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(Story created: 7/17/06)
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."