Can a Dealership Change the Price of a Car You Ordered Before You Pick It Up?

The difference between a purchase order and a deposit is key

2022 Ford Bronco two-door driving in city
2022 Ford Bronco
Photo: Ford

Between the ongoing chip shortage and the high demand for newly released vehicles, car buyers are finding that some dealerships are adding price adjustments on cars that customers ordered months ago. In the case of the hugely popular Ford Bronco, various dealerships have added a markup of $10,000 or more to the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. So what happens when your order is ready but the dealership tries to charge you more?

What you can do about it depends on whether you signed a purchase order or a deposit. With a deposit, the final price isn’t carved in stone, so if the price changes before the dealer gets the car, the buyer doesn’t have a signed contract and has to pay whatever the price is at that time. But a purchase order is a binding contract that the dealership has to honor.

Consumer Reports contacted Dan Blinn, a consumer attorney in Rocky Hill, Conn., who said that if a dealership tries to get more money for the car than what the purchase order says, that may be a breach of contract.

But what can you do if the dealership does try to change the agreed-upon price? The first thing you can do is hold firm and tell the dealership that you have a signed contract. The problem right now is there aren’t a lot of car models sitting on dealer lots, which makes it more difficult to walk away and gives the dealership the upper hand—but that doesn’t mean you have to accept the additional charges.

If the dealership holds firm on the price adjustment, let the car manufacturer know because they don’t want their dealers creating a bad experience for their customers. Manufacturers are in the business of selling cars and creating customer loyalty.

If the dealership does agree to remove the price adjustment, watch out for the upsell on things like an extended warranty, nitrogen-filled tires, or rust protection. If the price on the vehicle stays the same, they might try to tack on items that you don’t necessarily need, or even force you to purchase them—which may also be prohibited by law.

“If somebody’s quoted a specific price and they come in and they’re told they have to purchase something else, that’s a switched price, and that is in most places an unfair trade practice,” Blinn says.

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from an episode of “Talking Cars.”