The importance of reading the fine print became blatantly clear to Arni Robinson, after he was almost stuck with a payment he didn’t negotiate for while recently buying a new electric car.
For years the retired commercial fisherman and his wife have pondered getting an electric car, but it wasn’t until recently that prices became reasonable enough to make the transition viable.
“We had been talking about it for years. We were thinking about the earth,” said the Ahousaht member who lives in Chemainus. “We kept being told to wait, the batteries are getting better, they’re going to be more environmentally friendly one day that they’ll be able to dispose of them safely.”
In mid June Robinson stopped into a Nanaimo dealership to inquire about the possibility. He was presented with the option of buying a Nissan Leaf, one of the most affordable electric cars currently on the market.
“They said, ‘Yeah, we ordered 10, and because we’re a dealer they come in a lot faster than if you order it’,” recalled Robinson of the dealer’s offer.
The electric cars were expected in August, but a brand-new Nissan Leaf arrived at the dealership much sooner.
“The next day they said, ‘A lady ordered one, her’s is coming on Monday on a truck and she cancelled. If you want it, it’s yours’,” said Robinson.
The car was originally listed for $44,000, but a government grant lowered the cost and the dealer knocked approximately $2,000 off the price. Robinson also handed over the 20-year-old car he had been driving, cutting another $500 off the Leaf price to $32,300.
The dealership encouraged Robinson to have $10,000 of the cost financed, but he insisted on paying for the total price outright with a bank draft. He drove the fully-paid brand-new car for two days before getting the bill of sale, said Robinson.
“I had to ask them, ‘Hey, I didn’t get a bill of sale,’” he said. “They gave it to me and I signed it.”
After driving the car for two weeks Robinson said a phone call came from the dealership telling him he was still on the hook for the financing. He then found this detail in the bill sale, although he verbally refused this option when discussing the terms of the purchase.
“They slipped in there that I financed $10,000, which I didn’t, we never talked finance,” said Robinson.
According to the Motor Vehicle Act Regulation, a seller must provide a copy of the purchase agreement when a car is sold. The Code of Conduct under this act also states that any verbal promises made about the vehicle must be in the purchase agreement.
“Under the legislation, all fees are to be itemized on the purchase agreement,” wrote the Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia in an email to Ha-Shilth-Sa. “We do receive some complaints about additional fees not being discussed but then showing up on the purchase agreement.”
Although a dealer is required to mention significant issues with a vehicle, such as extensive damage, there is no legal obligation in B.C. for a merchant to verbally discuss each term of the purchase agreement.
“Generally, if all the terms of the agreement are on the purchase agreement when it is signed, it is an enforceable contract,” wrote the Vehicle Sales Authority. “If you look at the reverse of a vehicle purchase agreement you will see many terms that are not usually discussed.”
Robinson said he was confronted by staff at the dealership, who told him he was required to pay the additional $10,000 in financing. But he refused, and ended up getting his money back when the Nissan Leaf was returned.
“I said, ‘I’m going to phone my tribal politicians, they have lawyers and I’m going to put this to the media if you don’t give me my money right now’,” said Robinson. “They did, they gave me a cheque. They took the car back, I signed the papers.”
Although he got his money back, Robinson lost the old car he traded in for the Nissan Leaf. He’s now driving another vehicle that had to be fixed up.
“I had an old car, it was parked for 10 months, I had to spend money on it,” he said. “New tires, new alternator, new battery. I had to get it running, and it’s running barely.”
He hopes that his experience cautions others to watch out for hidden fees when purchasing a vehicle from a dealership.
“What hurts is when they take food off my kids’ table and give it to their kid,” said Robinson.