Customer catches car dealer's possible deception

A Toyota customer from North Vancouver believes she was deceived by a large car dealership after repairs she paid for on a leased vehicle were not done as promised.

Pattison Auto Group blames 'miscommunication' over lease repair charge

A Toyota customer from North Vancouver believes she was deceived by a large car dealership after repairs she paid for on a leased vehicle were not done as originally promised.

"They told me something that was not true," said Shirley Sidey. "I caught them red-handed."

When Sidey returned her Highlander to Jim Pattison North Shore Toyota in August, she was charged $600, plus $72 tax, for a small dent on the bumper. She said the salesman told her the bumper had to be replaced before the vehicle could be put up for sale.

Sidey paid and went home, but she still had floor mats she had bought for the vehicle. She advertised them for sale on Craigslist  and a man who just bought the same Highlander responded to her ad.

Previous and new customers meet

"Serendipity. Karma. Fate. It was meant to be," said Sidey. "This guy came in my driveway — he drove up and there was my car."

Sidey said she was shocked to find the dealership had sold the car to the new owner "as is, without doing the bumper repair she had paid for.

Jim Pattison North Shore Toyota charged Shirley Sidney $672 for a small dent on the bumper of her leased vehicle when she returned it, but sold the vehicle without doing the repair. ((CBC))

"I came out on the driveway and walked around the car — and there was the old bumper still on the car," said Sidey. "I asked him if he knew anything about it — he said 'No.' I said, 'Did they tell you [that] you were going to get a new bumper?' — and he said 'No.'

"He didn't even notice the bumper.  I said, 'Oh my God, there's that same dent!' and he said, 'What dent?'"

Sidey said she called the Pattison dealership immediately and spoke to the salesman who had charged her $600 for a new bumper.

"I asked him, 'Did you put a new bumper on that car?' He told me there was a new bumper on that car. I said, 'Are you sure? Are you absolutely sure that there's a new bumper on that car?' and he said, 'I am absolutely sure that there is a new bumper on that car,'" said Sidey.

"I was angry — I was furious."

Sidey complained to the general manager and asked for her money back. She said he told her the dealership had every intention of replacing the bumper, even though the new owner knew nothing about that.

"They said they were waiting for the new owner to come in to get some other things done on the vehicle," she said.

Sidey said he also indicated she was fortunate they didn't charge her more — for other needed repairs.

"They went on the offensive and put me on the defensive," said Sidey. "They told me there was a whole bunch of other things wrong with the car, but they were not going to charge me for all those things," said Sidey.

Sidey did not understand how that could be the case because the vehicle had been fully serviced at the same dealership in August.

"They were trying to bully me into keeping me quiet by saying I was lucky and I was getting away with all this stuff," she said.

Customer responsible for damage

Bill Harbottle, president of the Jim Pattison Auto Group, declined to speak on tape, but told CBC News that Sidey's lease contract with Toyota makes her responsible for any damage to the vehicle, beyond normal wear and tear.

"She wanted to turn the car in. She is responsible for paying for any damage," said Harbottle. "Whether we decide to fix it or not, or sell it as is, that is up to us."

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Harbottle admitted there was a "miscommunication" by the salesman, when he told Sidey the bumper had been replaced, but insisted that was not intentional.

"She was not deceived. [The salesman] didn't even know the car was sold," said Harbottle. "Admittedly, he did not answer the question the way he should have. He probably just should have said — I will check."

As a result of Sidey's complaints, the Pattison dealership apologized and refunded her $672. Harbottle said a new bumper has been installed on the vehicle for the new owner.

"If we say we are going to do something to fix the car, we will do it," he added.

Lease repair complaints growing

The Automobile Protection Association (APA), a national consumer advocacy group, says it is hearing an increasing number of consumer complaints over inflated lease damage charges.

"The dealer assesses the damage at retail [price] — and then may or may not do the repairs," said George Iny of the Automobile Protection Association. "It is a form of deception on the consumer."

Iny explained automakers are getting tougher on consumers, and some are charging much more for damage than what it costs them to repair. To consumers, he said, the charges might be outrageous, but to dealers, that's just way things are done.

"You have damage appraisals that are exaggerated and often people are not told what actually gets done," said Iny.

"They might charge for four new tires when two used tires might do. [Consumers are billed] for proper body work when in fact they bring in a guy to punch out dents for 70 bucks for each dent."

He advised customers with leased vehicles to get their vehicles appraised for damage, before returning them, then get the necessary repairs done themselves.

The APA has set up a service for consumers in Montreal and Toronto, where consumers can get an independent appraisal done.

"Our sense at the APA is that the actual inspection is reasonable, but that the damage appraisals are often exaggerated," said Iny.

Alleged deception to be investigated

As for how Sidey felt deceived by the salesman, B.C.'s Motor Vehicle Sales Authority (MVSA) said she might have a case. The agency is responsible for enforcing provincial consumer protection laws in that industry.

"It certainly doesn't sound appropriate. On the face of it, it sounds deceptive," said Doug Longhurst, the director of consumer services and professional development. "Even if they were fully in their rights, [the dealership] did not put their best foot forward."

Longhurst said it is a violation of B.C.'s consumer protection laws to fool or mislead a consumer in any way. 

"If a consumer is willing to file a complaint we will investigate — and make it so they don't have to work as hard as [Sidey] did — to get a resolution," said Longhurst.

Sidey has filed a complaint with the MVSA. Even though her money was refunded, Sidey said she still wants her experience to serve as a warning to other consumers.

"It started out as being about my $600 but then it came down to the deception and the disrespect I felt when I was dealing with this company," said Sidey.