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Dear Driving for Dollars,
I recently purchased a used car. I was reviewing the agreement a couple of weeks after I bought it and discovered that purchase price on it was $1,020 more than what I had agreed to.

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I called the dealership to ask what happened and they told me that it was a “bank fee” that was added to the transaction. All the other fees, such as doc fees, registration, title, etc., are listed as separate line items.

This feels sneaky to me and is certainly more than I bargained for. Is there anything I can do?
— Tom

Dear Tom,
You are right. It is sneaky. It’s this type of practice that the feds have been cracking down on. Most states regulate the fees that a dealer can charge on a car purchase, though some states are much stricter than others. Regardless, no business should change the purchase price of an item to a higher price than what the consumer agreed to.

That said, unless you have something in writing that shows the lower purchase price that you agreed to, you may find it a challenge to get the extra money refunded, since the agreed-upon purchase price will essentially be your word against the dealer’s.

If you do have something that shows the lower purchase price, contact the attorney general’s office of your state and file a complaint. You may be able to do it online. It may take some time, but they should act on your behalf at no charge to get you the price you were promised.

In addition, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is a federal watchdog agency that is cracking down on this type of deceptive practice.

Even without documentation to back up the lower purchase price, you may want to contact these agencies. Even if they can’t do anything for you to get your money back, you will at least put this dealership on their radar screens, which may result in an investigation down the road.

For more tips on negotiating a car sales contract, read “Don’t pay unnecessary dealer fees.”

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