed me to the BBB. The dealership closed soon after that, so I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one to have an issue with them.”
Way Too Many Red Flags
“They sold me a ‘pre-owned’ car as new. The high mileage (~1500miles) should have been a red flag from the start, the fine scratches on the roof another. But when the ownership documents took over the maximum calendar month to get to me, and had a personal name (not dealer, as would be the case if the vehicle was an unsold vehicle sold between dealers) on the back as a previous owner, red flags were waving and the alarm bells were deafening. It went back to the dealer to complain, but they were down at the county fairgrounds for their annual tent event. They arranged for me to meet the general manager the next day at the fairgrounds. So the next day, prior to going to the fairgrounds, I call Saturn and ask them what constitutes a new car, while on the phone they call the dealer and were told that I was due to meet with the GM that day.
So I get to the fairgrounds, meet with the now ashen faced GM (I guess that he didn’t think that I was going to call the franchisor on them), who informs me that they were going to take back the car that I drove off of their lot, and replace it with a model of my choosing, no matter where they had to get it from. I told them that I wanted what I paid for, a 2006 MY Saturn ION2 Manual in Silver, that has never been driven off of the lot under a bill of sale, except to them from the dealer where they located the replacement. On the way out from my meeting, the salesperson who sold me the original cheerily greeted me while in the middle of showing a couple around a vehicle, to which I responded to the couple, ‘Watch out for that salesman, he’ll sell you a used car as new!’ and carried on to my soon to be replaced car. They had to drive a 400+ mile round trip to Kalamazoo, MI to get my car.”
I Would Want To Punch This Guy Too!
“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 would 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 would follow him to the gas station. Keep in mind, 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. There were dents, paint ripped down to the fiberglass, and 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, calling him every name in the book. We went outside and showed the salesman the car, and he had the gall 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 he 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 $10,000 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 dealership folded less than a year later. That salesman’s actions were the scummiest I’ve ever come across.”
Playing Him At His Own Game
“Back in the day, when 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. 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 asked to have a look at it, so I would know what I could get for a trade-in. My mistake was handing him the keys to my six year old car. He went off with it and someone took it for a drive and then 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 how he could probably get me a great deal on that. So off he went into his managers 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 told me to hold on, he would return. 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 came back instead with an even better offer than before. I still told him I wanted to look around. He said he understood, and he went 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, I told him how I wanted to talk this over with my father and get his opinion. The salesman looked at me very seriously and asked, ‘How old are you? Do you really need to ask for Daddy’s advice?’
I was greatly offended and decided to mess with him. I told him I would take the truck. Smiling really big, he led me into the finance officer’s office and handed him some paperwork. He said they would get this truck cleaned up while I did the paperwork. It was near closing time, and the porter went and got the truck off the lot and took it inside. The porter cleaned the truck and the finance officer filled out paperwork. 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 told me where to sign. That was when I told him how I changed my mind. The finance guy looked so confused. I stood there with my keys in my hand and said goodbye. The salesman overheard and demanded to know why I didn’t want the truck. I told him, ‘Get lost! You insulted me with the comment about asking my daddy and held me hostage by not giving my keys to my car back!’
AS I walked towards the exit, the salesman yelled at me that all these people stayed late to take care of me. I turned, flipped him off, and then got back in my car to drive away.”
One Tiny Lie Has Big Consequences
“Picture a 25 year old me, on deployment to Ft. Campbell for force protection (guard and base protection duty), while the 101st Airborne was deployed to Iraq. I had been driving a ’94 Mercury Tracer for the past 7 years or so that, while not a bad car, was not the type of car I had ever actually wanted. I had admittedly not been all that gentle with it either partially as a result. Being a member of the 2nd 138th FA BN HQB based in Lexington, KY, our deployment in Ft. Campbell, KY just outside of Clarksville, TN meant that most of us could drive home (~3hrs) on occasion with command approval. Generally this was about once a month or so. Making full active duty pay with no cost of living expenses outside of food (they paid for housing and utilities – technically food too if one wanted to eat at the chow hall on post) meant many of us were able to save up decent amounts of money fairly easily over the course of the year that we were deployed there. That said, I had decided that it was time for me to ditch the 4 door sedan for something a little more ‘Me’. In this case, I had always (and still do) loved the look of the 90–93 Toyota Celica. After much searching online, I had found what seemed to be a perfect match. Light blue, sun roof, manual transmission, in good shape. It was being sold by a buy here pay here lot in Ohio that was probably 3hrs or so from my home. I checked with my dad to see if he would be available to run up there the next time I was home and he immediately signed off.
Fast forward to the dealership. After we show up and they find out I am the one that was calling about the Celica. They take us into the back lot where the garage is. Evidently they had pulled the car from the front to reserve it for our visit. Bonus points in my book. We look it over. It has some minor sun wearing on the paint on the hood, but that aside, it appears to be in excellent shape. I take it for a spin, as they were eager for me to give her a test run. She had test started like a dream, so I was eager myself. I drive out of the lot sedately and head the way they recommended down a side road (due to traffic as they said the street in front can be a nightmare to get turned back around), which lead to an empty parking lot at the end of a road. I let her run wild in that parking lot, figuring if there’s anything mechanically wrong, I’ll get an idea speeding around back there. She runs better than I could have hoped. Extremely responsive in every way, no strange noises or tendencies, and I was in love.
I drive back to the dealership after I had been driving her around for about an hour or so to park right where she started. I start messing with some of the cabin settings while the dealer walks up with a huge grin on his face. I test the sun roof and with a little fiddling it opens up, when he explains that the motor is going out, but it wouldn’t be hard to replace when I got her home. He tells me the AC is ice cold (it was around summer, but not that hot yet), and that it had passed their full inspection. At this stage I didn’t really care about anything like that. This was my car, and I would have her. One quick round of paperwork and a swipe of my debit card and it’s official. My dad and I are back on the road to drive her home, with him following me just to be safe in case something did happen to go wrong with the car on the way.
As I said, it was fairly warm, but not hot. The dealer’s mention of the AC being ‘ice cold’ stuck with me, so I rolled up the windows and kicked on the air conditioning. It was about 15 minutes later that I gave up, as the hot air continued to spit in my face from the vents. I was annoyed, but I had never cared about the AC much to begin with. It was more the fact that he had made a point to volunteer the information, and it appeared he had lied. I took it home anyway because the heat still worked and I was fine with rolling down the windows until I could possibly get the AC fixed if I found it bothered me that much (I never used the AC in my Tracer as it was). My roommate was one of our unit’s mechanics, and I figured I’d ask him to do me a favor and look it over once I got it back. Turns out he had a buddy with a Celica that he used to help him work on and was extremely familiar with everything under the hood. After a quick check he says everything looks great, but that he can tell me right now that the AC is toast. Being the car mechanic idiot that I was, I ask him why that is, and he points to a lone component on the front passenger side of the hood. He shows me how there should be a belt from the motor running to it that is not there, and shoves his full weight down on it (I’m not sure what sort of test that is) and says that it’s completely dead, so it’s probably good that it’s not hooked up. It would have to be completely replaced.
So I was pretty upset, not because the AC didn’t work, but because this guy had volunteered a lie. If he had not told me about the AC at all, I wouldn’t have cared. As I said, I never use it (even today except when the wife makes me – though not driving the Celica any longer, sadly). I never did anything about it because I never cared, except for the fact that he lied about something I never even hinted that I wanted to know about. Sure, I should’ve checked it before I left the lot I suppose just to ‘know’, but I didn’t care enough to even think about it until he mentioned it. If I had cared and his mentioning it had reminded me about it, he could’ve prompted the customer to check and lose a sale. Heck, my dad probably would’ve pushed me to just leave the car due to the lie alone.”
Caught Red-Handed From Beyond The Grave
“My elderly father had just called me in Florida to say he found a ‘cherry,’ which was a 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 sales guy explained the changes and assured him that 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, so 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 that it was 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 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 was likely he never really looked at the ‘revised’ paperwork the dealership’s guy handed him that day. And it’s equally likely that’s what the 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 dealership 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 had just plopped a turd on his stack of extended warranties. He gave it a quick glance and pushed it aside. But I could tell. He knew. The eye twitch gave him away. 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, and 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 dealership 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 dealership is now a bowling alley. 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.”
Deception At Every Turn
“I found a used car on an online car-buying website. It was exactly what I was looking for, the mileage on the car was low, and the selling dealership wasn’t too far into the next county. So I went there to buy it. When I got there, they had the car as described, and with the listed mileage. But they wanted $2,000 more than the listed price because they had applied a Vehicle Protection Package to the vehicle, and it could not be removed. I turned to walk out, and they reduced their ask to $1,000. I turned to walk out again, and they agreed to sell the car for the price they had listed it for. But they weren’t done yet. The credit department tried to slip in a vehicle warranty package. I balked again and got the advertised price with no add-ons.
For those wondering why I used their credit, it was because they gave me no choice. Either I had to buy for cash or with their credit. They would not work with my credit union where I was already pre-approved. I refinanced to my credit union a week later because they had a better rate. The dealership thinks I had a great experience and keeps emailing me for ratings. I am always brutally honest. They even think that I would buy another car from them! I most certainly would not.”
Here’s Exactly How They Get Someone
“Car dealer scams are many and varied, but always with the same purpose, to make money from some poor sucker. I was going to say that the big dealers don’t have to resort to these tactics, but they do have their own ways of taking advantage of certain customers, mainly on the finance side by adding a couple of points onto the interest rates that you pay on your loan, plus add-ons like extended warranties and under pricing a trade-in. This is known as making on the back end of a deal, where it does not show up on the purchase price of a vehicle.
There are many other ways that you can be ‘had’. Clocking the odometer to make the miles lower and the car worth more. Washing a title to hide the fact that it has been a salvage vehicle. Doing quick fixes to keep it running long enough to sell it, the list goes on. I am sure there are many more things that an unsuspecting buyer will fail to spot, and I recommend having a potential purchase inspected by a reputable mechanic or dealer and using somewhere like Car Fax to check the vehicle history.”
How Did They Get Away With This?
“A few years ago, my ex asked if I would go with him to a car dealership to buy a new car after his was totaled, as I ‘negotiated better than he did’ (and he used to negotiate for a living). I agreed. He planned to get a used car and had marked some ads. I took him first to the dealership that had gotten me MY latest car (they’re great people and dealt with me very fairly). He liked one of the cars on the lot and the salesman went in to see the sales manager, who came back with him and said, ‘Here’s what we can do, our best offer,’—in writing and ready to answer any questions. They couldn’t have been more courteous or more honest about the whole transaction. I was all for doing that deal, but my ex really wanted to look at a car, which was several thousand dollars cheaper, on a car lot much further away. We called to be sure they had the car; yes, they did. They’d have it ready for us as soon as we got there. I begged my ex to do the deal at my own dealership, but he really wanted to check out the great deal at this other lot. It was a long haul to the dealership, and I was driving, but when we got there, the car wasn’t there. Someone else was test driving it. We waited almost an hour, until we were told that a dealer had bought it and was DRIVING IT HOME NOW. It was the classic scam (I doubt there was ever any such car, at any such price, on the lot). But since we were furious and made that clear, the salesman told us to come back after lunch. They would have a bunch of other cars to show us in our price range.
We went to lunch and went back. They showed us a very cool car, brand new, and when we asked if it really cost the amount my ex was willing to pay, it was several thousand dollars higher. I realize most of you already know where this is going. I made it clear we were paying a certain amount or not buying a car, and they could find us a good deal or we would walk. He finally showed us a car I wouldn’t have looked at twice and agreed to sell it at my ex’s price. By now we had spent five hours at the dealership, and I was beyond furious. I told my ex if he didn’t leave THAT SECOND, I would simply leave him there (and I was the one giving HIM a lift). He left with me. A few days later (at the end of month, of course), we went out to dinner in a driving rainstorm, and a salesman we hadn’t met from that dealership called. I told him EVERY ROTTEN THING his dealership had done to us, and he expressed genuine sympathy. He hadn’t been there on Saturday when we experienced it. But he wanted to know if we’d come by anyway, in that driving rain, and buy the car, so he could do his end-of-month paperwork and get his bonus! Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen. We ended up negotiating a price on a different car at a different dealership. Telling the salesmen EXACTLY what I thought of their tacky, dirty sales schemes gave me great satisfaction, though, and while I’m sure we’ll go through it again, I’ll be more prepared next time to simply walk away at once.”