I-Team: Auto auction complaints

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Friday, July 25, 2014
I-Team: Auto auction complaints
The ABC7 I-Team looked into complaints against one local company selling used cars.

HARVEY, Ill. (WLS) -- Used cars can be a bargain, but what if you get a clunker? The ABC7 I-Team looked into complaints against one local company selling used cars.

We all know that when you buy a used vehicle without a warranty, you're taking a gamble. But the I-Team found an auto auction, with a number of complaints, and we've learned that the attorney general's office is investigating. In some cases there are allegations that cars break down shortly after the purchase.

The South Chicago Auto Auction of Harvey advertises a good deal, but Thyra Rucker-Graves says she got stuck with a bad engine.

"It was so loud it sounded like someone had a machine gun, ba ba ba ba ba," said Rucker-Graves.

Rucker-Graves recently paid $4,100 for a 2004 Volkswagen Passat, her daughter's college graduation present. She says just moments after pulling out of the auto auction, the engine began to fail.

"We pulled over to the auto auction to tell him what the problem was and asked to either return the car or get our money back," said Rucker-Graves.

Rucker-Graves says the manager refused so she immediately took it to a mechanic, who told her the car needed a new engine for another $2,400, bringing the total cost now to $6,500. She did tell us that auto auction managers eventually gave her $300.

The I-Team took smartphone video on the lot during a one-hour viewing session before the bi-weekly auction. But when the bidding begins, we were told to turn off the camera.

All potential customers are warned on this disclaimer: everything is sold "as is." And they must sign a form acknowledging the policy before making a purchase. If they buy, they must pay cash before taking the car.

"The complaints are alleging that the cars they are purchasing either fall apart, break down or they can't even drive it off the lot," said Steve Bernas, Better Business Bureau.

The Better Business Bureau says the South Chicago Auto Auction of Harvey has an "F" rating with about 70 recent complaints in the last three years. The BBB says 26 went unanswered by auto auction managers.

South Side resident Mary Brown says she, too, spent hundreds on repairs on a 1997 white Ford Explorer, but she, like Rucker-Graves, signed those "as-is" forms.

"It was a hunk of junk," said Mary Brown.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says her office has received 29 complaints since 2013. In most of the cases, the AG's office says it was able to hammer out resolutions or even get some money back for consumers, but there's still an official "open investigation" into the South Chicago Auto Auction of Harvey due to complaints of mechanical problems and customers not being able to test drive cars or have them checked by a mechanic before paying.

As we were talking to customers in front of the auction, a man who wouldn't identify himself, told us to leave. So we called and asked if a manager, or if the LLC holder, Helwas Ibrahim, would talk.

Off-camera, an attorney for the auto auction said managers have done their best to resolve BBB and AG office complaints and that complaints are the nature of the used-car business. He also reinforced that clear and legal, "as is" policy, then said "it would not be possible to allow test drives on the premises," because of a "...potential and serious safety hazard..."

Rucker-Graves says the auto auction should have refunded her after she quickly discovered noises from her engine.

"I can understand if I took the car and had the car for more than seven days, but for me to bring it back after 10 minutes, come one now," said Rucker-Graves.

The Secretary of State's office says the South Chicago Auto Auction of Harvey is currently not in good standing with its license for not filing its annual report. The company's attorney says they're handling the matter.

The auto auction was also fined $24,000 in 2013 for not transferring vehicle titles in a timely manner.

Consumer experts say "buyer beware" at any auto auction - it's usually a quick sale and almost always vehicles are sold "as is."

If you want to buy a used car you should always get it checked with a mechanic and pay more to buy a warranty.