How to Sue a Car Dealer for Misrepresentation
Yes, you can sue a car dealership for lying to you in some situations.
Let's say you've found the best “newish" used car out there -- a spiffy little sports coupe with a shiny coat of paint and the extra power of a V6 engine. You proudly drive off the lot, not a care in the world other than where your next road trip will be.
The salesperson told you the car was in “mint condition," never been in an accident, and has low mileage. While this all sounds like a car enthusiast's dream, it's about to turn into a nightmare.
You learn that the car has been in a major collision with significant body damage (since made to look new) and the odometer has been rolled back. The dealer was clearly not being truthful with you.
This is illegal. It is unlawful and is known as fraud or misrepresentation. You are protected under consumer law and can choose to file a lawsuit with the help of an auto fraud attorney. This doesn't apply just to used cars. You can sue for issues with a new car as well.
Below you will find key information about how to sue a car dealer for misrepresentation about the condition of the car.
Federal and State Laws
First, let's start with a brief overview of the law. There are several federal and state statutes in place that prohibit car dealer fraud and misrepresentation. You also have certain specific rights if you buy a used car. Here is a reference.
While “lemon laws" cover the sale of defective vehicles, car dealer fraud laws are meant to protect consumers looking to purchase a car, truck, van, or motorcycle.
Some of these laws include regulations put into place by:
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
- State consumer protection agencies such as the California Department of Consumer Affairs
- General state fraud statutes
Types of Auto Dealer Misrepresentation Claims
There are two basic types of auto dealer misrepresentation: blatant misrepresentations and the failure to disclose material facts.
They most often take the following forms:
- “Bait and switch" advertising practices
- Odometer tampering
- Asserting that a vehicle comes with certain options or features when it doesn't
- The dealer won't honor the warranty or claims your exact needs are outside of the coverage
- Deceptive inflation of vehicle prices if you paid more than the advertised price
- Failure to disclose information about the vehicle's history (such as past accidents, defects, or frame damage)
- Splitting the down payment into two or more checks
- The dealer claims the financing didn't go through and you need to bring the car back ("yo-yo financing")
Fraud Claims Against a Car Dealership
If your dealership outright lies to you, you may be able to sue for common law fraud.
Although state law varies, you generally need to establish the following:
- The dealer made a false representation of a past or present material fact
- The dealer knew their representation was false or was ignorant of its truth
- The dealer intended to induce you to act
- You act in reliance on the representation
- You suffer foreseeable damages caused by the false representation
Note that there is a difference between fraud and misrepresentation. Fraud requires the dealer to know at the time they make a representation that it is false. Misrepresentation does not require that knowledge.
Failure to Disclose Claims Against a Car Dealership
Sometimes, after purchasing your car, you discover a hidden problem, like a defect. Generally, it is harder to make out a fraud claim based upon an omission of fact. These claims are often called fraudulent nondisclosure or misrepresentation by omission.
In most states, you have to prove the following:
- The dealer owes a duty to disclose material information about the car
- The dealer knows the information
- The dealer knows that you would rely on the information if you knew it in making your purchasing decision
- The dealer fails to disclose that information
The problem in this context is showing that the dealership owed a duty to disclose. As a general rule, one party to a transaction does not owe a duty to disclose to the other party. State law varies, and there are exceptions, so you may want to discuss your possible claim with an experienced attorney in your area.
Filing a Lawsuit Against a Car Dealership
A victim of vehicle consumer fraud will want to collect damages for their loss. If you believe you have been the victim of auto fraud by way of misrepresentation, you may very well be able to file a lawsuit.
Some states will require car buyers to contact the dealer first to give them the opportunity to correct the matter or to speak with a state consumer protection agency.
Some possible remedies that the victim may be entitled to collect on include:
- Surrendering the vehicle and getting your money back (including a full refund of all monthly payments made toward the purchase)
- Canceling any outstanding loan balances or obligations
- Having court costs and attorney fees reimbursed when you take legal action
- Being awarded punitive damages for particularly egregious conduct
Pros and Cons of Filing a Lawsuit
There are a number of remedies, including getting money, that you might be able to recover in a lawsuit.
There are at least three other upsides to suing:
- You may deter an unethical dealer from lying to someone else in the future
- You may be able to negotiate a settlement on favorable terms
- You may get a great deal of personal satisfaction from taking the dealer to court
As far as downsides go:
- You may lose and be out money for court costs and expenses
- Although some lawyers may take your case on a contingency fee basis, you might be out attorney fees (so make sure to talk to your lawyer about this before you decide to sue)
- Lawsuits can be stressful and time-consuming
You Have a Limited Amount of Time to Sue
The time in which you can sue a car dealership depends on the nature of the claim and the state you are in.
It varies from state to state, so if you are thinking about bringing a claim, you will want to keep this in mind so that you don't run out of time.
How to Sue a Car Dealer for Misrepresentation: Related Resources
Learn more about your options and how to take action with this additional information:
- Details on State Civil Statute of Limitations
- Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection
- How to Get Out of a Car Purchase: Is there a Cooling-Off Period?
Learn More About Car Dealer Misrepresentation
Car dealer scams are on the rise and it is up to you to ensure your rights are protected.
To learn more about car fraud laws in your state and how to file a lawsuit if you believe you've been the victim of this practice, speak with an experienced auto dealer fraud lawyer in your state today.
An experienced lawyer can review your case, advise you on how to report the alleged fraud, and how to get compensated for your losses.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist in your lemon law or dealer fraud matter.