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Buying a New Car: Know What You're Signing
"The salesman told me that I could bring the car back if I didn't like it, but now he says, ‘Sorry, no refunds.'"
"I thought I signed a paper that let them run my credit report. They say I bought the car."
"I didn't realize that I agreed to a ‘balloon' loan - the final payment is several thousand dollars!"
"The dealer called and said the loan didn't go through, and they'll repossess the car unless I apply for a new loan at 18% interest."
The Consumer Protection Division hears every week from new car buyers who were unhappy with contracts they had signed. Don't let this happen to you. Before you sign any paper involved in a new car purchase, take your time, read every line, and ask questions about anything that is not clear. Otherwise, you could end up owning a car when you didn't intend to, paying more for a car than you planned, or not getting things you thought you were promised.
There are three important steps you can take to avoid many of these problems:
First, understand that there is no three-day "cooling-off" period for car sales during which you can change your mind and cancel the contract. Once you have signed a binding contract, you are bound. Understanding that, you should never sign a contract until you are absolutely certain that you want to be bound by its terms.
Second, make sure anything the salesperson promised you is in writing.
Third, tell the dealer you won't take the new car home or deliver your trade-in until the financing has been approved. That way if the financing is not approved or if the dealer tells you the financing will be at a higher rate of interest than originally promised, you can easily walk away from the deal and look elsewhere.
Here are some other tips for avoiding common problems with the two major documents involved in most new car sales: the buyer's order and the retail installment sales contract.
The Buyer's Order
The Retail Installment Sales Contract
This is the contract used if you are buying your new car on credit arranged by the dealer. You don't have to finance your car through the dealer. Before you begin shopping for a car you should see what loan terms a bank or credit union would give you and, if possible, get pre-approved. Then you'll have something to compare to what the dealership offers.
Remember, it's your money. Insist on taking the time to read all documents before you sign them. Don't rely on a salesperson's statement that you can "bring the car back if you are unhappy for any reason" unless that statement is written into the contract. Make sure all the terms of the deal have been finalized and you are happy with them before you take the car.
Attorney General of Maryland 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free / TDD: (410) 576-6372