Even a consumer lawyer couldn't spot contract snag

Lynn Drysdale “hit the ceiling” after a dealership suggested she co-sign a loan for her fiance’s used pickup. Drysdale, a lawyer, found language stamped on a copy of the sales contract that her fiance hadn’t signed. Photo credit: TERRY BROWN
When Lynn Drysdale's fiance found a good deal on a used Nissan pickup a few years ago, she insisted on going along to the dealership.

Drysdale had reason to be suspicious. She's a Florida lawyer who practices consumer law, and she was preparing to sue the dealership as a result of claims that the store had duped customers into signing waivers that trapped them in unfavorable loans.

The couple wouldn't be fooled, Drysdale warned the salesman. After combing the sales documents for potential loopholes, she gave her fiance the nod to proceed. He signed the contract and drove the pickup home.

Three days later, the dealership called the fiance to say the financing had fallen through and he would need to bring in a co-signer. Why not ask that woman who had come with him earlier? the salesman suggested.

"I hit the ceiling," Drysdale says. "They had given him the contract in triplicate, and they had stamped on the last page 'SUBJECT TO THIRD PARTY APPROVAL.' The part he had signed didn't have that language on there."

Drysdale threatened to sue, and the dealership agreed to honor the original terms. She doesn't know whether the dealership found another lender, ate the difference or what — and doesn't care. She just says the ordeal shows how dealerships use spot delivery to dupe customers, even when they know they're likely to be caught.

"They know that these people are not going to qualify for the loans that they put them in," Drysdale says. "That's just part of the bait."

Just how common are problems with spot delivery? It's difficult to say. The Council of Better Business Bureaus doesn't break down consumer complaints about dealers based on type of complaint. And while attorneys general in several states have warned consumers about spot delivery over the past few years, much of the evidence is anecdotal.

Consider the case of Patricia Diane Meeks. In May 2007, Meeks bought a Toyota Camry from Toyota of Winter Haven in Florida. According to documents filed in Polk County Circuit Court, the dealership called Meeks "weeks later" and demanded that she return the car.

When Meeks refused, citing a contract she believed named her the rightful owner, the dealership had her arrested — twice. They say she never owned the vehicle and, when she filed a damage claim with her insurance company, was guilty of insurance fraud.

Meeks is seeking class-action status on her lawsuit, which accuses Toyota of Winter Haven of violating the federal Truth in Lending Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, among other state laws. Her lawyer declined to make her available for a telephone interview.

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