Twisting the arm of a car dealer
June 11, 2021 10:53 PM   Subscribe

I bought a new car. The dealer, having sold it to me, revealed to me that they'd misplaced the second key and the manual. Several months later, and I am still down one key and manual. What next?

I've phoned and texted my salesperson periodically, but they promise things and don't follow through.

I've phoned the sales line (they are conveniently short of contact numbers, so the sales line is the only option) explaining the problem, who passes a message to my salesperson, who doesn't call back.

I've phoned asking for the sales manager, and, more recently, I've phoned asking to complain. The sales manager is always 'in a meeting'; I've been forwarded to full voicemail boxes, I've been told I'll get a call back (without ever taking my number), I've straight up been hung up on.

The best offer I've had so far is 'I'll get another key cut and I'll print the manual out from the online PDF', which means that I still don't have a manual and there is another key to my car floating around in the world, which is not what I had in mind. I said 'sort it out properly' and, once more, things fell silent.

The dealer is not close, so I've been trying to avoid actually doorstepping them - I certainly can, but spending half the day to go over there and getting another round of the brush off is not appealing. I don't see why they wouldn't just ignore me like they have been doing to date.

What can I do to make them move? What threats, or other leverage, are going to motivate them to act? Should I be asking for them to pay me or offer free services to accept substandard service? And how can I hold them to any of this?
posted by How much is that froggie in the window to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would contact the regional manager. Search for the car company and regional manager. I did for Ford and I was able to get a working phone number for them. Explain to them both your problem (key and missing manual) AND how your dealer has been treating you and how they are blowing you off.

Also, if you have not gotten the survey from corporate about the dealer, when you get it, explain the treatment and the lack of follow up. The corporate survey about the dealer experience means a lot to both corporate and the dealer.
posted by AugustWest at 11:04 PM on June 11, 2021 [14 favorites]

Is this a new car, or a new-to-you car? And is this a dealership, or just a random car lot?

If it's a new car you've bought from a dealership then as AugustWest said, contact the regional manager and if you don't get joy pretty quickly then contact the vehicle manufacturer. They take things like this seriously and will prove the second key and manual. Likewise if it's a used approved car, although depending on the age it might prove difficult to get an original manual, for example.

If it's a second hand car from a random dealer you're probably out of luck unless you have a contract which stipulates expressly that they will provide the second key and the manual. Very obviously they have no intention of providing these things, and almost certainly don't have them, so they are hoping you just give up and go away. You *will* need a lawyer in this specific scenario, if you feel it's worth pursuing.
posted by underclocked at 1:13 AM on June 12, 2021 [4 favorites]

If it's a new car from an authorized dealer, definitely escalate to regional manager. You can probably even called Ford and ask for connection or contact info for regional manager as you like to... not complain, but merely... see if you can encourage compliance of what you've been promised.

A dealer can cut a key from just the VIN number very easily. They are clearly fobbing you off hoping you'd go away.
posted by kschang at 2:02 AM on June 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

If I bought a new car and the dealer told me it only had one key after I bought it, I’d wonder whether that meant something the dealer hadn’t wanted to occur to me — that it was a Repo, perhaps? And the missing manual would give that a sharper edge.

Querying various publicly available databases with the Vin# might disclose prior registrations, but I’m not sure about that.
posted by jamjam at 2:17 AM on June 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Start leaving bad reviews on Facebook, Yelp, Google Business, etc. Start a complaint at the Better Business Bureau. I've sometimes gotten immediate attention from remiss companies using these tactics when nothing else worked.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 3:17 AM on June 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

If this was sold to you as an actual, fresh-ish-off-the-truck new car, I have a feeling it actually wasn't. Dealers don't accidentally lose keys to new stock. They keep that stuff accounted for. Ditto with manuals.

I have a feeling this was a new car returned by a recent/previous buyer, and that person didn't return the key and manual, for whatever reason.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:54 AM on June 12, 2021 [12 favorites]

How did you pay for the car? If you used a credit card (for a deposit or whatever) and have the we'll supply a second key thing in writing (do you have it in the contract?) you can probably threaten to do a chargeback. I wouldn't worry about the "second key for your car floating around in the world" all that much. I think the chances of someone with nefarious intentions a.) having the key and b.) being able to match your car up with the key are slim to none, particularly if you live in a state/country where the registration plates don't stay with the car. (i.e. plates are linked to the owner, not to the vehicle.) In the unlikely event that someone DOES steal your car with the extra key, well, that's what insurance is for.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 5:23 AM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

You can probably download the manual from the car company; you should be reading it. But find out the price of the manual and dealer replacement key. Call the dealership, explain that your next step is small claims court. Go to small claims court, it's easy and likely effective.
posted by theora55 at 7:04 AM on June 12, 2021

An owners manual usually has a factory part number, just like any other piece of the car, and should be able to be ordered from the parts window.
posted by hwyengr at 7:17 AM on June 12, 2021

I'm wondering if this is a new car that was returned within the 10 day return period and they didn't disclose it. Any time I've ever bought or leased a new car and something was missing (even a tank of gas), both the dealership and I have had to sign a "We Owe" page. Did you have something similar?

New keys are a couple of hundred dollars and need to be coded to the car. My dealership 'misplaced' my key once when I had it serviced. I did have another at home, but they were still on the hook for the one they had in the possession. I ended up holding on to the loaner for almost two weeks, but they ultimately found it. The alternative was that they were going to eat the cost of programming a new fob.

I wouldn't bother with a Regional Manager - I'd go right up the food chain and go direct to Corporate. If it's been several months and they're still screwing around, time to stop being nice - especially if this is a brand new car.
posted by dancinglamb at 7:29 AM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: As I meant to say in the question, it's a brand new car (not just new-to-me), and I don't think it's been in anyone else's hands based on the mileage when I got it. They tell me that they lost the key as they moved it from one dealership to the other, and the second dealership is the one that it came from.

I'd love to contact a regional manager, but as far as I can tell they have three local sites and in any case they don't have any corporate numbers I've found.

My concern about the key is mild, granted, but of all the places to go missing this one has my address on file.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:10 AM on June 12, 2021

You should be irate about the key. You paid for two. It comes from the factory with two keys (and a manual). If you go online and find a pdf of the manual, there should be corporate contact info in it. Heck, just tell us what manufacturer it is, and someone here is bound to post the info you need in a few minutes. You definitely need to escalate this. The dealership is slow-rolling this, hoping you’ll drop it.

Again, you paid for a complete car, and the dealership didn’t deliver one. Escalate.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:53 AM on June 12, 2021 [5 favorites]

It just occurred to me...When you say you didn't get the manual, do you mean you didn't get the vinyl pouch that the manual is usually inside, as well? If that's the case, you're missing a whole lot more than just the manual. Depending on the manufacturer, that pouch (which is supposed to be inside the glovebox) can contain things like warranty information, any pertinent codes you might have to use, and other materials. It usually also has contact information. If you didn't get that stuff, either, you're missing a lot more than just a manual.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:06 AM on June 12, 2021 [7 favorites]

They're taking you for a ride.

At this point, I'd want another vehicle that is complete. That's what you paid for.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 10:34 AM on June 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

The official approaches here would be to handle it through the dealership, or to handle it through the legal system. The legal route will have a better chance of success if you have already exhausted all reasonable efforts with the dealership, and have documentation to that effect.

To that end, definitely document all previous and future attempts to contact the dealership. You should also try sending a letter in the mail. A physical letter can't be ignored the way a phone call can--at a minimum, they have to throw it away--and there's a decent chance that it will be opened by someone who will want to resolve the issue. Lay out the situation and your desired resolution, note your repeated attempts to resolve the issue amicably, and note that while you wish to avoid legal action, it will become unavoidable if they do not resolve the issue. Keep a copy of this letter, as it may help your legal case should it come to that.

You can also try emailing. This seems like a good place for what Consumerist used to call the Executive Email Carpet Bomb. If you can figure out dealership management, include them, but as others noted, dealers tend to care very much about their reputation with the manufacturer, so definitely send it to the manufacturer's staff as well. If you can identify the manufacturer's Regional Manger (who works for the manufacturer, not the dealer), include them, but even if you include upper level executives, they should be able to forward internally. The key and manual could have been replaced very easily by the dealer, and the dealer and manufacturer both know that. Hopefully, you can reach someone who will understand that the cost of fixing their mistake promptly is far less than the value of your goodwill toward the brand.

There's also the social media approach. You can reach out to the dealer at their Facebook/Twitter page, and see if their social media manager can connect you with someone other than the salesperson. You can also reach out to the manufacturer--their Social Media people will be acutely aware of the value of brand goodwill, and can initiate the same conversations in a way that the dealer can't ignore.

And yes, leaving bad reviews, and comments on their social media posts (but sober and truthful ones) will also get the attention of someone who has an interest in making you happy (or at least making you go away).
posted by yuwtze at 11:03 AM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

The regional manager won't be affiliated with the dealership. They will be employed by the manufacturer (i.e. Ford, Honda, Kia, Jaguar, etc.). If you're having problems finding a contact number post the name of the manufacturer and the city and state you're in and somebody should be able to help you find a contact number.
posted by sardonyx at 12:52 PM on June 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Alternatively, most of these manufacturers have customer service numbers as well. Again posting what type of car you bought, will help people point you in the right direction.
posted by sardonyx at 12:53 PM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Many local TV stations have a reporter that is partially assigned to do little on air spots about things exactly like this.

In my experience, often even a threat to call the TV station will get compliance that nothing else will.
posted by Vigilant at 4:41 PM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

In the past when I've had car dealerships pull shady stuff (this was in service, however, not sales), I have called corporate (in this case it was VW of America) and they put a lot of pressure on the dealer to make it right.
posted by radioamy at 4:47 PM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Sounds like it's hard for them to give you what they should: a key and a manual. How about asking them instead for a reasonable sum of money? Maybe that'd be easier for them and would satisfy you.

What's reasonable? You'll have to decide that. If it were me I'd probably ask for say $250 and expect to haggle a bit.
posted by mono blanco at 5:15 PM on June 12, 2021

Just to clarify, all ford dealerships are subject to Ford supervision... and Ford assign dealerships to specific regions... under the supervision of... regional manager, who's working for Ford, not the dealerships. Ford wants to make YOU happy, and any mistreatment of customers by the dealerships is bad for business. If it gets egregious, Ford can revoke the dealership's permission to sell new fords, and cut off parts supply and new car shipments, if necessary.

So by "complain to the regional manager" we mean the one working at Ford, not the dealer's version of it. Though there may be an overall owner, if it has multiple locations.
posted by kschang at 6:25 PM on June 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

You'll have to decide that. If it were me I'd probably ask for say $250 and expect to haggle a bit.

That’s below cost on those items. For the hassle and deceit? I think 10x would be reasonable.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 8:21 PM on June 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I've contacted the number in the manual, who phoned the dealer and got someone more important than I've managed, who promised me to phone back and (of course) hasn't. I'll be calling and asking to talk to them directly, and then I'll try Twitter and see if bad press can do more.

If anyone has useful contacts, the manufacturer is Ram.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 11:39 PM on June 13, 2021

That would be owned by Chrysler, if that helps you any. I don’t think there’s any downside to including executives of the parent organization in an email carpet-bomb. I am ... unsurprised ... to see it’s a Mopar.

In 1979 my soon-to-be wife bought a brand-new Dodge which died in less than a year and after exhausting the local options I called—long distance—the manufacturer’s help line (note: 1979 long-distance call == expensive) only to receive a prissy lecture about how respectable my local dealer was and that they wouldn’t consider paying for her transmission that failed catastrophically at 11 months and 13,000 miles. It lost them a lifetime of sales for us. I they’ve learned something in the last half-century. Good luck to you.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 8:15 AM on June 14, 2021

Ram Trucks are no longer part of Dodge, nor Chrysler, per se — the whole company (formerly Fiat Chrysler) rebranded as Stellantis in January. You should have a login as a customer at, which may be one possibility for contacting Ram directly. There's a Ram customer care line, along with several media contacts through their communication team. Depending on how motivated you are, you can also start trawling through LinkedIn. Through a brief search, I found several regional brand managers with contact info up on the web — you can both use LinkedIn to track down their official emails, and to do a little social media sleuthing — you can probably turn up regional corporate and private twitter and facebook accounts and contact them directly. Again, depending on your desire to wade through phone menus, car dealerships are regulated (based on your location) in California by the DMV, and you can contact their investigations office, which ought to let you file an official complaint that will at least get a little bit of official mail circulated back over to someone at Ram who will care.
posted by klangklangston at 12:03 PM on June 14, 2021

Do not threaten legal action unless you are going to take it. It can cut off lines of communication because many places are not allowed, by their own insurance, to talk with anyone who even mentions legal action. But that doesn't stop you from preparing to do it. A registered letter to the owner of the dealership (which is probably a public record or on the manufacturer site) can work wonders. Keep it very short, very polite very specific. I would find out in writing how much a convenient dealer near you charges for a re-key and two new keys (and a second fob?). Then ask for that amount of money, plus them to order a manual, both to happen within 60 days. Nothing in there says you're going to sue but unless they are complete idiots they will figure out that you mean business. A sample letter:
Dear So-and-so:
On March 10th 2021 I took delivery of a vehicle with VIN #... from . The second key and user manual were not provided at that time. Attached is a quote documenting the price of the two new keys needed to bring the vehicle up the standard agreed on at the time of purchase. Please send a certified or bank check in this amount and the owners manual within 60 days, or I will have to consider this purchase not as agreed.
It can be that short.
posted by wnissen at 12:17 PM on June 14, 2021

Seconding the 10x multiplier on $250-----if you're trying to replace a key with a fob or a keyless-entry type key, those can easily cost several hundred dollars OEM. If they offer you cash, it needs to be closer to $1,000 than $100. Not to mention (your hourly rate) x (the number of hours of this bullshit) they've put you through. It's not rocket science for them to get you a key and a manual.

The sales team might be done, but the service desk lives-and-dies by their survey numbers, and this doesn't sound like "10 out of 10" to me. I like @wnissen's message up above; it might be worth copying the dealer's service desk on it.
posted by adekllny at 8:27 AM on June 16, 2021

« Older Laptop recommendations for vintage Windows games   |   NFT art how do that? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.