I purchased a new car this month. As it is for every family, it was a proud moment. But having litigated consumer claims for most of my career, I approached the negotiations cautiously. And I’m glad I did.

At first, nothing seemed awry. The salesperson located a vehicle that met my specifications, and we agreed on a fair price. He brought me a cold soft drink. I signed an offer to purchase the vehicle. But the discussions stalled when the contract paperwork arrived.

The papers the salesperson wanted me to sign were laughable. The purchase contract was mostly blank; it actually lacked a description of the car. The contract incorporated a non-existent reverse side, as well as a “window sticker” that I was never shown. When I asked about these deficiencies, the salesperson said the missing contractual terms would be added later. My suspicions having been piqued, I asked for copies of all paperwork, but the salesperson refused, suggesting I could get copies if paid a $1,000 deposit. I was stunned and outraged. After meeting with two managers, I eventually received copies and now the discussions are ongoing.

Not everyone has the benefit of a law degree when they purchase a car. But the lesson here is simple: before agreeing to buy a car from a dealership, demand copies of all documents before and after you sign them, read and understand every word before you sign and if in doubt, seek the advice of a competent attorney.

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