By Crissa Shoemaker Debree, Bucks County Courier Times (September 26, 2006 8:31 AM)
A senior citizen with disabilities from Falls has sued a New Jersey car dealership, claiming its sales staff tricked him into buying a car for nearly twice its value.
Kenneth Hammel, 77, and his lawyers say the Cherry Hill Triplex car dealership pulled a bait-and-switch scheme in which a salesman sold him one car with known problems, then sold him another one for more money when he returned for repairs.
"This is a gentleman who is very vulnerable," said Hammel's attorney, Craig Thor Kimmel. "He comes across as a trusting man, who perhaps isn't as attentive to the details these days. He had no chance against the experts."
Hammel, a retired union carpenter, said Monday that he's angry.
"They gave me a rough time down there," he said. "I wish that I never went there."
Kimmel filed the suit for Hammel last week in Bucks County court. Kimmel's law firm is known for representing consumers, especially in car dispute cases.
Hammel went to the Cherry Hill dealership on Dec. 20 to trade in his 2000 Chrysler Town & Country for a new car that could fit his wheelchair lift, the suit states. Hammel was attracted to the dealership by a TV advertisement promising $8,000 for any trade-in, the lawsuit said.
The suit states that Hammel dealt with three or four salesmen during his 12 hours at the dealership. At the end of the day, Hammel agreed to buy a used 2005 silver Kia Sedona, the suit said.
Before running a credit check or disclosing the purchase price, the salesman wanted a $4,000 deposit and accompanied Hammel to his bank to make the withdrawal, the suit said. The price was $23,940.78, $700 more than the suggested retail price of the minivan, according to the lawsuit.
The next day, Hammel's suit said, he discovered problems with the car. Those included the dealership's improper installation of the wheelchair lift he provided, the suit said. Someone at the dealership told him to bring back the van for repairs in three weeks, according to the lawsuit.
When Hammel returned to get his car, a salesman presented him with a used beige, not silver, 2005 Sedona and claimed it was the same car he dropped off, according to the suit. The salesman also said he had to fill out more paperwork and asked for his ATM card as a credit reference.
The lawsuit stated that the salesman then acknowledged the beige car wasn't the same one Hammel had bought, and that, in fact, the initial purchase never went through. Hammel was then told he had to sign more paperwork.
The suit said Hammel later realized the dealership had traded in the silver car he purchased a few weeks earlier, subtracted $8,000 for depreciation and rolled that into a new purchase price of $42,662.92, $18,000 more than the other used car.
"I don't even make that much in a year," Hammel said. "Ten years, I should say."
The dealership also used his ATM card, without permission, to withdraw an additional $2,000, the lawsuit stated.
Cherry Hill Triplex on Route 70 is comprised of Cherry Hill Dodge, Cherry Hill Jeep, Cherry Hill Kia and Cherry Hill Mitsubishi. Dodge and Jeep are part of the Chrysler Group. Dealership representatives didn't return phone calls for comment Monday.
On its website, the company calls itself the largest triplex of dealerships in the United States. The Web site says, "Our success and growth over the years has been made possible only because of our commitment to customer service."
In March, New Jersey's attorney general sued Triplex parent company Foulke Management Corp., claiming it violated the Consumer Fraud Act, Lemon Law regulations and advertising laws.
The suit claimed the dealer, among other things: didn't honor its guarantee of $8,000 for each trade-in vehicle; used bait-and-switch practices to sell vehicles for more than advertised; and failed to disclose that a vehicle had been damaged and subsequently repaired.
That lawsuit is pending.
Mike Bannon, director of Bucks County Consumer Protection, said his office has received no complaints about Cherry Hill Triplex. But his counterparts in Camden County have received a number of complaints, he said.
"It is a very sad story," Bannon said. "It's always sad when this kind of thing happens."
Bannon said consumers should first and foremost bring a family member or friend with them when buying a car. They should always take their time and read the fine print.
"It's difficult when people are trying to trick you," he said. "The devil is in the paperwork here."