It’s all about the paperwork
I’ve said it many times before and I will probably be saying it forever: verbal promises are worthless because you have no proof of anything. A judge wouldn’t simply accept your word over a dealer’s, and would ask you to present evidence to back up your claim. This is what you need to be referring to when you are disputing a problem with a dealer:
- contract (vehicle order form, finance agreement, repair work agreement, etc.)
- pre-contract finance information
- policy documents (for finance agreements, warranties, insurance, etc.)
- written quotations (on company stationery, not a blank piece of paper)
- letters or emails from the dealership
- advertisements, offers or vouchers
The key items are those in the top line of that list: the official contracts you and the dealer have signed regarding your vehicle order, car finance or repair/maintenance work. These are legally binding agreements between you and the dealer and form the crux of any dispute.
The vehicle contract spells out exactly what you are getting for your money. Every relevant piece of information should be included in this document. If the dealer offers you a free service or tank of fuel, have it written into the contract. If you are signing an order subject to a satisfactory inspection or repair, make sure it’s written down and worded in a way that you agree to. If you need a specific delivery date, or are making any particular arrangements for collecting the vehicle, have it written into the contract. No exceptions, no excuses.
The same applies to your finance agreement and any service/workshop agreement. Most people do not bother reading these documents in detail, which is a mistake when you are signing your agreement to any terms and conditions contained within. If you don’t read the document before signing it, you lose the right to complain about whatever’s in it. If you read it and don’t like what you find, either don’t sign it and leave, or make amendments as necessary and make sure the dealer signs off on it.
If your issue is not covered by the relevant contract, then you will need to show other written evidence to back up your claim. The other items in the list above are what you need to be referring to, and you will need to show clear evidence to support your case.
Understand the different parties involved
Cars are complex things, but the way we buy and run them can be complicated as well. This can mean that what you think is a simple issue for the dealer is actually a more difficult matter that involves the manufacturer, the finance company, the warranty provider or another third party.
The dealer sells new cars on behalf of the manufacturer, finance on behalf of the finance company, and other aftermarket insurances and warranties on behalf of those providers. Any issues involving anything beyond the specifics of the sale will usually involve another party, and the dealer will usually need to consult with them before agreeing to anything. This is normal, but don’t allow them to use it as an excuse to do nothing.
Escalate the matter to the next person
There is often a temptation to go “straight to the boss” and bypass lower levels of an organisation to get a problem solved. The problem with that approach is that the boss usually has no idea who you are and will simply bounce the problem back down to the bottom of the chain to get it sorted. So summon all your levels of patience and start at the bottom, working your way up as necessary.
Your first point of call at the dealership is usually the sales executive or service advisor. It is highly likely that they will need to go and get more information and authority to fix your problem from their manager. This is perfectly normal – sales execs and service advisors rarely have any authority to do anything except take your money.
If the salesperson or service advisor can’t sort your problem, you will need to escalate the matter to more senior people until it gets resolved. The next port of call is the sales manager or service manager. This person at least has control over a budget to fix problems and can usually authorise fixing yours.
If the sales/service manager can’t/won’t help, the top person at the dealership is the general manager or dealer principal. This person can authorise any action that falls under the control of the dealership. If you can show that you have spent time trying to get your matter resolved and are coming to the general manager as a last resort, they will quite often cooperate simply to get the problem resolved and make it go away, regardless of whether or not they agree with you.
Often, an individual dealership is part of a larger group of dealers owned by a large company. If so, you can take the matter up with the dealer’s head office.
If you are dealing with a franchised dealership representing a manufacturer (as opposed to an independent used car dealer) and are not happy with how the dealer is handling your problem, you can also take your issue to the manufacturer’s customer service department at their head office. To an extent, this means starting again at the bottom of another chain, but manufacturers are able to exert pressure on a dealership to get problems sorted, so by all means make use of it.
If you have failed to get anywhere with the dealership, and the manufacturer if appropriate, you can then take your case to the independent Consumer Ombudsman (or Financial Ombudsman Service if it relates to your car finance) or take legal action against the dealer. Fortunately, if you have followed a logical process and been diligent in escalating the matter, it should have been sorted long before reaching this point.