BOSTON (CBS) – A Massachusetts used car dealership will pay $50,000 in restitution to customers and change its business practices after the Attorney General accused the company of routinely selling unreliable cars and using bait and switch tactics to mislead consumers about their high-interest loans.
Attorney General Maura Healey announced the settlement with Auto Drive One on Tuesday, saying her office investigated the West Bridgewater-based dealership after receiving a number of repeat complaints from customers.
“Usually when we get under the hood, we see a pattern,” Healey told WBZ-TV. “The last thing we want to see in this state is consumers being stuck with cars that don’t work, need repairs, and with a boatload of debt when they were falsely promised something.”
Iesha Marcelino, a working Norwood mom, depends on reliable transportation to get to her job or take her two kids to school.
However, since purchasing her used 2013 Ford Escape from Auto Drive One last year, there have been plenty of bumps in the road.
Marcelino said the vehicle the dealer provided was different than the one she took for a test drive. Some parts of the car were missing, like a latch to the back gate and the floor mats.
Almost immediately, the “check engine” light came on when she started driving it.
“When you backed it up, the car made loud clicking noise,” she described. “I got really nervous and wondering what was going on.”
When Marcelino tried to get the dealership to fix the issues, she said at first there were delays. Eventually, employees stopped taking her calls.
“I felt like I was swindled,” she expressed.
WBZ-TV stopped by the dealership on Tuesday and spoke with General Manager Andrew Bowen, who said the company fully cooperated with the AG’s investigation and has already changed its practices.
Bowen said the family-owned business is scaling down its locations to just West Bridgewater and Natick and is committed to putting the issues in the rear-view mirror.
It previously had locations in Saugus, Dorchester, Swansea and East Sandwich.
“We went from six stores to two stores to have better quality control,” Bowen said. “I’ve been able to really put my hands on things and make sure every customer is satisfied with the products we’re giving them.”
Customers like Marcelino should get some money back in their pockets, thanks to the $50,000 in restitution. Those exact details are still being worked out, an AG’s spokeswoman said.
The dealership will stay under the watchful eye of the AG’s office to make sure it sticks to the terms of a settlement agreement. Otherwise, the business risks paying $240,000 in civil penalties.
Healey said cracking down on deceptive practices in the auto sales industry is a priority for her office and a consumer topic that results in a lot complaints.
The AG’s Office offers the following advice for consumers buying a used car from a dealer:
- Ask a friend or relative to recommend a reputable dealer, and research the dealer online;
- Determine the value of the vehicle before you negotiate the purchase. Check the National Automobile Dealers Association’s (NADA) Guides, Edmunds, and Kelley Blue Book;
- Do not buy a used car until it has been inspected by a mechanic of your choosing. Research the price and reliability of the car before you buy it, and obtain reports about a vehicle’s history. Test drive the car under varied road conditions. If a salesman promises to fix vehicle defects, do not purchase the vehicle until you have confirmed that the promised repairs have been made;
- Carefully review a contract for all terms of a proposed sale. Do not let a salesman pressure you into spending more money than you can afford, or making a hasty decision. Make sure you leave with a fully executed sale agreement, with no blank areas. Total purchase price and any financing terms should be clearly stated. Make sure you get a copy of the sale agreement signed by the dealer at the time of purchase;
- If a dealer offers you an extended warranty, carefully read and understand the warranty terms, including whether there are any deductibles, what repairs are covered, and under what conditions;
- Take your vehicle immediately after purchase for a safety and emissions inspection, and know your rights under the Massachusetts Lemon Aid Law in case your vehicle does not pass inspection.