An Edmonton woman’s lack of experience in buying a car ended up costing her thousands of dollars, at least until she made a call to CBC's Go Public.

Winifred Kollie, who is originally from West Africa, bought a 2013 fully-loaded Corolla — with power windows, door locks, sunroof and heated seats — from Kingsway Toyota in January for just over $23,000.

But she returned the car to the dealer in September, complaining the paint was coming off the driver-side door sill - a problem a service department employee attributed to her stepping on it when getting in and out.

'That makes me very angry when you try to exploit me. I work hard'- Winifred Kollie

Kollie says she struggled to get in because the door didn’t open far enough.

“I thought this was how the car was made,” she said.

Instead of fixing the door, the service department referred her to the showroom.

After spending several hours looking at cars on the computer with salespeople, it dawned on her she was negotiating to buy a new car.

“The other sales guy came and told me ‘Congratulations, we got your car approved for zero down and zero interest,’ or something like that, and I was happy.”

Kollie admitted she was completely naive about how auto sales worked.

'This is my first time'

“This is my first time with all of these things,” she said. “Them being a dealer, I thought they knew what was going to be done.”

In the end, she traded in her fully-loaded Corolla for a base model car of the same year and a lot more money.

Kollie said she was never told the final price until she was asked to sign the papers.

“So I kept signing, and … when I stopped signing, I read it through and said ‘This is $32,000!’ And he said, ‘Oh, but you get free this, free that, free the other. Everything is covered for seven years.’”

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Kollie agreed to pay $32,348.37, including almost $2,000 in options and extra fees she says she didn’t ask for or understand, for an economy car she hadn’t yet seen.

The extras included a $399 administration fee, $298 for tire-and-rim insurance, $298 for the anti-theft package and $1,000 for “Pro Pack.”

Kollie asked about the anti-theft package and was told it was mandatory in Edmonton.

“They said these things were very important,” she said.

None of the extras is mandatory.

Tried cancelling deal

That night, when she told her son what she’d done, he was furious and told her to cancel the deal.

Kollie went back to Kingsway Toyota the following morning and said her family was angry she had paid so much, but was told the deal was final.

Kollie said she pressed the issue, saying sales staff had withheld the final price until the last minute, only talking about the benefits she was getting.

The dealership wrote her a cheque for $2,000, and Kollie says she was happy again, until she got her new car home and realized how different it was from what she had traded in.

The new Corolla had no sunroof or heated seats and, because of her arthritis, Kollie struggled to use the manual wind-up windows.

Furthermore, she said, her job driving disabled people requires her to be able to lock passenger doors and windows from the inside. On one of her first trips, she says, a client rolled down the window and nearly opened the car from the outside while she was driving.

Kingsway Toyota offered to install power windows, at her expense, or sell her a 2014 model, once one was available, she said.

Every solution the dealer proposed would have cost her even more money and that’s why she called Go Public, she said.

“That makes me very angry when you try to exploit me," she said. "I work hard.”

Dealer defended transaction

Daniel Priestner, Kingsway’s General Sales Manager, defended the transaction, saying Kollie was fully aware of what she was buying and the price.

Kollie was refunded the $2,000 as soon as the company became aware she was unhappy with the optional products and fees, Priestner said.

His staff are instructed to be sure buyers know what they’re being offered is optional, he said.

It was after Go Public requested an on-camera interview that Kingsway Toyota returned Kollie’s original car to her with the door fixed, but on the condition she not speak with Go Public or any other media about her experience again.

Priestner denies Kollie was exploited.

“Kingsway Toyota has gone out of our way to ensure the client wasn’t taken advantage of,” he said.

“Winifred had a great deal of buyer’s remorse after the purchase and I’m happy to say we’ve rectified that by giving her back her old car, which was the right thing to do,” Priestner said.

Auto-buyers must be educated: expert

Kyle Murray, director of the School of Retailing at the University of Alberta, says the auto sales business has improved a lot over the years, but buyers need to know they have to negotiate.

“We have a culture of buyer-beware,” he said. “I think in this case, a woman from a different country, who’s not comfortable with this kind of process and maybe doesn’t know what she should be looking for, is at a disadvantage.”

The reaction of a lot of Canadians will be that Kollie is no victim, Murray said.

“I’ve asked a few people about this story … and their response is, ‘She should have known better,’” he said.

“I think a lot of people, the average person, is going to know better. They’re going to know you should negotiate. But it’s nice if we could do something to protect the average consumer as well as unique consumer.”

Kollie would only say she’s happier now.

“Back to what I wanted,” she said.