Consumer Alert: The price of the new car you order could change before your car is delivered. Here’s what you need to know before you buy

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Are you on the hunt for a new car? You’ll probably have to wait for it.  Gone are the days when you could just walk on a dealer’s lot, pick out your new car and drive away.  Because of the chip shortage, you’ll likely have to order your new car and wait months for it to be manufactured and delivered.  And Penn Yan resident Daniel Barkley’s story of his dream truck has a nightmarish ending.

“We ordered an F-150 four wheel drive gray in color back on March 16th. Because Ford had sent me a $3000 rebate in the mail and I wanted to take advantage of it.”

And he had other rebates too, some of which would expire if he didn’t order the truck by April 4th.  Those rebates, plus his incentive plan through his employer, totaled $8,252.27.  And his salesman at Friendly Ford in Ontario County offered $25,000 for his trade-in.  He typed up the numbers on a form that Barkley had to sign.  Barkley thought the document was legally binding.

Fourteen weeks later, his F-150 arrived. 

“When it finally came in it was exactly what i ordered,” said Barkley.  “It was a nice truck.”

But there was a problem.  While the form he signed said he was getting $25,000 for his trade-in, the dealer was offering less.

“He says everybody here is all in on the $23,000,” Barkley remembers his salesman telling him.  And he said I’m gonna have to think about that. And that was on a Monday, and so Tuesday we called back, and he said we’ve already sold it.”

And by that time his rebates had expired. Buying another truck would cost thousands more.  Barkley says he was asked to sign several forms including a purchase order.  Barkley thought he’d signed a legally binding agreement.

“Real purchase agreements are what are enforceable.  A purchase order, It’s hard to enforce that,” said Leslie Silva, a partner at Tully Rinckey.  She explained that an actual contract must meet certain standards, and a simple purchase order doesn’t do that.

“Even though people have signed something doesn’t make it a contract, said Silva. “It just could be an acknowledgment.”

Leaders at Friendly Ford dispute Barkley’s version of events.  While they wouldn’t answer my direct questions about the case, they did respond to a complaint that Barkley filed with the Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. Leaders at the dealership say that Barkley told them he didn’t want the truck if he couldn’t get $25,000 for his trade-in.  And they point out that because market conditions are volatile, you can’t count on the value of your trade-in being the same months later.  They say in order to guarantee you get the quoted value for your trade-in, you should turn it over to the dealer when you place the order for the car. Of course, not everyone would be able to do that.  Because it can take months to get the new car you ordered, turning over your trade-in would leave you without a car.

Consumer Reports points out that the price of your new car may also be different by the time the vehicle arrives, leaving consumers at a rather precarious position.

If you were to sign the actual purchase agreement at the time you order the car, that agreement would be legally binding.  But that begs the question, might you have to start making payments on a car you don’t yet have possession of? 

These are issues you need to discuss with your dealer before you buy.