'Hostage market': Montgomery County man shares cautionary tale after buying car

It’s a brutal time for the auto industry, and in turn, car buyers. Pickings are slim, prices are high, and a Montgomery County man learned just how frustrating the market can be right now.

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Fletcher Gill says he started his search for a minivan six months ago after he and his wife learned they were expecting their third child.

Gill said he found what he wanted, a 2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, at Darcars of Rockville.

"We locked in the number, we put it on paper, we both signed it," Gill said. "And then I put money down."

That was in April. Finally, on Saturday, the van was ready and waiting. But not at the price he negotiated.

"I was at the dealership on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.," said Gill. "For the first few hours, they tried to ask me to pay somewhere between $2,500 to $3,000. And then the conversation changed after a few hours to: ‘Why don’t you just let the car go.’

Ali Mohamadi, the general manager at Darcars, tells FOX 5 that when Gill ordered the van there was a manufacturer’s incentive that now doesn’t exist. He says the incentive was over $5,000, so he split the difference with the customer.

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Mohamadi acknowledged the vehicle shortage, saying he typically has 800 to 900 cars available this time of year, but now has 80. He says there are others waiting as long or longer than Gill for a car.

Gill says he fought tooth and nail not to pay a penny more, but in the end, coughed up over $2,000 beyond the negotiated price.

"I have absolutely no choice," said Gill. "I’m in a hostage market. I have a baby on the way, I waited six months for this car. If I let the car go my only alternative is to go back onto the market, find a car for $10,000 more and order it and wait another six months."

Car prices are seeing record highs right now driven in part by a shortage of computer chips.

Phil Flynn, senior market analyst with Price Futures Group, says there are wide-ranging impacts.

"Because of the COVID situation, the production of chips can’t keep up with demand, so it’s impacting everything from cars to refrigerators," Flynn said. "Anything with a computer brain."

Flynn says there isn’t an end in sight, and the supply issues could drag into next year. He says it’s a great time to sell your car if that’s an option, but if you’re buying, it’s going to be at a premium for the near future.

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"We used to say never pay sticker when you go to a car dealership," Flynn said. "Well guess what? People are paying above sticker just to get their hands on cars that they want."'

If you are buying now, he says read your contract carefully and understand the terms.

Gill finally picked up the minivan Wednesday and says the dealership gave him a discount on tire insurance. He said he’s thrilled with the van, but wants others to be aware of what he went through to get it.

"I’m a real estate broker and I negotiate for a living. Most don’t know how to do that. And even then, I couldn’t get my number," said Gill. "So I’m really concerned for people walking in blind the next couple of months."