"The answer is generally "no" under the law of contracts," according to Steve Swann, a legal expert, practicing car law in Virginia. "As you might appreciate, the business world works because people are legally accountable for their promises to buy, sell and pay." Without contracts, and performing on the ones we make, no one would ever honor their business agreements and everything would fall apart. However sometimes consumers' financial situations change and they find it hard to meet their obligations. "Bad luck usually will not work," comments Swann on the common explanation people give when they want to get out of a lease or loan agreement.
"Now, having said that," says Swann, "there are many exceptions that recognize special circumstances. The most notable is filing for bankruptcy. I often find when I meet with a prospective client, and we dig through the paperwork, that there are ways to cancel or rescind a deal. Often we have one or more of the following situations:
The loan was not actually approved by the financing lender.
The expiration of the 30-day temporary plates (VA statute).
Defective vehicle and breach of warranties.
Concealed damage giving rise to a fraud claim.
Misrepresentation/false promises giving rise to Consumer Protection Act (VA) coverage with right to triple the damages and include attorney's fees.
"Lemon" -- A newer vehicle with repetitive problems and thus the right to sell it back to factory. (Swann says he has a client with a Chrysler who is now in this situation).
Significant misunderstanding by both parties about the contract: mutual mistake of fact gives rise to rescission right.
Swann feels that if a consumer is in a situation where they need to get out if a contract, it is important to spend the time and money to seek professional legal advice. Consumers need to determine their legal rights and someone trained in contract law who is also knowledgeable in both state consumer and automotive law can be a valuable ally. Locate an attorney to discuss the matter right away. In some cases there are things consumers can do. However, if a consumer just wishes to be "out from under the payments," there is likely little recourse.
Attorney Michael Kranitz, finance expert, specializing in lease laws, discusses the concept of transferring a loan or lease to a third party -- like getting your brother to assume the payment. Kranitz observes, "You will probably find that, in the owner's installment loan agreement, it is a violation of that agreement to attempt to assign the loan to a third person. This triggers a "due on sale"-type-clause (full amount of loan due at the time of title transfer) and leaves the vehicle open to repossession."
The best recommendation the attorneys have is that consumers should not get into a situation where they need to get out of a lease or loan in the first place. While this may hardly be the answer a consumer with a "too large" payment wants to hear, it is the best advice.
Here are a couple of things to consider when in the lease or purchasing process:
Can I afford the payment along with the insurance?
Am I getting in over my head?
Am I uncomfortable with the deal I am being offered?
Is the paperwork more than I can handle? Is it too confusing?
Am I hearing conflicting information from the dealership?