Car Deal Gone Wrong

Janie Sterling spotted the ad on the Internet for a 2005 Toyota Solara at Town and Country Auto in New Britain. She thought it could be the perfect car for her, but has since learned a tough lesson.

Sterling took the car for a test drive and bought it in January after putting down a $5,000 deposit. She did not have a mechanic check it over first. Within hours of driving off the lot, she says she noticed the first red flag.

"I left the lot, not but three hours later the check engine light went on," Sterling said.

The next day, she had it checked out by a mechanic and says that person found several problems with the car. She then took the car back to Town and Country Auto, along with a letter detailing the issues, including problems with the catalytic converter, the windshield washer fluid and the brakes.

She says she asked for a refund but the company refused.

"He was very convinced. He was like, 'No, you know, I can help you out with this. I'll fix everything,'" Sterling said.

About one week later, she got the car back only to find more problems with the tire pressure and the brakes again. Those issues were documented by three mechanics. With no money to fix the car, Sterling is not driving the car anywhere.

"I thought I was going to leave with a car that was safe as they promised," Sterling said.

"We offered to take care of Ms. Sterling in anyway. She's refused to let it happen," Michael Molnar, the owner of Town and Country Auto, said. "We have a reputable business here. It's just somebody who has buyer's remorse."

Looking for help, Sterling filed a complaint with the state Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV reorganized the way it investigates consumer complaints against car dealers back in October, and is now taking a more aggressive approach that includes a new mediation program where they try to work out solutions between consumers and the dealers.

"If we can get the customer and the dealerships to come to an agreement, than that can resolve the issue very fast and it will not tie up state resources in terms of investigations, hearings and then the processing of those hearings," William Seymour, the DMV spokesman, said.

Since October, the DMV has handled 736 complaints against car dealers and repairers. Of those, 547 have been closed. The rest are still in the process of mediation, investigation or awaiting a hearing.

In Sterling's case, the DMV investigated and says it found numerous violations, including paperwork problems, an attempt to sell the car "as is" despite a 60 day warranty required by state law and the failure to disclose safety defects.

"Documentation that we reviewed does give us reason to believe that there's probable cause that these safety defects existed," said Seymour.

The DMV tried to work out a settlement in Sterling's case, but was unsuccessful. The agency is now requiring Town and Country Auto to show up for a hearing on May 27 on Sterling's situation and four other complaints against the dealer.

Town and Country Auto is now suing Sterling in small claims court, saying she never finalized loan documents with the company for the remaining balance and still owes them another $5,000. The DMV disagrees and issued Sterling clear title to the car.

"The documentation provided by the seller to the Department of Motor Vehicles shows that he gave the car to her for $5,000," Seymour said.

Sterling regrets not having a mechanic check over the car before she bought it. She says she can't believe she's being sued and plans to take Town and Country Auto to court as well.

"It's too dangerous to drive the car," Sterling said.

To keep something like this from happening to you, the DMV recommends consumers get used cars checked out by mechanics prior to buying them. Also, make sure the dealer is in possession of the title at the time of the sale and check with the DMV to make sure the dealer is properly licensed.

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