Money back from a used-car dealer?
November 2, 2006 8:53 PM   Subscribe

How to scare a used-car dealer? Older and wiser now and all that, but we still have a problem car on our hands.

A Honda dealer sold us a used six-passenger Kia Sedona saying it seated seven. The car had no third-row seat when we got it, but the dealer gave us a "we owe" notice saying they would provide the seat.

About six weeks later, the dealer put in two rear seats (from GM, not Kia). Clearly the seats are supposed to fit right next to each other because there is a middle seatbelt. However, the way they fit in the Kia, there's an inch-and-a-half gap between them which the seventh passenger has to straddle. The Honda dealer insists they've fulfilled their pledge to provide the back seat.

So I investigated at a Kia dealer and found out the car is actually a six-passenger vehicle and that a back bench seat seating three is not available for that model.

We want our money back from the Honda dealer (we actually need a seven-passenger car). I've talked to an attorney and am meeting with him in a couple days to discuss further. However, we'd rather avoid the hassle and expense of legal action if possible. We are going to go back to Honda, tell them we know they sold a six-passenger vehicle as a seven, and ask for a refund. We will threaten (and carry through with) legal action if they don't comply.

My question is, what other groups or organizations should we threaten to report them to? What gets a used-car dealer's attention? This problem has taken up a huge amount of time over the past two months. How do we make the most of this confrontation before taking the matter to an attorney? We paid cash for the car, if that matters.

Oh and we are not interested in a trade with this dealer. In one conversation, the Honda salesman offered to take back the Kia, in trade, for $2000 less than we paid for it two months ago. Later he backed down on that but then would not negotiate a penny on the new sale (which had a price almost double what the Kia cost). We're done with this dealer and just want our money back.
posted by torticat to Work & Money (14 answers total)
First, call the Better Business Bureau. You won't get any action from but you will get a tiny bit of karmic relief by filing a complaint.

Second, call your local news station. Most local news station have at least one guy that "reports" as a consumer vigilante/advocate. The more sensationalistic, the better. Bonus points if they can go to the dealer and confront him. Businesses, especially sketchy ones like this, HATE such reporters, and news channels LOVE terrorizing them. I bet if you can get the TV reporter to cause a big stink, you'll get your money back without having to resort to legal action. Let the reporter do all the work for you.
posted by Brittanie at 9:13 PM on November 2, 2006

I would suggest getting in contact with the corporate offices for Kia, GM, and/or Honda. The seats themselves are a safety device, and installing the incorrect seats is a major hazard.

I don't think any of those makers would like to hear their name mentioned in a lawsuit in the chance that a rear-seat passenger was injured due to a seat/seatbelt failure.
posted by bhayes82 at 9:49 PM on November 2, 2006

I should note that I wouldn't expect the automakers to do anything about the situation directly, but they may pressure the dealership to do the "right" thing (at the very least, provide and install the proper seat)
posted by bhayes82 at 9:52 PM on November 2, 2006

Not to put salt in the wound, but this is EXACTLY the type of behavior you should avoid in the future.

NEVER trust a stealership to do work after the fact. If you want something done, the strongest motivator is a sale. Never ever ever let something pass your OK because of an IOU to fix it later--no matter how minor.
posted by SirStan at 10:00 PM on November 2, 2006

Speaking as a retired California wholesale dealer who spent many years running new car dealerships in the CA:

Contact the Motor Vehicle Department in your state and inquire as to whether they have jurisdiction over car dealerships and how to file a complaint if they do. What we have here is a potential safety equipment violaton and regulatory/enforcement agencies take safety equip violations seriously.

If you happen to be in California, ask your local DMV how to get in touch with a DMV investigator and then ask him/her to open a case on your behalf. Another thing to do would be drive by your local Highway Patrol/state trooper office and get their opinion as to whether the vehicle is safe for 7 passengers. The dealer may have unintentionally broken NHTSA's "Make Inoperative Prohibition" by installing aftermarket seats and no dealer wants the feds on their case, so the mere threat of going to NHTSa may be enough to get the dealer to unwind the deal for you and is worth researching.

Best of luck to you and I hope you nail the dealer's tits to the wall.
posted by buggzzee23 at 1:49 AM on November 3, 2006

Sec. 30122. Making safety devices and elements inoperative

1. DEFINITION In this section, "motor vehicle repair business" means a person holding itself out to the public to repair for compensation a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment.

2. PROHIBITION A manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or motor vehicle repair business may not knowingly make inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in compliance with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard prescribed under this chapter unless the manufacturer, distributor, dealer, or repair business reasonably believes the vehicle or equipment will not be used (except for testing or a similar purpose during maintenance or repair) when the device or element is inoperative.

3. REGULATIONS The Secretary of Transportation may prescribe regulations

1. to exempt a person from this section if the Secretary decides the exemption is consistent with motor vehicle safety and section 30101 of this title; and

2. to define "make inoperative".

4. NONAPPLICATION. This section does not apply to a safety belt interlock or buzzer designed to indicate a safety belt is not in use as described in section 30124 of this title.
posted by buggzzee23 at 2:01 AM on November 3, 2006

I have had good results by going direct to the manufacturer and threatening legal action / going to the press. They can exert a LOT of pressure on a dealership. In my case I got a new transmission that the (Honda) dealership initially refused to install. Man, walking in there to get it installed was one of the most satisfying things I've ever done. But it took about two weeks of strongly worded faxes and phone calls.
posted by unSane at 5:48 AM on November 3, 2006

My question is, what other groups or organizations should we threaten to report them to?

Note that if you do have to carry through on the threat to report them, the response to such a report is usually not a process that's speedy enough to get the problem fixed as quickly as the lawyer might be able to.
posted by winston at 7:14 AM on November 3, 2006

One challenge you're going to have is that because used car dealers already have such a bad reputation, a threat to report them to the BBB isn't gonna leave them shaking in their boots.

The local investigative TV news reporter is not going to be interested in your story about a mismatched car seat. It has to be much, much more exciting. Like, a car with no seats whatsoever and the odometer rolled back.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 7:48 AM on November 3, 2006

Have you talked to the actual owner of the dealership, torticat? Now that I've had a full night's sleep and last night's beer fog has lifted, I took another look at this thread and that question jumped right out. This deal sounds like something a dealer principal would never stand for simply for the financial liability if that car is in a crash sometime down the road and the seats break loose.

Most dealerships are very cautious about seat replacements because of the potential liabilty involved and this deal stinks to high heaven of a crooked sales manager pulling some crap no owner would ever approve. Give the dealership a call, ask to speak to the owner and politely inquire as whether he is awate of the Mickey Mouse and haphazard seat installation performed under his name. There are hundreds of ways that a slick sales manager can handle such things off the books and the dealer owner would never be aware until he's hit with a lawsuit after a serious crash.

And contrary to what others have said, your dealer is indeed concerned about his BBB rating. Not only does Honda include that rating in his evaluations, it also affects the cash value of his business.
posted by buggzzee23 at 9:47 AM on November 3, 2006

I would also think twice about buying a Kia, if you get a chance. Their quality is absolutely crap -- it'll probably start falling apart on you near the end of the warranty. My gf has a Kia Sephia, and there's so many fucking cut corners. For example, there's airbags, but the two accidents she was in did not trigger them (one was serious enough to send her to the hospital for a few days -- these weren't sideswipes or t-bones either, she was rear-ended). That doesn't even speak to the mechanical and cosmetic problems that have happened (another example: the fucking dashboard warped in the heat -- I've never ever seen that happen on another car, and I live in Sac, where 110 degree summers are typical). Her sister owns a later model and it has similar problems (the power locks are totally fucked). My boss has a two year old Kia that has been to the shop at least 20 times already. These cars are total POS -- dump it if you can.
posted by fishfucker at 10:26 AM on November 3, 2006

Thanks for all the advice! I'll follow up with Honda HQ and/or the dealership owner if we can't get satisfaction from the sales manager.

Regarding the media, this is NYC so I doubt even consumer advocate reporters would be interested in our little problem. :)

And as for buying a Kia in the first place AND buying one with a "we owe" rider--we're regretting both. Have heard similar comments from online research and friends. We went for the Kia because it was cheaper (obviously) but are now looking at Odysseys with higher mileage. Lesson learned.
posted by torticat at 1:45 PM on November 3, 2006

For example, there's airbags, but the two accidents she was in did not trigger them (one was serious enough to send her to the hospital for a few days -- these weren't sideswipes or t-bones either, she was rear-ended).

Not to downplay the fact that Kias totally suck, but airbags typically don't deploy if you are rear-ended.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 6:59 PM on November 3, 2006

wow -- i never knew that ... it seems somewhat anti-intuitive, but I guess you're more likely to have a minor "rear end" accident than anything else (after which it would suck if you had to replace the airbags). thanks for the info.
posted by fishfucker at 8:59 PM on November 5, 2006

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