Do Dealerships Have To Honor Price Mistakes?

Do Dealerships Have To Honor Price Mistakes?

You think you’ve stumbled upon an unbelievable deal at the car dealership. An online ad or lot sticker lists a price well below market value. But when you inquire, the salesperson claims it was a mistake. Do they have to honor incorrectly advertised prices?

The answer is more complicated than you might assume. There are certain situations where dealerships are obligated to sell at a misprinted price. However, they aren’t required to honor every pricing error.

This in-depth guide covers federal and state laws on price misprints, fine print to watch for, steps for trying to secure a deal, and when you’re out of luck. Read on to understand your rights and when dealerships can—or can’t—take back a price.

Online Pricing Errors: Are They Binding?

Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to shop for a car without setting foot in a dealership. But online pricing also leads to frequent errors. If you spot a too-good-to-be-true online price, can the dealer claim it was a mistake?

In most cases, they are NOT legally obligated to honor clearly incorrect online prices if:

  • Fine print disclaims errors – Most sites say prices may have errors.
  • The price is unrealistic – A $500 new car is obviously implausible, for example.
  • Inventory listings are third-party – The dealer is not responsible for external site misprints.
  • You have not purchased or put down a deposit yet.

However, once you pay a deposit or complete an online purchase agreement with the erroneous price clearly stated, the dealer may be on the hook legally depending on state laws.

When Online Car Prices are Binding

While dealerships often don’t have to honor online goofs, there are scenarios where they may be held to incorrectly listed internet prices:

  • If their website or advertisement does not clearly disclaim errors.
  • In states with strict “bait and switch” laws regarding listed prices. For example, California requires “advertised price” disclosure on vehicles.
  • If you printed or captured a screenshot of the price and have already put down a deposit based on the incorrect figure.
  • If you have an email, text, or recorded confirmation of the erroneous price from the dealer after inquiring about purchasing.

To benefit from mistakes, act quickly to document the pricing and sign a purchase order before the dealer catches it. Still, they may not relent. Next let’s examine in-store pricing mix-ups.

When Online Car Prices Are Binding
When Online Car Prices are Binding

When Dealers Must Honor In-Store Misprints

In addition to online goofs, in-store price mistake tags and sales materials containing typos can provide ammunition for a buyer seeking a deal. However, the dealer’s obligation depends on state law and the specifics of the situation:

  • If you simply spot a misprinted Monroney sticker (MSRP), you likely have no recourse. These aren’t considered real “quotes.”
  • But if you have signed paperwork or received a written quote with the incorrect price, you are in a stronger position to demand they honor it.
  • Mistakes in your favor on a purchase order form or invoice make it difficult for the dealer to backtrack.
  • Some states have laws requiring dealers advertize vehicles at full “cash prices”, making posted pricing binding.
  • “As-is” disclaimers won’t necessarily exempt a dealer from honoring a mistaken quote already provided.

When prospected in-person with supporting documentation, you increase the chances of sealing a mistakenly-priced car sale, area laws permitting.

Steps to Take to Lock In Erroneous Pricing

If you spot a dramatically mispriced vehicle either online or in the dealership, here are steps experts recommend to hold them to it:

  • Screenshot or print the pricing immediately once discovered.
  • Follow up to obtain a quoted purchase price mistake IN WRITING via email or text from the internet sales department or a salesperson.
  • Explicitly confirm they will sell you the vehicle for the incorrectly listed amount.
  • Put down a refundable deposit if required to force them to honor the agreed quote.
  • Act quickly – the longer they can drag out a retraction, the lower your odds.
  • Politely escalate to a sales manager if needed, while referring to your documentation.
  • Be ready to walk and speak to an attorney if they refuse to budge.
When Dealers Must Honor In-Store Misprints
When Dealers Must Honor In-Store Misprints

While not guaranteed, taking swift action to obtain a written quote and agreement can make the dealer stick to their mistake in many cases. Still, if all efforts fail, you may have to walk away angry.

When Dealerships Won’t Have to Honor Errors

If disclaimers on all materials state “pricing subject to error.” When the pricing is so low it couldn’t reasonably be correct, like a new BMW listed for $1,000. If you do not have signed paperwork or a specific quote in writing from the dealer.

In most cases of misprinted national advertising, window stickers, and non-sales website content. If you spot the error after leaving without documentation and attempt to leverage it later. When state laws don’t require honoring advertised vehicle price mistake.

On “too good to be true” used car prices, which dealers often claim were “typos.” If the dealer can demonstrate the error resulted from a technical glitch like a coding problem. Unless required in your state, dealerships have considerable leeway to claim unrealistically low price mistakes. To lock in a deal, prompt action is required.

When You May Be Able to Sue for a Retracted Price

Filing a complaint with your state’s regulatory agency – All states have bodies governing dealer conduct. Their pressure could prompt cooperation. Reporting false advertising – If their materials didn’t properly disclaimer errors, report them to the FTC.

  • Consulting an attorney – Depending on circumstances, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. For hefty price mistakes, it may be worthwhile.
  • Leaving negative reviews – Public shaming can hit them where it hurts. Name the specific salesperson and manager involved.
  • Walking away – Unless you have an airtight case, cutting your losses may be the best course.
  • Checking other area dealers – The same model may be fairly priced elsewhere.

Pursuing legal action takes time and money with no guarantee. Weigh the erroneous quote amount vs. your costs. For smaller amounts, walking away may be easier.

When You May Be Able To Sue For A Retracted Price
When You May Be Able to Sue for a Retracted Price

Key Things to Remember About Dealer Pricing Errors

If trying to capitalize on an inaccurate dealer price mistake, keep these key tips in mind:

  • Act fast to obtain documentation and secure a deal before the dealer catches on.
  • States laws vary on whether dealers must honor advertised vehicle prices – know your rights.
  • Quotes are binding. Stickers, website listings, etc. generally are not.
  • For large discrepancies, attempt to negotiate a compromise price.
  • Polite persistence and elevating to management can help sway obstinate sales staff.
  • Legal action may provide recourse but will require time and money with uncertain outcome.

With preparation and prompt action, you can sometimes take advantage of erroneous dealer pricing in your favor. But other times, you’ll have little choice but to walk away frustrated without recourse.

Successful Stories of Forcing Dealers to Honor Mistakes

While not common, there are documented cases of eagle-eyed car shoppers catching dealership pricing flubs and compelling them to sell at mistaken quotes:

  • An Arizona shopper capitalized when two dealers listed the same used Mercedes S-Class on Autotrader for around $30,000 below actual value. One honored their posting.
  • A California dealer advertised new pickup trucks at $26,000 online. They reluctantly sold to multiple customers at that price mistake, losing over $10,000 on each.
  • A Virginia woman used a $10,000 dealer webpage error to negotiate a Ford Escape purchase $3,500 below invoice.
  • A Florida shopper referenced state laws to force a dealer to sell a used SUV for their online quote of $5,000 instead of the $20,000 on the lot.

But for every success story, there are plenty of disappointed shoppers who walk away without recourse from too-good-to-be-true ad misprints. Don’t get your hopes up without documentation and a solid bargaining strategy.

When to Walk Away From Erroneous Dealer Pricing

While you can occasionally capitalize on an auto dealer’s mistake, more often the odds will be stacked against you. Here are signs it may be smart to simply walk away:

  • If the dealer immediately retracts the price upon your arrival and points to their website disclaimer.
  • When the discrepancy is large (say over $4,000) and the dealer won’t negotiate a compromise.
  • If you lack printed/documented proof of the incorrect quote to reference.
  • When state laws don’t expressly require dealers to honor advertised prices.
  • If you are unable to invest the time and energy necessary to make a strong legal case.

When the dealer insists a technical glitch caused the error that they can easily prove. If the ad or listing is from a third-party site not run by the dealer. When you spot a suspicious online price after leaving the lot. It becomes your word against theirs.

Key Takeaways on Dealer Price Mistakes

Online misprints usually aren’t binding, but you can try locking a deal in fast with documentation. In-store signed quotes or paperwork with errors are harder for dealers to retract. State laws dictate whether dealers must honor incorrectly advertised vehicle price mistake.

Polite persistence and elevating the issue can help, but avoid making legal threats you can’t back up. Weigh the potential discount amount against the time and cost of legal action if the dealer won’t negotiate.

Having proof like screenshots and a written dealer agreement boosts your leverage considerably. In many cases, the dealer will hold the upper hand and you’ll have to walk away disappointed.

The Bottom Line on Dealer Pricing Errors

While discovering an unbelievable deal can be thrilling initially, the odds are usually stacked against forcing a dealer to sell at a drastically misprinted price. Temper expectations, but also be ready to act swiftly if you have a legitimate case.

With tenacity and luck, you may capitalize on errors in your favor and score the deal of a lifetime. But also know when to call it quits rather than wasting time and money pursuing lengthy legal action. Going in with realistic expectations sets you up for success even if you ultimately walk away empty-handed.

FAQs

Q: Can a car dealership refuse to honor a lower quoted price?

A: In most cases, yes, dealers can refuse to sell at an incorrectly quoted lower price if they can demonstrate it was an obvious error and not a firm offer.

Q: What if I have an emailed quote from the dealer at the wrong price?

A: A written quote via email or text from the dealer at an erroneous price gives you the best chance at holding them to it. But it still depends on circumstances and local laws.

Q: Are dealers required to sell cars at the prices on Monroney stickers?

A: No, the Monroney window sticker details the car’s MSRP and standard features, not the actual selling price. So misprints on the Monroney sticker are not binding.

Q: Can I make dealerships honor pricing errors on their website?

A: Generally no, unless the website does not properly disclaim the possibility of errors. Simple website listing mistakes are not usually binding.

Q: If I sign a contract with an price mistake, must the dealer still sell at that price?

A: If both parties sign a sales agreement containing an incorrect price, it becomes much harder for the dealer to back out. But they could still claim extenuating circumstances.

Conclusion:

While capitalizing on dealer pricing errors can occasionally save buyers significant money, dealerships are not legally required to honor pricing mistakes in many cases.

To lock in erroneous pricing, swift action is required along with documentation of the dealer’s quoted price. Understand local laws, have realistic expectations, and be ready to walk away to avoid frustration.

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