I've heard of some grimey car dealerships, but this one takes the cake...
NewsChannel 5 Investigates:
Dealership Doesn't Like Deal, Takes Car Back
Posted: 7/17/2006 9:55:00 PM
Updated: 7/17/2006 11:23:17 PM
NewsChannel 5 Investigates:<BR>Dealership Doesn't Like Deal, Takes Car Back
Car dealers are often the butt of jokes. But one local truck buyer is not laughing about the deal that he got -- and lost. Consumer advocates say this case raises lots of questions about how a well-known auto dealer does business.
Earl Kieselhorst thought he owned a 2003 Chevy Silverado -- a truck that he bought from Bill Heard Chevrolet in Antioch.
Kieselhorst says he "paid cash for it. Made the deal. Sales manager signed off on it. Signed all the paperwork. And drove off."
He traded in his car and gave the dealer a check for $8,100.
"I have the keys," Kieselhorst tells NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus.
But he doesn't have his truck.
Bill Heard does.
"I can't see any reason why this wouldn't be my car," he adds.
Just one day after he bought the truck, a salesman from Bill Heard called to say the dealership was having second thoughts about the deal.
He told Kieselhorst that if he wanted to keep his truck, he needed to fork over another $10,000 -- something he refused to do. After all, he says, they had a signed deal.
But the next morning, when Kieselhorst woke up, his truck was gone.
"And I was like I can't believe it," he recalls.
The dealership had come and taken it in the middle of the night.
"I've got a contract. This is a legal contract. I don't know what to say. I don't know what to say."
Metro police investigated and wanted to file charges against Bill Heard for stealing the truck.
Detective Ray Paris got a statement from Bill Heard, blaming a rookie salesman for what happened and calling it a mistake. (Read the statement given to police by Bill Heard.)
"They inadvertently sold the vehicle at a lower cost than what they should have," Paris says.
Kathleen Calligan says the Better Business Bureau has received literally hundreds and hundreds of similar complaints about the Bill Heard dealership -- more complaints by far than any other auto dealer in all of Middle Tennessee.
"Not only is this an unbelievable volume of complaints, most of them are unresolved," she adds.
Calligan says that, in this day and age, dealers know exactly how much a vehicle is worth.
And if a dealership truly does make a mistake, she says they'll take the loss -- rather than call the customer and demand he make up the difference.
"There is absolutely no reason for a sale not to be final when the customer walks out of the dealership," Calligan adds.
Yet even after Bill Heard had taken back the truck, the salesman called Kieselhorst again.
"He calls me back and offers to sell it to me for $11,000 more than I paid for it," Kieselhorst recalls.
Kieselhorst said no way.
And even though he still believes he is the rightful owner of the truck, when we went looking for it at Bill Heard, we found a customer checking it out. It was for sale, the customer and a saleswoman told us.
"The whole thing has just gotten more and more ridiculous," Kieselhorst says.
And now the self-proclaimed largest Chevrolet dealership in the world is accusing Kieselhorst of "trying to pull a fast one" on them.
"This is the way this company does business," Calligan says. "They really thought they would be able to pull a fast one on their customer."
After we tried to get their side for days, Bill Heard faxed us a statement just before air time, saying that Kieselhorst "should have known" that the deal he got was too good to be true.
The company says:
"It is not reasonable or fair to expect for Bill Heard Chevrolet ... to be bound by a sale where a clear and material mistake was made, and the customer was aware that it was a mistake."
(Read Bill Heard's statement provided to NewsChannel 5.)
Kieselhort says he just thought Bill Heard was giving him the type of good deal they advertise.
As for the police investigation, the DA says this is a civil case, not a criminal case. He says Kieselhorst is free to take the dealer to court -- something he's now seriously considering.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates:
Bill Heard Sees Consumer Complaints Nationwide
Posted: 7/25/2006 10:39:00 PM
Updated: 7/26/2006 9:13:28 AM
An exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation first exposed how one man's deal just disappeared at Bill Heard Chevrolet. As it turns out, the company has a nationwide record of unhappy customers.
“It just blew my mind. I almost thought it was a joke in the beginning, you know. It was almost too unreal to believe,” customer Elizabeth Wilson tells NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus.
Just two days after Wilson and her husband bought a 2005 Chevy Equinox, the dealer tried to take it away, using what Wilson called fear and intimidation.
“There was no way to get out. They surrounded my car with seven people and stood in my doorframe. Couldn't start the car. Couldn't shut the door in 97-degree weather,” Wilson recalls.
The Wilsons bought the car at the Bill Heard dealership in Huntsville, Ala.
But when she went back to get a typo on the car title fixed, she says the salesman suddenly insisted she couldn't keep the car because the former owner's deal had fallen through.
“I just laughed at them,” Wilson says.
She refused to hand over the keys. That's when, she says, the salesmen surrounded her car while another used a truck to block her in all while her 1-year-old son sat strapped in his car seat.
“I was a nervous wreck. My blood pressure, I could almost feel my blood boiling. I couldn't believe that this was happening to me, anything like this.”
Our investigation found unhappy customers just like Wilson at Bill Heard dealerships across the country.
The family-run company sells Chevys in seven states in all. Bill Heard has more than a dozen dealerships
There were literally hundreds of customer complaints against Bill Heard filed with the Better Business Bureau in the last three years.
“This is serious. This is a serious consumer issue that is out of the ordinary,” says Kathleen Calligan, with the Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee.
In Nashville alone, more than 100 customers have complained about the way they were treated at the dealership in Antioch.
That's far more than any other dealer.
The Better Business Bureau said many of these customers say Bill Heard tried to take back their cars, too, just like Wilson after their deal had supposedly been sealed.
“It's misleading, and it's deceptive,” Calligan said.
Attorney Barry Weathers calls Bill Heard “a cancer on the community” and says the problems reflect the company's corporate culture.
Weathers has handled more than a dozen lawsuits against the Nashville location, where he says Bill Heard employees have stolen customers' identities, used bait-and-switch schemes, falsified documents and forged customers' signatures.
“They are the worst of the worst,” Weathers says.
The company has been fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by the attorneys general in Texas, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee yet the self-proclaimed world's largest Chevy dealer claims on the its Web site that Bill Heard is “dedicated to the principles of sound business ethics" and “long-standing integrity."
“I've seen nothing to indicate that Bill Heard, the wealthy man that's in charge of all of this, has taken any steps to make his dealership a reputable dealership that wants to be fair to people,” Weathers adds.
Elizabeth Wilson says the way Bill Heard does business is no way to do business.
“How can a car company just treat people like that, innocent people? I just don't understand,” Wilson says.
Wilson finally called police from her car to get out of the dealership -- with her car.
She is now suing Bill Heard for false imprisonment.
Despite the high number of complaints, there weren't many lawsuits filed.
That's because Bill Heard tells customers they have to sign an arbitration agreement where they agree not to sue and agree to have their case heard by a company mediator.
Consumer advocates say people should know they don't have to sign such an agreement to buy a car.