Beware Of The Puppy Dog


Most of us as kids have brought home a puppy at one point in time and begged “Can I keep it? Please?!”

Car dealers are hoping you’ll do the same thing. They know cars, like puppies, are  easy to fall in love with, hard to resist, and even harder to relinquish.

How it works

Buyer meets car and falls in love. Everything is there: options, color, make and model. Everything except for the financing, which is “conditional” or “contingent” on loan closing. The dealer assures you they can lock in that sweet rate you both discussed. No problem, they say.

You’re free to take the car home while the dealer hammers out the financing details. Kids chase you down the street. Neighbors swoon. Co-workers beg for rides during lunch hour. You are hooked. You love the car. It’s everything you ever wanted on four wheels. What’s not to love?

See where this is going?

The dealer then calls or emails you with the bad news: that hot interest rate or loan term either doesn’t apply to your particular make or model, or there was another issue that prevented you from qualifying for the initial financing terms.

Chances are, the dealer knew this already. Dealers eager to move inventory will let you “puppy dog” the car: take it home for a few days, show it off to your friends, and fall in love with it.

The dealer hopes you either won’t notice the higher rate or won’t mind because there is no way in hell you’re returning the car. You’re smitten.

No matter how besotted you are with your shiny new-to-you toy, be firm.

What you can do

California drivers are in luck, as there are  buyer protections in place to soften the blow of attempted puppy-dogging involving used cars priced at $40,000 or less:

  • The dealer must offer you a two-day contract cancellation agreement. You’ll be charged a nominal fee based on the price of the vehicle.
  • While the dealer will charge you a re-stocking fee if you return the car, it must be offset against the contract cancellation agreement fee.
  • If the dealer already sold or transferred the title to  your trade-in vehicle, they must pay you the greater of either the Fair Market Value of your trade-in or the value stated in your contract with the dealer.
  • New cars are exempt from these rules, however.

Puppy-dogging prevention

Assuming you haven’t yet set foot in a dealership, there are options to help you avoid the puppy-dogging trap:

  • Get pre-approved for financing through your bank or credit union. You’ll know exactly which rate, term and loan amount you’ll be getting.
  • Utilize the car-buying service through Triple A, your credit union or CostCo. They do the legwork and haggling for you.

Very few of us can resist a sweet new or new-to-us car that is just begging to come home with us. Before you ask, “Can I keep it..please?!” know your rights as a car buyer in your state and understand your financing options before you head out to a dealership.

Learning to spot the puppy-dogging game ahead of time will give you the power to issue a swift “No!” and to walk away. Rolled-up newspaper is optional.





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