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Discount Auto Plaza, Bait and Switch Advertising, Lemon Law

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Case Description

A first-time car buyer working her way through college had always wanted a Dodge Charger. While browsing craigslist for used vehicles, she thought she found her dream car when she saw dealer Southcoast Automotive Liquidators (dba Discount Auto Plaza)’s advertisement for a 2009 black Dodge Charger priced at $9,995.00. Unbeknownst to the buyer, Discount Auto Plaza did not have the car they were advertising, and were unlawfully engaging in bait and switch advertising to trick used car buyers to come into their dealership, where they could more easily take advantage of them.

Buyer lived in Oxnard and Discount Auto Plaza was located in South Gate. Before Buyer and her mother made the long drive to South Gate, Buyer’s mother called the dealership to confirm the vehicle was still available and spoke an employee named Sergio. During that phone call, which was in Spanish, Sergio confirmed that the exact Charger they saw on craigslist was available – reiterating that the car had 42,000 miles and was the only black Charger on the Dealer’s lot. Sergio further stated that although the Charger was priced at $9,995, Discount Auto Plaza’s manager could lower the price to $9,000 if they came in.

A few days later, Buyer’s stepfather called the dealership to again confirm the Discount Auto had the Charger in stock before traveling down to the dealer. A female employee again confirmed the Charger was still available for $9,995.00 with 42,000 miles. After being assured twice by two separate Dealer employees that the Charger had 42,000 miles and was available for the advertised price, Buyer and her mother drove to South Gate to view the Charger.

When the Buyer and her mother arrived at Discount Auto and asked to see Sergio about buying the Charger, a salesman named Ali misrepresented that he was Sergio and showed them a black Charger with 107,000 miles on the odometer. When Buyer asked to see the Charger with 42,000 miles, Ali stated that Discount Auto Plaza did not have a Dodge Charger with 42,000 miles, and instead stated “this will be an excellent replacement”.

The Dodge Charger offered had 107,000 miles and the buyer noticed that there was no sticker or sales price on the vehicle. Buyer also noticed some dents and scratches outside, rips and tears inside, and a warning light flashing on the console. Ali promised that Discount Auto would fix all of the problems if Buyer purchased the Charger. When Buyer’s mother questioned Ali about lowering the price to $9,000 as she discussed over the phone, she was told that “the $9,000 price is for cash buyers only.” Needing to purchase a car that night, the buyer agreed to buy the car with considerably higher mileage for $9,995.

Ali then handed Buyer off to another Discount Auto Plaza employee named Lupe, who went over the purchase paperwork. There, Buyer noticed in the stack of sales documents that Discount Auto was selling the vehicle for $16,995, a full $7,000 higher than Ali had stated the Charger was being sold for.

When Buyer and her mom questioned Lupe about why the selling price was $7,000 higher than what they agreed, Lupe replied, “We’re just throwing numbers out there just to get started” and added, “All those numbers will change once your credit is approved. That is not the amount you will end up paying.” Lupe further stated that “In six months, we’ll switch the finance company, and the price will decrease drastically, and in the end, the price will be $11,000.

When Buyer’s mother asked what the numbers in the boxes that list annual percentage rate, finance charge, amount financed, and total payments on the sales contract meant, Lupe told her to “ignore the numbers, they don’t mean anything, all the numbers will be fixed. You are not paying the amounts in the boxes.” Buyer’s mother questioned Lupe if she was sure, and again brought up that the Dodge Charger was advertised for $9,995. Lupe said, “I’m sure, you can trust me!” Buyer relied on all of the representations made by Discount Auto Plaza and signed the documents where Lupe told her to sign without further explanation. Further, the purchase was eventually financed by Veros Credit but the numbers in the sales documents never changed.

While signing the Sale’s contract, Buyer heard a loud commotion outside the room and a woman scream, “oh my god, he hit Sergio!” Ali and Sergio had apparently gotten into a physical fight over who was going to get the commission over Buyer purchasing the Charger while buyer was signing the sales documents. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived, and while Buyer and her mother wanted to leave, they couldn’t because Discount Auto Plaza had taken her driver’s license and wouldn’t return it until after the sales paperwork was finished.

Lupe then presented Buyer with a contract cancellation option agreement, which gives a consumer the opportunity to purchase a right to cancel the contract option, but misled Buyer by stating that by Buyer signing it, Buyer couldn’t cancel the contract. Discount Auto Plaza also added an additional $895 charge for “GAP” insurance, (Guaranteed Asset Protection), without giving the buyer the option to choose not to purchase it. Further, although Buyer and her mother only spoke Spanish with both Sergio and Lupe regarding the sale of the car, none of the sales documents were in Spanish as required by California law.

After signing the purchase documents, Buyer pointed out to Lupe the Dodge Charger’s damage that needed to be fixed as agreed, and Lupe took photographs. Discount Auto’s manager came out shortly thereafter, and told Buyer she needed to take the car home that day, but she could make an appointment to return the Charger for repairs. The manager promised that if anything was wrong with the Charger, the Dealer would fix it, including the dents and scratches outside, rips and tears inside, and a warning light flashing on the console. Although Lupe and Buyer exchanged several text messages in Spanish after the purchase, confirming what the Dealer had agreed to repair, Discount Auto never made the repairs as promised, violating California’s Lemon Law.

About a month after purchase, the Charger began overheating and had problems with the air conditioning. Buyer was forced to take the Charger to an independent repair shop, Auto Tech in Oxnard, to have it inspected and get an estimate for repairs because Dealer refused to accept the vehicle for repairs as promised. Auto Tech’s technician informed the Buyer that the Charger needed numerous repairs including: new spark plugs, new air filter, new cabin filter, that the air condition was not working, that there was coolant leaking from the upper coolant outlet, the front and rear brakes were only at 30% and the front and rear tires were only at 40%.

Shortly thereafter, buyer retained our firm against Discount Auto Plaza regarding their acts of fraud, misrepresentations, false advertising, bait and switch advertising, selling a vehicle over its advertised price, forced placement of GAP insurance, and failure to repair the subject vehicle under California’s Lemon Law.

Discount Auto Plaza refused to cooperate, and forced the matter to trial, where the court awarded our client full rescission (cancellation) of the sales contract, plus an additional award of $15,409.95, as well as another $23,114.93 in civil penalties due to their willful dishonesty, and further ordered the dealership to pay the buyer’s attorney’s fees. Discount Auto Plaza decided to appeal the judgment, but lost again, and was ordered to pay the additional attorney’s fees arising out of the buyer having to defend the appeal.