The New Car Bait and Switch! A True Story!

New Car

The “Check Engine” light appeared on my vehicle recently. As the vehicle was over 11 years old and showing increasingly serious signs of breaking down, a trip to the mechanic confirmed that it would cost more to fix the vehicle then it was worth. So my wife and I decided we needed to get a new car.

We quickly researched vehicles and narrowed down the model and brand that we were interested in. After a visit to the local dealership, a test drive and some negotiating we bought a new car.

Within 24 hours of getting our new car our happiness turned to bitterness. The car they gave us was not the vehicle we had bought.

It seemed like we were the victims of a car dealership bait and switch!

The Backdrop

Our old vehicle had been great. But with excess mileage, increasing mechanical problems and future expenses far beyond the value of the vehicle it was time to get a new car. Our experience with the brand of car had been fantastic and we quickly decided we wanted to get a new vehicle of the same brand, but upgraded to a higher model.

This thinking narrowed our car search prospects down considerably and quickly. I was able to go into that company’s website and research the vehicle models that we were interested in. The site had an option to “Build your own vehicle”. Having gone through and made my selections on a reasonable number of options we had configured the car that we wanted to buy.

One of the features that I needed was the trailering package. The standard tow rating for the vehicle has 1500 pounds but I needed more. The trailering package would increase the tow capacity to 5000 pounds, which was just what I needed.

Further there was an online option to check for available inventory. With the click of a button I was able to determine that 3 different dealerships, though not particularly close (but not too far away) had the exact vehicle that we wanted in stock on the lot.

Since there was a dealership only a few kilometres from our house we decided to start there to see the vehicle in person, even though they didn’t have the exact vehicle we wanted in stock. We took it for a test drive which reaffirmed our desire to buy that car. The sales person told us that they could get the vehicle we wanted with all of the features, including the trailering package. Having done our research and knowing that other dealerships did have that exact vehicle, we figured that they would just procure it from another dealer, and we’d be set.

We negotiated the deal, signed the requisite papers, and left with the promise from the sales person that he would call is in a few days to confirm he had found and secured our new car.

The Bait and Switch

As promised, after 3 days the sales person called to say that he had found our new vehicle. I asked if it was what we asked for and I was told it was. In a few days I could go and pick it up.

Getting a new vehicle is always a great feeling. That new car smell, the look and feel, and the drive are all very exciting. We got to the dealership and first signed all of the necessary paperwork. With that out of the way we went with the sales person to look at our new car.

He showed us in and around the vehicle. He highlighted some of the new things we would need to know to operate it. As I was sitting in the driver’s seat I asked him where the trailering button was. Having had this company’s vehicle before, I knew that somewhere on the dash there would be a “towing” button, to be activated whenever you are towing something.

He mumbled something indiscernible which caught my attention. I asked to see the tow hitch on the back. We went to the back of the vehicle, and he removed the hitch cover, but there was no hitch. I asked about it and he told me that if I came back in a couple of days they would install the hitch. It sounded odd to me but I assumed that it would be ok.

We did a quick check of a few more things and we drove off the lot, basking in the glow of driving our brand new car. But the towing thing was still on my mind. Did it make sense that you could just install a hitch at the dealership and that alone would increase the tow rating from 1500 pounds to 5000 pounds? I was growing more and more skeptical.

When I got home the towing thing was confounding me. I went online and started doing more research. The towing package certainly included the hitch but it also included a cooling system for the engine, a tow/haul button to alter the driving mode, and a hitch guidance system. Further I found out that all of this had to be factory installed. None of it could be installed at any dealership.

The new car which I had just drove home could not be altered so as to install the towing package. It’s standard tow rating of 1500 pounds made the vehicle useless to me. I felt like they had pulled a fast one on me. I felt like I had been the victim of a bait and switch.

The Aftermath

Within a few hours of having driven the vehicle home I messaged the sales person to tell him that I did not believe the entire towing package could be installed at the dealership and that a hitch alone was insufficient. I told him that I needed to return this vehicle and they needed to get me a new vehicle, the one I really had ordered.

Not too long afterwards the sales person responded. He acknowledged that they could not install the trailering package after the fact. I told him again that I needed the right vehicle and I needed it now, becoming more demanding with every message. He confirmed that they would start searching for the right vehicle.

Over the next two days it was a back and forth between me and the sales person in exchanging messages. I reiterated what the new vehicle needed to include along with the urgency. The sales person merely told me they were continuing to look. Then I remembered that I had already gone through this inventory availability exercise before I had even been to a dealership.

I went online again, used their app, built the vehicle online, and searched for available inventory. I sent him the associated links showing him where I found the exact vehicles, just as I had seen the week before I even went to the dealership. Within 4 hours I had confirmation that they had secured the right vehicle.

The exchange continued, now with me looking for confirmation that it included all of the very specific features I had bought, including the towing package. All responses came back in the affirmative. My level of trust was gone and I didn’t want to relive this situation a second time.

Finally, I told the sales person that I would be coming in the next day. I wanted to meet with him and the owner of the dealership to have a chat. Also I wanted to do a line by line review of the specifications of the latest vehicle so that I knew unequivocally that it was correct.

Confrontation and Resolution

I showed up at the dealership first thing the next morning. The first thing the sales person said to me was that the new vehicle would be ready early that very afternoon. I said that was fine, and we would go over it in detail later. But he, his boss, and I needed to have a little chat first.

When his boss arrived I reiterated the whole story, punctuated with the question, “Why did you knowingly give me the wrong vehicle? You pulled a fast one on me. If I didn’t ask about the trailering package I could have been permanently stuck with a vehicle which was of no use to me at all.”

The boss started off being defensive and making excuses. I quickly shut him down. I did not want to hear any of that as it was all completely irrelevant and didn’t change the very fact that they gave me the wrong vehicle. Again, if I hadn’t noticed the lack of the trailering package I could have gone for months without knowing I had been duped and I would have had no recourse for resolution.

Finally the boss gave me the only possible reason that could be given any credence. It was human error. The office manager responsible for inter-dealership vehicle did not cross check the specific features on my order but just focussed on the make and model. It was a mistake which never should have happened. I still didn’t buy it. The sales person should have double checked even if someone else made the error. The administrative people should have done a matching comparison and caught the differences in the paperwork.

The boss started telling me about automotive industry vehicle shortages. I said I already knew that, and further it had nothing to do with the situation as I already knew that inventory of the vehicle I wanted was already at dealerships; his point was meaningless. He then started to share some of the internal problems they had, as if to evoke some measure of sympathy.

My response was simple: Customers DO NOT care about your internal problems. Customers want what they want, when they want it, and above all customers want you to meet your commitments. Period. Every company has internal problems of some kind. The important thing is to ensure that these mistakes and issues are invisible to the customer experience.

He then started to tell me that they had never had this problem before. They had sold hundreds of vehicles so far this year and this was the only problem they had, as if to justify their performance as being acceptable. My response was terse. One problem is one too many. Airlines don’t congratulate themselves if they only have one airplane crash in a year. There is no room for error and there must be zero tolerance for any problem.

I drove home the point that they fundamentally had a process problem. Human error can always occur. Your processes must be robust enough, and must have enough check points and fail safe measures, to ensure that these processes will function regardless.

The boss relented. He finally seemed to get the message. I had made my point, I had been heard, I got ownership of the problem, I received a genuine apology, and I had some sense that they were going to take steps to prevent someone else going through this horrible experience.

Problem Solved

More importantly, that afternoon I got the correct vehicle. I went over it in excruciating detail to make sure there were no discrepancies whatsoever.

I don’t believe that an intentional bait and switch had occurred. But I do believe that a lack of attention, a lack of focus, poor process adherence, and sloppy job performance were to blame for the situation.

I talked to the sales person on the side, after the meeting with his boss. He was a young guy and early on in his career. I asked him to understand the reasoning for the discussion with his boss. Further I asked him to use this as a learning experience to help him in the future. I hope he took the message to heart.

We are now driving our new vehicle and we’ve regained much of the new vehicle ownership pride. But we went through a situation that never should have occurred.

For anyone who is in a role that impacts your customers, either directly or indirectly, be vigilant and do your job well, follow and improve your processes, catch any and all problems before the reach the customer, and take steps to prevent them from ever occurring again.

Originally published on August 17, 2021.

2 thoughts on “The New Car Bait and Switch! A True Story!”

  1. I too was victim of this exact thing. I test drove and paid for a brand new BMW X1 and now all lights are on and come to find out its a vin number of a 2018 x2 from Fields BMW Winter Park. All the paperwork has fake vin numbers. The title numbers are different than on the fake BMW certificate as I paid cash. They of course are denying this but proof is in the paperwork. They left a oil change record in it with different dates, a screwdriver and it took 3 hours to vacuum because it was brand new with the sheets of plastic around it that drove a hour away but it was there when I was there. The weight and colors are different on the paperwork I left mine white, this one Alpine white. With the notary signing all the paperwork a different day before I bought the car they all signed it 3/30 and 4/3 and I purchased 4/13. The car I am driving is registered to someone in NJ per the DMV in Florida and the satellite radio is in someone different. I reported it to the DMV in FL and apparently people clone new cars and do this to people who pay cash and single women. It’s just WRONG!! where is justice? The seller’s tax registration is in some trust name not FIELDS. They should be held responsible but claim no foul play. Not to mention the person who drove off with the new car has gotten tickets in it ‘bshoen64’ to be exact. I have yet to get a title. I have yet to find a lawyer to go after these thieves anything I can do? What did you do and did you get what you paid for? On the way home to MN is when the lights all started going off.

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