Used car salesmen are often the butt of jokes, but they are also largely responsible for their own bad rap thanks to gimmicky ads and a penchant for shrill sales pitches loaded with false promises.
So, when my 14-year old Toyota truck expired a couple of years ago, I went straight to Mossy Mission Bay Toyota, an established San Diego dealership that I had an existing relationship with. Their mechanics had done a good job servicing my old truck for over five years and I thought the dealership had a solid reputation. They were having a certified red tag sale, and I thought that if I purchased a vehicle at that time, it would be guaranteed as a reliable product.
Being that I was a serious customer, I mentioned to the salesman how I needed a car for work and wanted to purchase a dependable vehicle. Unfortunately, the dependability of their vehicles was apparently not guaranteed. After looking at the two best-priced cars on the lot, I chose to test drive an $8000 2002 Ford Escort with reasonable mileage that looked good both inside and out. It even came with a free Auto Check report indicating a clean vehicle history. So imagine my surprise when I took it out on the road and quickly felt the car's terrible vibration. It was serious enough to make the steering wheel and dashboard vibrate and the rearview mirrors shake.
My cool-headed salesman was completely unruffled by this, saying it was no big deal, the car's idle just needed a minor adjustment and that Mossy would fix it for me. He seemed completely familiar with the problem and he appeared to know what to do about it. Three times during the test drive, he showed me how I could press gently on the accelerator with the car in park to stop the shaking and rattling.
For over 20 years, I've worked at a major warehouse club where our members' satisfaction is our top priority, and we bend over backwards to make things right for them, no matter what. In my experience, good business means excellent customer service and, remember, I already was a Mossy customer and had never had any complaints with their service - before now. Given these factors, I had confidence that a salesman from this dealership would be forthcoming in his information regarding repairs to a certified vehicle.
I wanted the car fixed before driving it off the lot, but the salesman said they could not give me an appointment that day. I also couldn't get one within the 48-hour window they allow for customers to cancel their purchase. They eventually tried to repair the car several times but could not and then they derisively dismissed me when I asked them to take it back. The only suggestion they had was that I trade in the Escort for another car on their lot.
I found help at the Lemon Law Center where I was connected with an attorney and an auto investigator who only needed a single thorough check to learn what Mossy's salesmen and mechanics did not disclose to me: The Escort had been completely submerged in water. They had sold me a rusted-out flood car.
If that's not bad enough, Mossy's sales contract included a clause that prevents me from suing them in court. This business practice, binding mandatory arbitration, is a fancy name for a dirty, anti-consumer scheme that protects companies from financial liability for all sorts of bad outcomes. I don't really understand how it can be legal, but businesses are able to cheat and lie and then hire their own fake judges who pretend to consider the facts but, nine times out of ten, rule against the little guy. It's no different than old-fashioned highway robbery.
I'm hurt by this experience, and not just in the wallet. My attorney was told by the dealership's attorney that Mossy wants to take a stand in my case. A stand against what? Honesty? Fairness? I thought at some point that Mossy might eventually accept their responsibility, acknowledge their mistake and make things right with me. But this has been going on for over two years, and it's not over yet. Mossy has even been stalling with the arbitrator because of fees they would also have to pay. At one point, the arbitrator's total fees came to more than the $8000 I paid for the flood car. That arbitrator then refused to hear the case at all, and now Mossy is not cooperating with the new arbitrator. There's something very wrong with this picture, and it is so much bigger than just buyer beware.
Mossy has put me through the ringer, making me a fairly typical victim of binding mandatory arbitration. But on April 29, I'll be in Washington, D.C., on Capitol Hill participating in a press conference about this abuse of consumers, and lobbying my legislators to support a new bill, the Arbitration Fairness Act, that would abolish this practice included in the fine print of all kinds of everyday business contracts. To learn more about it, visit (((link redacted)))
San Diego, California
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