Few images can inspire distrust more than a used car salesperson, who in popular myth is usually wearing a cheap suit and eagerly eyeing your wallet. In Gallup’s annual Honesty and Ethics of Professions survey, most recently conducted in November 2008, Americans’ opinion of car salesmen ranks at rock bottom, with only telemarketers and lobbyists keeping them company. For a dishonest car dealer, there is no greater opportunity for fraud and unjust profit than with a late model used car. A “clean” late model car is still worth quite a lot of money to a potential buyer. So if a dealer buys a troubled but popular car at a steep discount, and is able to pass the car off as “clean” to the public, he or she can make thousands more in profits – on one sale! A few examples of problematic used cars are: a vehicle seriously wrecked, a flood damaged vehicle, a vehicle branded as a “lemon,” or a vehicle that was used as a fleet rental.
In one recent case, our clients purchased a three-year-old Dodge Ram 3500 pickup from a dealership in Northeast Ohio with approximately 39,000 miles on the odometer. The dealership advertised the vehicle as a reliable and safe truck, with a clean title history, and told our clients the same thing. Our clients proceeded to purchase the truck, and paid full value. In reality, the vehicle had been determined to be a lemon, and its title had been branded as a lemon in the state of Wisconsin. The vehicle had then been “washed” through a dealer-only auction and magically emerged with a clean Ohio title with a much higher price tag. Only later did our clients become aware of the lemon title, and the thousands of dollars stolen from them.
Even worse, when our clients confronted the dealership, they went into clumsy cover-up mode, and faxed them a form supposedly disclosing the history of the vehicle, complete with their forged signature. Various inaccuracies with dates on this form proved the lie. Thus the dealership compounded the problem by refusing to meet its responsibility and attempting to obfuscate the truth. In Ohio, a dealership’s stalling and evading of its responsibility, such as in this case, creates further grounds for relief.
The fraud in this case was limited solely to ill-gotten gains and cover-ups, so no one’s safety was put at risk. In many similar cases, however, the fraud can and does extend to endangering the safety of the consumer, his or her friends and family, and the rest of the motoring public. Cars that have been totaled are sometimes resold when they should legally be going to the scrap heap. The cars are slapped back together in illegal chop shops and injected back into the marketplace. Our firm has extensive experience handling these “rebuilt wreck” cases. In addition, this subject will be further addressed in a future issue of our newsletter. For more information, please check out our website at www.willislegal.com.