Fenway Auto Park / Route 495 Auto Group / Breaking Mass Lemon Laws
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
State says auto dealer sought to skirt Mass. Lemon Law
Published: December 13, 2009 12:58 am
By Shawn Regansregan@eagletribune.com
HAVERHILL — Thomas Boover's problems began last summer when he purchased a used Ford truck for $9, 000 from Fenway Autopark in Haverhill.
Since then, the Haverhill man's fight to get the owner of the dealership to take back the problem-plagued vehicle and refund his money under the state's Lemon Law has drawn the attention of state officials.
The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation says Boover's case illustrates how some dealerships in border communities are trying to get around the law that requires Massachusetts dealers to provide written warranties on used-car sales and fix problems or provide refunds in many instances. New Hampshire does not have a similar law.
Although Boover purchased his truck at the dealership on upper Main Street in Haverhill, a salesman from the store made him drive across the New Hampshire line to sign papers for the sale, according to the consumer protection agency.
When Boover tried to return his truck under the Massachusetts Lemon Law, the owner of Fenway Autopark, Robert Kalil, told him the law didn't apply because the vehicle was purchased in New Hampshire. Kalil even claimed his dealership didn't even sell the vehicle.
"It's not first time we've heard of this, especially in border communities, " said Jason Lefferts, a spokesman for the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "We want consumers to know about this because we want them to be on guard if a dealer tries to take them over a state line to sign something."
After trying unsuccessfully to get the dealership to fix problems with his truck, Boover contacted the consumer affairs agency for help. An arbiter for the agency heard the case last month and ruled in Boover's favor, ordering that he be given a refund.
But in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune, Kalil denied selling Boover the vehicle.
"They had horrible credit, so I took them to a store in New Hampshire that a friend of mine owns, " said Kalil, referring to Rob Waters Suzuki in Plaistow, N.H. "Suzuki is a big store, so it's easier for them to get financing. I hate to bring a customer to another store, but hopefully I can get a little referral, because if I can't get them a loan, I have no customer anyway."
Rob Waters of Rob Waters Suzuki also said it was his dealership that sold Boover the truck. He said he doesn't know why Boover believes he bought the vehicle in Massachusetts, but if that is the case, he agrees Boover's truck should be covered by the Massachusetts Lemon Law.
"I don't know why no one ever told me there was a problem, but I just found out about it last night, " Waters said on Friday. "If (Boover) would have come to me about this at any point, I would have fixed the vehicle or I would have bought it back, which is what I always do anyway if a customer is unhappy."
Waters said his dealership is not affiliated with Fenway Autopark, but the Haverhill dealership does occasionally bring potential customers to his dealership in Plaistow. But he said he will have nothing more to do with Kalil, because of the Boover dispute.
"I feel victimized that I'm going to be in the newspaper over something negative that I had nothing to do with, " Waters said.
Truck plagued with problems
In testimony from the state's arbitration hearing, Boover said when he signed the purchase agreement for the truck, the paperwork did not include a letterhead identifying the seller. However, he said when he asked for a copy for his records afterward, there was a stamp on it that said "Rob Waters Suzuki, Plaistow, N.H."
Boover visited Fenway Autopark for the first time on June 23. Two weeks later, on July 6, he paid the dealership a $1, 500 deposit on the truck.
It was on that day that Boover said he and his mother, Jo Ann Boover, were taken by a Fenway Autopark salesman to an "empty building with no name on it" on Route 125 in Plaistow, N.H. Jo Ann Boover signed for the loan that her son used to buy the truck.
The salesman told the Boovers they had to travel to the New Hampshire location to sign and process insurance papers that were not at the Haverhill dealership, Thomas Boover said.
After signing the insurance papers, the salesman told Boover the truck would be "checked over" and that someone would call him in a few days when it was ready to be picked up. After a series of delays, Boover said he took delivery of the vehicle on July 20.
Almost immediately, the truck's warning light came on. Within days, he said, the brakes were making a hissing sound, the front end was vibrating, the rear end was making loud noises, the exhaust was leaking and the air-conditioning stopped working.
After trying unsuccessfully to get the dealership to fix the problems, Boover contacted the state attorney general's office for help.
An arbiter for the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation heard the case and ruled in Boover's favor on Oct. 19. The decision says Fenway Autopark must take the truck back and return Boover's money.
At the arbitration hearing, Boover provided several documents to prove that Kalil sold him the truck at his Massachusetts dealership, said Lefferts, the consumer affairs spokesman. Included in Boover's evidence was a copy of a cancelled check paid by Jo Ann Boover to Fenway Autopark. The check was deposited into Fenway Autopark's bank account.
Other documents describe parts that need to be replaced in Boover's truck, including the right front axle shaft, the right front converter, the rear main oil seal, the rear differential bearings and clutch packs, brake rotors and pads for all four wheels, and emergency brakes and cables.
Dealer denies wrongdoing
Kalil, who attended the arbitration hearing, disputed Boover's and his mother's account that they were taken by one of his salesman to "an empty building with no name on it" in New Hampshire to sign papers for the sale.
"They were taken to a $2 million building to buy a car because I couldn't get them financing and I was trying to help them out, " Kalil said. "The building was under renovation at the time, so that's why it was mostly empty. But there were several large signs on the property.
"They were there signing papers for a half hour. They signed a bank contract, a purchase and sales agreement, an odometer statement and other paperwork. She (Jo Ann Boover) lied when she told the arbiter she only signed one piece of paper."
Kalil said he lost the case only because he did not bring any paperwork with him to the arbitration hearing.
"How am I going to prove I didn't sell a car?" he asked. "But I guarantee you I'm going to win in court. There's no way a judge is going to say I sold that truck. The arbitrator was a 60-year-old woman who didn't have a clue."
Kalil said he took the $1, 500 deposit from the Boovers because "I'm not going to spend all that time and energy helping someone without a deposit."
On Thursday, Kalil said he has no intention of refunding Boover's money and that he has appealed the arbiter's decision to Superior Court.
On Friday, however, Boover's attorney, William Cox, said he was contacted by George Kalil, who co-owns the Fenway Autopark dealship with his brother.
Cox said George Kalil has agreed to take back the truck and repay Jo Ann Boover's loan. Waters, the owner of the Plaistow dealership, said he is actually buying back the truck.
Lefferts, of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, said the case should serve as a warning to other potential buyers.
"When making a big financial decision like buying a car, consumers should feel 100 percent confident and comfortable in their situation, " he said. "If something doesn't seem quite right, they should air their concerns or find another dealer."
Posted by Dawn Horwitz at 8:41 AM