Down payment debacle: What to do when a car deal falls through

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Producer: Katie Cribbs

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A trip to a local car dealer turned into a nightmare for one woman. When the deal for the SUV she thought she was buying fell through, she said she never thought she would see her $3500 down payment again.

It has been almost a year since Liz Shafer and her husband Jerry moved from Michigan to Florida. With a new job, Liz wanted a new ride, one with air-conditioning. Liz said she went to Lee Automotive in Fort Myers and though she said she had no plans to purchase that same day, the owner gave her a deal she could not resist.

“[The owner] said, ‘what can I do to make you buy a car today?’ And I said I need to think about it because $9500 was more than I wanted to spend…He was like, ‘well how much do you want to spend?’ I said $8000. He looked at Jeff the salesman and says write her up.”

It was a problem with the financing paperwork that ultimately caused a problem.

“[The salesman] was asking me at that point how much I make a week. I said at least $500. He said do you have paperwork to back this up and I said no, not at this time.”

Liz had just started a new job and said she did not have a pay stub showing she was going to make $500 a week. But Liz said the dealership told her it would not be a problem. She signed the loan papers and put down her $3500 payment. Two days later when she went to pick up the car, she said she got a surprise.

“We transferred the insurance to the [new] car. I was walking out the door, a lady from the office says, ‘I need a $500– I need a check stub saying she makes $500,’ and I told them I said, I told you that was not going to happen.”

According to Liz, the dealership wasn’t going to hand over her new car, without that pay stub. Even worse, she said they refused to refund her down payment.

“I was upset because $3500 is a lot of money.”

Liz said she was told she could either come up with the rest of the cash to buy the car she wanted, or find a car on the lot for $3500, the amount she had put down as a down payment.

Instead, Liz filed a complaint with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which overseas dealers. She also called WINK News Call for Action.

We reached out Kyle, the owner of Lee Auto Group. Over the phone, he told us he would give back Liz’s money if that is what it comes down to, but he was not ready to do so yet. After our call, however, Liz got the news she had been waiting for: a call from Kyle saying she would get her money back.

Consumer lawyer Carmen Dellutri with Dellutri Law Group does not represent Liz, but he said if you ever have to make a deposit when buying a car, make sure the dealer signs a form that says you will be refunded if the deal falls through.

A few other tips he offered:

–Do not take a car off the lot, unless the financing has officially gone through and you actually own it
–Make sure you review everything in a contract before you sign
–Try to get preapproval from your bank for a loan before you start shopping for a car

The Florida DHSMV tells us that they are still in the process of reviewing the complaint Liz filed. If you have an issue with a dealership, you can print and fill out a complaint with their office here.

We reached out to Kyle Lee with Lee Auto Group and he sent us this statement:

“I don’t know what kind of story you are trying to write but here are the facts:

Ms. Elizabeth Schafer came in to purchase a vehicle and obtain financing. We got her approved but she couldn’t prove her income that she stated. She had put $3,500 down and it was refunded in full after we couldn’t get her financed.”

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