Consumer Protection: Advice from The Bucks County Consumer
Q. Last year my mother bought a prepaid oil contract and it worked out okay. This year we are checking several different oil providers. Only two companies have sent a copy of their contract for us to review. It seems they want her to agree on the phone and take her verbal commitment as a binding agreement. We have not agreed to anything at this point. What should we be aware of before locking into a contract? L.G. Ivyland
A. The most important decision is to make sure you understand all the terms of the contract. Make sure there is never an automatic renewal of the terms when the contract expires. Remember when your contract starts and when it is finished. Most contracts have a terms and conditions section that includes a financial penalty for canceling a contract. A really important part of your contract outlines what happens if you use less fuel than you prepaid for. That needs to be spelled out. Most companies offer a pre-pay program that will lock the consumer in at a certain price for the entire year. However if the price of oil drops you are still stuck paying the higher price. That is where the CAP programs come into play. A cap protection is usually a two or three hundred dollar upfront fee that guarantees the agreed upon price and if the price of oil drops so will your cost. However, if it rises the cap guarantees that the price will not exceed your agreed upon price per gallon. There are also budget programs that allow you to pay each month for twelve months at a set price per gallon. If you have a cap with that program you will likely be assured that the price will not go up and that if the price goes down you will get the lower price. There is also the automatic delivery market price. Basically you are signed up for the year to get deliveries automatically and you will be billed at the market price for that day. There is also the option of just paying cash on delivery from anyone you choose to use. There is usually a minimum delivery required with this option. The price you pay will be market price. We encourage every consumer to ask questions before agreeing to anything. Make no commitment until you know the costs and penalties and understand the terms fully.
Q. I had a sales person come to my door at eight o’clock Friday night. He was selling alarm systems. Knowing that I was a senior citizen, he played on my fear of living alone. He talked me into buying the system by telling me the installation would be free and I would just pay a monthly service fee. Now that I’m looking it over I would be stuck in a five year contract with a termination clause. By the end of the contract I would have paid a small fortune. Is this a scam? A.G., Levittown
A. Consumers need to beware of anyone selling door to door. They tend to use high pressure to sell their service or product. When they have finally broken down the homeowner a contract is signed. Since the contract is signed in the home, every consumer has the right to the three-day cooling off period or what is commonly called the three-day right to rescission. A giant red flag should go up if the salesman advises you that his installer can do the installation immediately or the very next day. By doing that you are effectively giving up the right to cancel, which quite frankly is what they want you to do. If a consumer has the opportunity to sleep on the proposal and thoroughly read the terms and conditions, most would never agree to the contract. Also the company is not giving the consumer a chance to shop around to get other estimates to see if they could get a better deal with another company. Many municipalities require a permit to solicit door to door. Never allow anyone in your home without the proper permit and proper identification. If you are interested in getting an alarm service in your home, check around to compare service and prices. Get the best deal you can get. Most likely it isn’t with the door to door salesperson.
Buying a Used Car
Q. I have a child who just graduated high school this past June. She will be heading off to college in the fall and I want to make sure she has a reliable car. However, I don’t have the money to buy her a new car. I know there isn’t a used car lemon law in Pennsylvania so I’m really worried about being taken advantage of. Can you give me some ideas on purchasing a used car? G.C., Upper Black Eddy
A. Even a used car can be an expensive endeavor, but if you do some homework and shop around you can save yourself a lot of money and aggravation in the long run. The first thing to do is decide how much money you can afford and don’t allow yourself to be talked into spending more by some sales person. Go to several reputable dealerships to check out what they have to offer. When you have found a car that you may be interested in there are a few quick items that you can look at right off the bat. Look for rust on the exterior, poor suspension, and functionality of seatbelts, locks and windows. Take the car for a test drive, paying close attention to the brakes, acceleration and alignment. Also, check to make sure the front seats move up and back, etc. Look at what kind of mileage the car has. If all this looks good to you it would be in your best interest to take the car to an independent mechanic for a mechanical and safety inspection. If the dealer will not allow you to take the car to a mechanic you may want to bring the mechanic to the dealership. If the dealer won’t allow that either, you should be leery of what the dealer may be trying to hide and move to another dealership. Another thing to be leery of is the pressure tactics. Don’t be talked into buying a car without fully checking into the car. Consumers can also look on www.carfax.com to get the history on a particular used car if the dealership will not provide you with one, as many are willing to do upon request. Also, call Bucks County Consumer Protection at 1-800-942-2669 or 215-348-7442 to check on a particular dealership. For some helpful informational brochures on purchasing a new or used car please visit the Bucks County Consumer Protection webpage at www.buckscounty.org on our consumer tips and brochures page. If you do not have internet access you may call our office to obtain a copy of our booklet “Buying and Financing Your New or Used Car”. Always do your research before making such a large purchase. It will help keep you from being burned by unscrupulous salesmen.
Department of Consumer Protection /
Michael D. Bannon
50 North Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901