Driving home in a new vehicle can be an exhilarating experience but sometimes buyer’s remorse can spoil the mood. You get home and take a closer look at the contract and discover the deal isn’t everything you thought or after driving the car for a while, you realize it fails to live up to expectations.

“You really need to be engaged, you need to be a responsible buyer,” explained Doug Longhurst with the Vehicle Sales Authority of B.C. (VSA).

The VSA regulates licensed car dealers, salespeople, and wholesalers and there are strict standards they must follow. The VSA can help consumers unwind deals when things go wrong but it’s much easier to do your part to prevent problems.

Last year nearly 4,000 consumers reached out to the VSA for help. 45 per cent of the consumer complaints were about just five things.

Top five car-buying complaints

  1. 19 per cent said there was a mechanical problem following the sale. 

    Advice: Reliability is paramount. Make sure you test drive the vehicle for at least 30 minutes. Get a mechanical inspection. Dealers must stand behind the claims they make about a vehicle but uncovering problems before you buy is much easier.

  2. 10 per cent reporting financing issues – a higher interest rate or longer term than expected.

    Advice: Many people buy vehicles on the weekends and drive home but oftentimes the expected financing terms can’t be confirmed until the following Monday when the financing companies open their offices.

    Don’t sign the deal until the numbers are confirmed and written down. Take time to confirm the interest rate and the term of your loan, and watch out for a balloon payment that may be due later. That’s a large sum expected to be paid at the end of the term.

    Often salespeople will get you to focus on the payment rather than the actual price of the vehicle. Focus on a price you can afford and a loan payment that won’t drag on for years and keep you in a vehicle that loses value while the amount of your loan remains high.

  3. Six per cent alleged the dealer did not disclose previous damage.

    Advice: Dealers are required to disclose damage that costs more than $2,000 to repair. Be sure to get a Carfax report or ICBC vehicle history report. If the dealer doesn’t provide one, buy one yourself. Don’t take the dealer’s word for it, get it in writing.

    We have reported about a "new" luxury vehicle that was damaged while in the dealer’s possession and fixed in the dealer’s repair shop, but the damage of $15,000 wasn’t disclosed to the buyer. Sometimes, paperwork falls through the cracks.
           | Related: Mercedes owner upset about undisclosed damage | 

    A mechanical inspection on the "new" demo model would have exposed the previous damage and repair. The consumer only found out about it after trying to trade-in the car for a new one with the same dealership, only to be told the trade-in value was greatly diminished because of the previous damage. Talk about ironic.
  4. Six per cent had a dispute over of the return of a deposit.

    Advice: Under law, leaving a deposit shows an intention to buy the vehicle. If you’re not committed to buying, don’t leave a deposit. Or, get an agreement in writing that clearly says when you’ll get your deposit back if you do not buy.

    If you put down a deposit on a new vehicle that you order with special features, the dealer is going to have to order that vehicle for you. It’s unfair to expect the dealer to be stuck selling that car to someone else if you back out, which is why they may be able to keep your deposit.

    Some consumers go to various dealerships putting deposits down and then try to play dealers off of one another to get a better deal. Then the consumers are upset when they can’t get their money back. It’s not the dealer’s fault.

  5. Four per cent were promised vehicle features that were missing or wrong.

    Advice: If specific features are important to you, or extras were promised as part of the negotiation, be sure to get them written into the contract. Verbal commitments can be part of a binding contract, but are more difficult to prove if something goes wrong. It’s easier to hold the dealer accountable if it’s in writing.

    And again test drive the vehicle and verify the VIN with the vehicle you want and the VIN on the sales contract.

“We actually get calls on a Monday morning saying, 'I bought a car and I can’t see to back up.' Well it’s like, 'Well, it’s hardly the car dealer’s fault if you didn’t test drive it,'” said Longhurst.

Bottom line: be a responsible buyer and do your part to protect yourself and to pay attention to the details. Take time to think about it. If they want to sell you the car on a Saturday, you can bet they’d still be willing to sell it to you on a Monday.

  • Get more information on the VSA website

And if you’re looking for a better deal, try the end of a month, the end of a quarter or the end of the year when dealers are trying to make their vehicle sales quotas with the manufacturers. You might be surprised how willing they may be to give you a bargain.