SILVER SPRING/BOWIE, MD. (WUSA9) - Sankofa Ray thought she was trading in her old Lexus for something newer.
With no credit history, the 21-year-old college student was turned down for financing by other dealers until she reached DARCARS of Silver Spring.
Sankofa says, "He ran my credit, came back and said I've been approved. I was super excited."
She left with a 2013 Toyota Corolla, but nearly a month later, she got a call from her salesman.
"He said yeah, you need to bring the car back. You weren't financed," she says.
The contract Sankofa signed with DARCARS stipulates that the financing agreement was not final until it was approved by a third-party. It also says that the dealer had to notify her within four days if the financing didn't go through.
Eric Friedman heads the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection. They are investigating Sankofa's complaint and others.
"This is nothing more than a psychological sales technique used by some unscrupulous car dealers," he says.
It's called spot delivery and here's how it works:
You go to a dealer. They tell you that your financing is approved or it's in progress, and you drive off. Only, to bring the car back, in some cases month's later, because the financing wasn't really there.
Friedman says, "The dealership then wants to be able to bring you back into the dealership and pressure you into signing a new contract, new financing terms, that might be at a higher interest rate, a higher monthly payment."
According to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, there were only 43 complaints about this issue from January 2014 to October 2016.
But, Friedman believes that is because it's a vastly underreported problem.
"The average consumer never reports this problem because they have no idea if the car dealership is doing something that is illegal and inappropriate," he says.
Maryland state law requires dealers to notify you within four days if the financing falls through. MVA's investigation shows that did not happen in Sankofa's case.
She pushed to get her old back.
"You sold my car to an auction. They sold it to somebody else four days after I took the new car home. And, you guys knew all along I wasn't financed," says Sankofa.
She showed us how her car was returned to her from the auction.
"I noticed the tires. They were bald. There's no CD player," she says. The spare tire was missing from the trunk and she saw other issues with her car that were not present when she traded it in.
DARCARS paid to have the car towed back and ultimately paid for the repairs.
In a statement to WUSA9, a spokesperson says the dealership "acted in good faith with Ms. Ray and adhered to all laws related to spot delivery."
The MVA investigated this case and concluded that DARCARS violated the state's spot delivery law by not notifying Sankofa about the financing problems within four days of receiving her car.
The MVA also notified Montgomery County's Office of Consumer Protection that DARCARS was fined for that action.
So, here are three things you need to know to keep this from happening to you.
Remember this number - four days. That's the timeframe a dealership in the state of Maryland has to notify you in writing if they are unable to get financing for your car.
In general, it's best not to drive off without financing.
And, seek out car loans from places other than the dealership, like the credit union or bank.
When it comes to spot delivery in the District, legal experts told WUSA9 that there is nothing in the federal law that allows for spot delivery.
Virginia has a strict state statue that protects consumers from spot delivery deals.
If this has happened to you, reach out to your local consumer protection office.
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