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I'm looking to buy a new car. I made an offer over email to several dealerships, and an agent from one of them told me that he can make it an official offer and present it to his boss if I give him my credit card number. He tells me that if his boss agrees, they'll charge a $2000 deposit to my credit card, and if not, he won't do anything with it. He doesn't actually know if they have the specific vehicle in stock and tells me that if they do not, he will get it to the dealership within 2 weeks.

Is this kind of arrangement normal? I'm wondering because none of the other dealerships I've been speaking to have asked for a deposit; we've been able to do the price negotiations directly over email.

  • You certainly shouldn't send credit card details over regular email, they are likely to sit around forever on inadequately secured machines if you do. – Peter Green Oct 6 '17 at 22:00
  • Oh no, of course not. There’s nothing wrong with the way they’re collecting them (phone/in person). I’m only wondering about the practice itself. – LateCoder Oct 6 '17 at 22:25
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    Could you add where in the world you are (either a country tag or edit the post to add the infiormation)? What is "normal" varies greatly from one place to another. – Vicky Oct 9 '17 at 11:11
  • I'm in Massachusetts. – LateCoder Oct 9 '17 at 14:01
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Unfortunately, it's not unusual enough. If you're looking for a popular car and the dealer wants to make sure they aren't holding onto inventory without a guarantee for sale, then it's a not completely unreasonable request. You'll want to make sure that the deposit is on credit card, not cash or check, so you can dispute if an issue arises.

Really though, most dealers don't do this, requiring a deposit, pre sale is usually one of those hardball negotiating tactics where the dealer wrangles you into a deal, even if they don't have a good deal to make. Dealers may tell you that you can't get your deposit back, even if they don't have the car you agreed on or the deal they agreed to. You do have a right for your deposit back if you haven't completed the transaction, but it can be difficult if they don't want to give you your money back. The dealer doesn't ever "not know if they have that specific vehicle in stock". The dealer keeps comprehensive searchable records for every vehicle, it's good for sales and it's required for tax records. Even when they didn't use computers for all this, the entire inventory is a log book or phone call away.

In my opinion, I would never exchange anything with the dealer without a car actually attached to the deal. I'd put down a deposit on a car transfer if I were handed a VIN and verified that it had all the exact options that we agreed upon, and even then I'd be very cautious about the condition.

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