Jersey City, NJ asked in Consumer Law for New Jersey

Q: negotiated online To buy a car with a specific vin# day I was to go to dealer to sign deal I was told car not available

Dealer said the vehicle had “ thousands of extras added” . They said they would try to find another car.

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2 Lawyer Answers
Leonard R. Boyer
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  • Clifton, NJ
  • Licensed in New Jersey

A: Since there was no signed formal contract and you did not pay for the vehicle, there was nothing to prevent the dealer from selling it to anyone else. This is a common practice among car dealers, which is completely legal. Realistically, whenever you go to purchase a car, or any other vehicle, do your research to know what the vehicle should cost the way you want it. Manufacturer's list price is a meaningless number. When I, as an attorney have gone to purchase a vehicle, even after I let the dealer or salesman know I am an attorney, they still try to "con" me, at which point, I have them get the General Manager of the Dealership to talk to me and I tell him or her, if they want to sell me the vehicle, this is how much I will pay and how much I am willing to put down. If they make the deal, I want, great, if not, CASH is king and I go to another dealership to do so. Right now car dealers are more desperate to make a deal than you are.

Noel Rivers
Noel Rivers
  • Hackensack, NJ
  • Licensed in New Jersey

A: There are not enough facts in your question for me to properly ascertain whether the car dealership engaged bait and switch tactics or if the car was simply sold before you had the opportunity to purchase it. If the car was sold before you could make it to the dealership and buy it, the dealer likely did nothing wrong.

Bait and switch is a common tactic used by car dealerships. It is an act prohibited by the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA). Bait and switch tactics for the sale of a car typically involve a car dealership advertising a specific car for sale but when the customer arrives to purchase the car, the dealer claims that the car is no longer available. The more difficult task is proving that the dealer used bait and switch tactics that could result in a lawsuit under the CFA.

There are several ways to prove that a car dealer used bait and switch. You could take screenshots or print out the ad where you saw the car; go to the car dealer's website and see if the car is still listed for sale; search other websites such as AutoTrader, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace and see if the car dealer has the car listed; pull the Carfax for the car (lots of car dealers list free Carfax reports right on the advertisement for the car); or have a friend call or email the dealership a few days later to inquire about the specific car and see if the dealer says it's still for sale. You would have to gather as much evidence as possible before an attorney could evaluate your case to see if fraud was committed by the car dealer.

The Carfax is a great tool because it says exactly when the car was sold. If the car dealer continues to advertise the car for sale when it was sold or is not available, they can be found liable for violating the CFA and they could be subject to a lawsuit. The CFA provides a successful claimant with treble (triple) damages and provides for reasonable attorney fees, meaning you would not pay your attorney fees if you win.

Please note that by responding to your question, an attorney-client relationship is not formed. If you feel you were the victim of bait and switch, you can contact me or any other attorney who is knowledgable of the CFA to discuss your potential case.

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