Car dealership messed up - what do I do to resolve this?
February 6, 2019 9:29 AM   Subscribe

The car dealership sold us our 2015 Subaru Forester with the wrong size tires, with a remote starter installed (that we didn't know about) - but without the fob - and lastly, with illegal tinting. I have this information and now I have to go back to them and...ask them to do what?

So, we found all of this out just by a series of pure lucky incidents - the car getting winter tires, after the tires the car was sold with got a bulge in them, our friend saying - hey that's not factory tinting and it's illegal, and our battery continually draining, which lead the other dealership it was towed to in the cold weather, to surmise that - it might be your remote starter (um, what remote starter?).

This other dealership (Subaru, just not the one who performed the trade-in inspection and not the one who sold it to us), having access to all of the car's records and having done their own diagnostic, has kindly investigated all this and confirmed that these other guys screwed up. But we are on our own to go back to the original dealership. So here are my questions.

1. What should I ask them to do? I suppose I think it would be fair for them to reimburse us for our new tires, since the tires they sold the car with were wrong and could have damaged the suspension and were supposed to be all weather tires - that's what was on record for the car having. I want them to figure out what brand of remote starter is in there so we can obtain a fob for it. And I want to have the tinting removed at their expense. Does that seem reasonable?

2. How do I approach it? I tend to be overly conciliatory so in order to prevent myself from doing that with businesses and other organizations - especially when nervous and I'm in over my head because I don't understand the inner workings of said business or organization - I often take a - you have one, possibly two chances to offer to do the right thing before I escalate this - approach. Is that what I should do, but where would I escalate to? OR, should I just say "Hi, this, this and this are wrong and I expect you to fix it. Can you assure me that you will handle this as per my expectations, or do I need to involve my lawyer?" Of course I have no lawyer, but...

posted by kitcat to Shopping (26 answers total)
Describe the situation to the dealer, and what "damage" it did to you, and then ask how they're going to fix it. AND THEN SHUT UP.

You are right to think hard before you begin this about what you want from them. New tires or money for tires? A fob for the remote starter, or removing the remote starter? Money for the towing? A new battery? Tinting being removed,, that's a hard one if they scratch up the windows. Anyway, figure out what you insist on and where you can compromise if they push back.

Also decide whether you want to contact your salesperson, or go right to their manager, or to the dealership GM.

Wait, how long ago did you get the car from them??
posted by wenestvedt at 9:36 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]

I don't have a solution to your question, but just know that if the tinting film is on your rear window, unless it's removed properly, it will damage the little defroster wires in the glass. It happened to people I know and the previous owner of one of my cars had stickers on the rear window at one point. The stickers were removed and the defroster didn't work in that section. The entire window had to be replaced (ultimately it was the entire roof because it was a convertible and the window didn't come separately). It was done on the dealer's dime because it was a Certified Pre-Owned car.
posted by dancinglamb at 9:46 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

Tinting and remote start and sometimes larger wheels are all dealer-added options. Did you buy this car new? If so, somewhere you should have had to agree to the charges for these things.

It would be unusual for a new car dealer to make such errors (illegal tint and wrong tire size at least) on a new car prep. More typical of a used car lot. In either case, a dealer missing a chance to upcharge you on remote start and tinting? Unheard of!

Your weapons are bad publicity and legal action. You gotta decide in advance how far you’re willing to go if you hit a brick wall, which is a coldly rational decision. Tires might be within the small claims range in your jurisdiction.
posted by spitbull at 9:47 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]

It was last May. A week before I gave birth...We have an extended warranty, luckily. Anyhow if you're asking why we took so long - the tire thing only happened 3 weeks ago and the towing and diagnosing happened yesterday (towing is covered under our customer protection plan). The battery they sold it to us with sucks, and they gave us a new one free. The tinting we knew about early on, but I had no idea what to do about it...
posted by kitcat at 9:49 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]

our friend saying - hey that's not factory tinting and it's illegal,

Be sure to actually check this. Non-factory tinting is not always illegal, and it depends on the regulations of your state. So get that checked first - maybe go to a tint place and ask them to check it with a similar meter that the police use. There is quite a range of tint available between factory and 'too dark'.

since the tires they sold the car with were wrong and could have damaged the suspension and were supposed to be all weather tires

Who said it could damage the suspension? Is that a 'wrong sizes can do this, or an actual person of knowledge saying this by comparing original and fitted tyres to the car. The tyres would need to be a VERY wrong size to damage suspension so make sure you validate that claim before you approach the dealer because it is sounding a bit snake oil to me without knowing the sizes. Yes, a 'wrong tyre size' can cause damage but it would need to be physically hitting the suspension/body/part of the car under normal use to do this, or be wildly different in offset (distance from centreline of the car) which would really need different wheels. So... let me know what size you had on the car and what is supposed to be on there, because if you want to claim a set of tyres you will need to prove there was something wrong with the tyres on there. The argument of 'it could have damaged the car' without any evidence is (rightly) dismissible if you can't show some kind of proof. Also, there are a range of tyre sizes around the manufacturer specified tyre size that are perfectly fine on a car.

As for the remote starter.... Where is the actual issue? You can ask for a fob for it, but ... that's pretty much it. They sold you a car without explicitly stating (maybe even knowing) it had an optional, aftermarket extra, so obtaining the make and model for a fob seems reasonable.

This is mostly a devils advocate post, because while you see a list of 'problems that demand resolution', without more info this may be a nothing burger. Need more info - tint level proof, tyre size comparison to begin with. Finding out the make and model of the remote starter may just be 2 minutes on a ramp to look at it, which the dealer may do as a courtesy.
posted by Brockles at 9:49 AM on February 6 [5 favorites]

It was last May..... - the tire thing only happened 3 weeks ago

Yeah, this doesn't sound like a "You COULD have damaged the suspension" argument would hold any water whatsoever. No damage in 9 months (+however long the tyres were on there before you bought it)? No issues other than 'they aren't stock size'? I can't really see an issue, let alone one they need to address.
posted by Brockles at 9:51 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]

To prepare you for what you’re up against, they’re going to pull out a piece of paper you signed when buying the car that says they don’t owe you any fixes. It is very hard to get things like this done after the fact and is why buying used cars has such a poor reputation.
posted by hwyengr at 9:53 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

Hey, sorry, everything I'm saying was confirmed by service technician at the other Subaru dealership. Yes, the tinting is illegal here (Alberta, Canada). We have the original tires and told the technician the size, and she checked and told us they definitely could have damaged the suspension and they checked - luckily it's fine. I have no clue how long the original owners had them on, could have been forever. They were, like, vanity tires I think. Low profile. Remote starter - since it's not on record, it's hard for them to figure out what brand it is apparently. That's the problem otherwise I'm like - yay remote starter! BUT - if we were charged for it, then I want them to pay for the fob, right?

Please don't devil's advocate, it's been confirmed by someone with as much expertise as could be expected.
posted by kitcat at 9:56 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

These sound like typical "issues" with any used car purchase. Both the tires and the tint were obviously apparent when you looked at the car (for anyone reading along stock tire size for a car are on a sticker on the driver's side door/doorjamb). I wouldn't approach the dealer you bought it from for anything but possibly identifying the starter so you can get a fob (if that's what you want). Otherwise just dyke it out so it doesn't load the battery.
posted by Mitheral at 9:59 AM on February 6

Is there any kind of used car guarantee involved? If so, I'd involve them first to see what, if anything, they'll pay for. Other than that, my experience with car dealers suggests that there is no place to escalate to except the courts. You can complain to the Better Business Bureau, which will do nothing. You can complain to Subaru, which will say since it was a used car they can't do anything.

Actually, there is a slight possibility that filing a complaint with your Attorney General's office might get some action.

I would forget the "might cause damage to the suspension" claim. Unless the "new" tires were super over-wide that is probably not the case. The issue is that the car is designed to handle properly with the correct tires, and should have been sold with them. I assume that it has the right wheels, right? I would check on the tinting before mentioning it. Telling them "my friend says it's illegal" will lead to them saying "our mechanic says it isn't." You don't want to have to argue any points of fact.

What I would ask for is them to pay for your new tires, them to pay to remove the malfunctioning aftermarket starter, and them paying to remove the tinting. My argument on the starter would be that they sold you the extended warrantee and it isn't covered under that.

What I would accept is 1/2 the price of the tires in cash and think I was a super negotiator.

What I would expect is nothing, on the well-known principle that "you can't get milk from a snake." Then you have to decide whether it's worth your time and/or money to try making their lives complicated. Unless you are very different from me, the answer is probably "no."

What I would not accept is anything involving them "working on" the car, since they've demonstrated they are either incompetent, unscrupulous or both. That includes mounting and balancing the new tires and for sure anything involving the remote starter. And the window tint, as I see a few others mentioned.

Good luck. As an aside, my son-in-law has gotten some ridiculously-good deals on original-equipment tires people decided to upgrade, or you might find some snow tires you could put on the rest of the winter.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 9:59 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]

Please don't devil's advocate, it's been confirmed by someone with as much expertise as could be expected.

It's not exactly devil's advocate, then. It's a dose of realism. You really have no recourse for a set of tyres that were on the car when you bought it, were inspected by you (or should have been) when you bought the car and have produced zero damage to the car in, at the very least, the 8-9 months of time you have had the car. They are just 'different size tyres' they are not even arguably 'wrong' unless you can demonstrate how wrong they are and in what way, and what perceived damage they caused. You haven't really got a leg to stand on with the tyres, and I think the dealer will laugh at you about replacing them. You drove on them for EIGHT MONTHS with no issues, therefore really I'm not seeing any problem with them whatsoever. Drop the tyre issue, is my advice. If you'd got home or found out a week later there was suspension interference or odd handling? Absolutely. But with no damage whatsoever in 8 months? NO issue at all.

We have the original tires and told the technician the size, and she checked and told us they definitely could have damaged the suspension and they checked - luckily it's fine.

This is nonsense hand-wavy stuff. Wrong sizes can damage things. Different sized tyres can be zero issue. You have different size tyres, so this whole 'could have damaged' is just.... fantasy/catastrophising. Did she check an official Subaru document that said 'Do not fit this size or they can cause damage' or did she just go with the usual catch-all arse-covering of 'do not fit tyres other than recommended sizes or damage may occur' which is just a way for the manufacturer to skip any liability. It is not an engineering diagnosis that ONLY the recommended sizes will prevent damage to the car.

If the tint is definitely illegal? Then you do maybe have some recourse here and a strong one. Because they sold you a car that is not legal for road usage. THAT is what I would focus on, because (as mentioned) removing that yourself can be a disaster in terms of labour and also damage existing components (window heater). But it's hard for them to argue with the fact that they sold you a car that legally can't be used in your province and they must bear responsibility for that.
posted by Brockles at 10:51 AM on February 6 [9 favorites]

Here's the relevant statute regarding window tinting in Alberta.

Here's an interpretation and explanation by a window film company:

Why do companies tint these windows if it is illegal?
Many tinting establishments will ignore these regulations and tint any window requested. In fact, tint shops can do so without risk or liability. This is because while it is illegal for you to drive with the front windows tinted (filmed), it is not illegal to put it on.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the above is the escape clause the dealership would use regarding the window tinting issue. For that matter, they just might employ a similar defense regarding the incorrect-sized tires: personal owners' preference, on their heads be it.

So, when buying a secondhand car that has had aftermarket modifications that may or may not be street legal, may or may not be safety hazards, may or may not create issues with the condition of the vehicle itself, the question is: did you understand that and agree to it as part of the purchase of the vehicle? In other words, find and read the purchase agreement. If there's anything in there that says "this vehicle is sold 'as is'", or words to that effect, the dealership will most likely point to that and tell you it means you accepted the car in the condition it was in.

If that's the case, it doesn't necessarily mean you're out of luck. It just means that if such a clause in the purchase agreement, you want to be aware of it and have your counterarguments prepared accordingly before you go in and have that chat with the dealership. A call in advance to whatever provincial regulatory agency covering consumer protection or used-car sales would probably help you plan your discussion, too. Good luck!
posted by Lunaloon at 10:54 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]

From your initial post I was thinking they sold you the car as new, but with their own after-market changes applied. Like a special order that got cancelled.

I now see that this was a used car, which got messed with by the previous owner before they traded it in.

That makes your case a lot weaker I'm afraid. I know you expect better, but car dealers are known to be lazy, and don't thoroughly check trade-ins beyond surface details like mileage and dents which affect the price. This is specially true when say a Ford dealer takes a Subaru as trade-in. It seems likely that the remote starter will be as much a surprise to them as it was to you, and they were probably never given the remote control for it in the first place.

Check Canadian consumer protection law to see how it deals with
• the legal issue (illegal tinting)
• the safety issue (wrong tires)
• the vague description issue (not telling you there was a free remote starter with no remote)
posted by w0mbat at 11:44 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Can you give us the tire numbers, both the "wrong" and "right" ones?
They will be in the format nn5/mmRxx where nn, mm, and xx are two-digit numbers.
posted by notsnot at 12:03 PM on February 6

Sure about the tires - they were sold with 225/40R18 . They were supposed to have 225/55R18.

According to the paperwork the car was sold with appropriate tires, not those ones listed. So yeah, they failed to notice or report the modifications.

I like to try and imagine what kind of weirdos had this car before like - isn't this kind of a family, granola vehicle? But these people went and tinted the driver and passenger front windows and put extra tint on the rear. Then put low rider tires on, and according to our friend painted some part at the back to be blacker I guess to look cooler? I know zero about cars, I never noticed any of this, Im only piecing it together now.
posted by kitcat at 12:16 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

I too thought the car was bought new from the original question. If you bought it from a used lot (esp not a Subaru shop), then your current Subaru shop has *every reason* to talk up all the things wrong with it that they can fix for a price. I'm not arguing that you weren't done wrong by the original dealer, or that your current mechanics aren't "right" in some sense and not just lining their pockets, but their say so isn't going to win your case at the original dealer. Something would provably have to be wrong and caused by the tire fitment. I don't think a bulging tire gets you there.

I still don't quite understand but think you're saying the documentation of the car you bought said, in writing, that the car was supplied with 225/40R18 tires?

I did some forum searching, not knowing your exact model of Subaru. But a 225/40R18 to 225/55R18 swap is not that massive a deal. They fit on the same wheels. Those 55s are on some Imprezas and Foresters. The only difference in dimension is how much sidewall you've got, and with the 55 you've got about an inch and half more, or about 3 inches more total diameter more, which should mean a softer ride and less impact to suspension. Unless the tires are scraping on something in the well or don't fit over the brakes (which might have required some kind of spacers), I'm with Brockles in thinking the evidence of 9 months of driving before you had a tire problem does not favor your case here. Any number of millions of things can cause tire damage over a 9 month period. Your best evidence of any damage related to the tire size would have to be consistent across all four tires, or at least front to back or side to side, and somehow related to the car being out of alignment because of the tire aspect ratio. One bulging tire doesn't make the case.

Also with Brockles, I don't see any case at all on the remote start. It's unlikely it harmed your battery. Batteries just wear out over time. Remote starts don't normally draw much battery power at all, certainly no more than the proximity sensor for the car keys.

The tint is a bit more of an edge case if it is provably illegal, but you did tale delivery of the car, most likely "as is," or with a brief return warranty, and this is why almost every purchase of a used car should be preceded by a pre-purchase inspection by a qualified mechanic, usually between $100-200, which you now know.

Your total arguably actual damages here amount to the cost of removing the tint, which will be a pain in the ass for sure.

This is a case where "devil's advocate" challenges are the right answers to your question, which is "what recourse do I have?" Unless you are protected by a warranty, or there is some statutory reason the tint shouldn't have been sold to you, your options are limited to badmouthing the dealer on social media or suing in small claims court for something (removing the tint sounds like the best option to me). Are those worth your time and energy, and will they move the original dealer to do something they wouldn't otherwise have done for you? Unknown. But you don't have a slam dunk negligence case against them based on the facts presented and despite what your new mechanic friends are saying.
posted by spitbull at 1:02 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Last clarification. First, we bought this car, used, from a local Subaru dealership. But when it didn't start yesterday, we had it towed to a different local dealership, closer to home.

The car HAD the 40s, which got the bulge, were removed, and are in our garage On paper, though, it was said to have 55s and 55s are what it was supposed to have as per... I don't know, manufacturer recommendaions.
posted by kitcat at 1:40 PM on February 6

OK, so those are shorter sidewall tires. Slightly "low-rider", as you say, but not enough that you noticed.
Shorter tires mean slightly better acceleration and slightly fewer speeding tickets (75mph on the speedo is really 70 mph in the real world). People put different size tires on their cars sometimes.

The window tint? Maybe call the Highway Patrol and ask if they can "test" your tint for legality. Some people just, really like window tint: one time my wife rented a car, and got one that had barely been back on the lot from the previous customer. The previous customer had tinted the windows. On the rental. Like, so dark that I couldn't see anything but headlights in the sideview mirror because the driver window was so dark.
posted by notsnot at 1:53 PM on February 6

Shorter tires mean slightly better acceleration and slightly fewer speeding tickets (75mph on the speedo is really 70 mph in the real world)

To put numbers on this, your speed will show up as 10.6% slower on the speedometer. 70mph in the real world will show up as 77.4mph on the speedometer. I'll second that there is no other to the car's reliability. You will have a slightly rougher ride.
posted by saeculorum at 2:55 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Subaru AWD systems can be damaged by mismatched tires, even ones the same 'size' but different wear levels. Four identical but slightly wrong than factory spec tires wouldn't cause problems with the AWD system. I suspect the other dealer is trying to sell you on new tires and possibly wheels.

The selling dealership doesn't know what you have done with the car in the last 9 months, I wouldn't expect to get very far with them. If you were in the USA they would point to the "as is". It looks like in Canada you can look into the "sale of goods act" which has an implied warranty, per this article globe&mail: my car is a lemon, now what? but the 9 months and continuing of drivability is working against you.
posted by TheAdamist at 4:34 PM on February 6

My take on this: OP, your best-case scenario is a free remote fob, and free removal of any illegal tint. Check that no damage is caused to radio aerial and/or rear window heating element by the removal of the tint.

The complaint about the tyres is not going to fly, IMHO and based on the above info. On that subject, I recently sent my 350,000kms 2003 Subaru Liberty (Legacy over there?) to that great wrecking yard in the sky, and I never paid a lot of attention to differential wear rates on the tyres, and generally replaced tyres in pairs - but when I changed sizes, I changed all four together. To anticipate a question, it was the engine that died.

Non-standard wheels are not, by definition, a problem. Some non-standard wheels (and tyres) may be a problem - but it will not be because they are non-standard, it will be because the dimensions of them actually cause a problem, like rubbing on bodywork or suspension componentry. Low profile tyres (your '40's) ride harsher, are more susceptible to sidewall damage (as it seems you found out), and on hitting a decent pothole, more likely to damage the wheel rim.
posted by GeeEmm at 12:09 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]

As I understand it, the risk to an AWD system from tires is from having *mismatched* tires on the corners that require the coupling differentials to work all the time. Not “having the wrong tires.” If tires fit *and* they’re evenly matched I doubt there’s any risk at all to the AWD system.

Also, for all the folklore, I’ve seen thousands of Subies on mismatched tires and never heard of a Subie differential being a primary point of failure. (Grew up with Subarus that wouldn’t die.)

We still don’t know what precise model OP owns. It’s quite possible the 40Rs are well in spec.

And I wish I had a buck for every mechanic who has disparaged the last shop to work on my car.
posted by spitbull at 2:40 AM on February 7

Sure about the tires - they were sold with 225/40R18 . They were supposed to have 225/55R18.

Ok, so to finally put this to bed, based on this information I can confidently state that you have emphatically no case at all on the tyres. None. There is zero chance that tyre size can cause damage to the suspension or car compared to the standard tyres, so the technician was either ill informed who told you so or just flat out wrong. The difference is a 16mm(5/8") difference in ride height of the car, and no functional difference to the suspension clearance or action whatsoever. There will be (as noted) a small difference in speedometer calibration (but to the side of caution, rather than understated speed). That's it.

Oh, and worse ride through lack of sidewall deflection. Otherwise there is no negative side/damage/consequences that the dealer/car seller owes you recompense for. None at all. They were just 'different sized to manufacturer recommendations' and, other than the speedo accuracy issue, they were not in any way 'wrong' that gives anyone grounds to demand financial compensation.
posted by Brockles at 9:46 PM on February 7 [2 favorites]

I know this topic is closed, but for future reference, there's one potential issue with a Subaru with non OEM sized tires. The circumference of the OEM spare tire will not match the circumference of the aftermarket tires, which can cause torque bind and or damage to the AWD system. (Subaru specifies that the circumference of all the tires be within 1/4" of each other.) Changing the spare tire to match whatever's on the car can solve this problem. Of course, there's no potential for damage if the spare tire isn't actually used.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:58 AM on February 9

The circumference of the spare tire on a current Forester doesn't ever match the factory tires.

I had a factory rear tire blow out on our 2018 Forester in December and the spare is a weird little thing, quite horrible to drive on. As luck would have it, this happened at night, in the rain, in the hills. The car drives beautifully on the 4 new tires we had to get though.

According to our tire guy, the factory tires are chosen purely for test-drive smoothness, and the same tire manufacturer makes a slightly less spongy same-sized tire that costs the same but lasts a lot longer, which is what we have now.
posted by w0mbat at 8:25 AM on February 9

there's one potential issue with a Subaru with non OEM sized tires

The example here was of 4 (equal but) differently sized tyres to OEM. Not a mismatch of sizes across an axle, which is the issue you are referring to and has already been mentioned in the thread. It is not a factor here.
posted by Brockles at 3:40 PM on February 9

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