December 5, 2023

The Haggler: A Warranty She Didn’t Want

At the Haggler’s behest, a representative from Nissan America called the dealership, Star Nissan in Queens, and, a few days later, out popped a refund check. Now comes a new tale of car-buying woe — and guess what? It’s another Nissan dealership.

Q. A few weeks ago, I bought a used Nissan Rogue from Nissan of Garden City in Hempstead, N.Y., for $22,995. The finance manager, Andy Concepcion, told me that to get a low financing rate through Nissan, I would need to buy an extended warranty for $2,395.

I told Mr. Concepcion that I didn’t want the warranty.  He said that if I did not use the warranty over the next few years I could cancel it and get a prorated amount back.  I later found out from Nissan Consumer Affairs that I could cancel it immediately for a nominal charge.

The total sales price on all of the paperwork I signed was $26,279.98 — the advertised price, plus the extended warranty, plus $695 for what was described as a “destination fee,” plus “an administrative charge.” This breakdown didn’t appear on the contract — it was on a computer screen Mr. Concepcion showed me at the dealership.

When I got home, I noticed that the contract stated, “No service contract or maintenance contract is required to purchase or obtain financing for a motor vehicle.” Hmm. A few weeks later, I still had not received my warranty in the mail, so I returned to the dealership.

When I again asked for a warranty refund, a manager, Keith Chaikin, told me the finance rate I’d received was possible only because I’d bought that warranty. Fine, I said — give me the higher finance rate and return my $2,395. No dice, he said, or words to that effect.

Mr. Chaikin noted that on my signed contract, a line says  “ext. service plan,” and beside those words “$1.” It hadn’t been mentioned before, and it wasn’t something I’d paid any mind, but suddenly, the managers at Garden City were telling me that if I wanted a refund for the warranty, I’d get exactly $1.

I know, I know. It makes no sense to me, either. When I noted the absurdity of a $1 refund for a $2,395 warranty, Mr. Chaikin suggested I contact Nissan’s regional office. In his experience, he said, no contract had ever been reversed.

Sounds like I’ve been snowed. Perhaps, Haggler, you can help.

Tiffany Ausby-Frazier

Floral Park, N.Y.

A. It’s hard to know where to start on this one. A “destination fee?” That generally covers the cost of delivering a new car from factory to dealership. Ms. Ausby-Frazier’s car is used. How could it possibly have cost $695 to transport it? Was it airlifted by butterflies?

The Haggler wanted to pose that question to Mr. Chaikin, but he did not return a call. So the Haggler spoke instead to Ramsey Rizek, a Garden City manager, who said that Ms. Ausby-Frazier was never charged a “destination fee.” He said that she was simply mistaken about the price she negotiated — that it was $695 more than she maintains — and he contended that this mistake was not exactly innocent. 

In his view, Ms. Ausby-Frazier “manipulated” this entire process — claiming to be duped, then calling in both Nissan America and the Haggler, all with the purpose of strong-arming Garden City into returning some of her money.

Not that Mr. Rizek wanted to emphasize what he regarded as the cheeky stratagems of Ms. Ausby-Frazier. Rather, he stressed that by the time the Haggler spoke with him, Garden City had refunded the warranty money, as well the $695 also in dispute.

“The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong,” Mr. Rizek said. “I think we went above and beyond here.”

Did Mr. Concepcion urge Ms. Ausby-Frazier to buy a warranty? No way, Mr. Rizek said. Why would his finance guy suggest that a customer buy something only so the purchase could be canceled? He posed this one in a tone that suggested the notion was pure madness.

Well played, sir. But what is up with that $1 fee for the “ext. service plan”?

It is quite common at Garden City, he said, to list that nominal sum when the warranty has been negotiated as part of the vehicle price. It’s kind of a place holder, he explained, a way to signal that a warranty has been bought when it’s been rolled into a car’s total cost.

It’s a classic he-said, she-said, so the Haggler turned to a Manhattan lawyer for his views. The lawyer, Daniel Schlanger, who is suing a different Nissan dealership, contending auto financing fraud, looked at Ms. Ausby-Frazier’s contract and saw some raw material for a lawsuit against Garden City, alleging violations of the Truth in Lending Act.

But that litigation is unlikely. Before Ms. Ausby-Frazier got her refund, she was asked to sign a waiver, in which, she said, she promised not to sue.

Where is Nissan America in all this? After the money was refunded, Gary Frigo, who oversees Nissan dealerships in New York and elsewhere, said he couldn’t take sides because he wasn’t present at negotiations for the vehicle. Which, to the Haggler’s ears, are depressing words. Because they suggest that the only downside, if a dealer overcharges a customer, is that the money may have to be returned when a big-enough stink is raised.

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