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(Story created: 11/6/06)
It's one of the biggest auto dealerships in Middle Tennessee.
Now, some former managers from Bill Heard Chevrolet are coming forward and telling all they know. They say it's partly out of guilt.
This follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation into the company's sales practices.
As our consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus found, one customer discovered some shocking evidence that a salesman left behind.
After Melissa Buck went to Bill Heard Chevrolet in Antioch and bought a 2004 Chevy Trailblazer, she felt she'd been ripped off.
"So I pushed this button," Buck tells NewsChannel 5 consumer investigator Jennifer Kraus.
And that, she says, confirmed her fears.
"We would like to congratulate you on your ‘04 Trailblazer," a voice said.
It's a recording that'd been left on the car's message system by the salesmen at Bill Heard that closes with this zinger:
"I know you got f**ked, but still in the long run, you're going to be happy with it. So, take care!"
"They were admitting to me, it seemed like, they did do exactly what they said."
And we found former Bill Heard managers who all say the message - "I know you got f**ked" -- is par for the course.
"It's not something where you go, ‘Oh, I can't believe I just did that,'" recalls Glenn Radford, who was a finance manager at Bill Heard for three years. "It's like, "Yeah. I just got them. I just stuck it to ‘em."
Mary Herron worked as both finance and customer service manager.
"In the three years that you were there, this is the way Bill Heard did business?" Jennifer Kraus asked Herron.
"Yes," she replied.
And it's why, these former insiders, the Better Business Bureau gets more complaints about Bill Heard than any other car dealer.
"They put their trust in you and all you're interested in is getting as much money out of them as you physically can," Radford adds.
Remember Earl Kieselhorst? Two days after he bought a truck this summer, Bill Heard took it from his driveway in the middle of the night.
"You see this repeatedly at Bill Heard," Herron says.
Bill Heard told Kieselhorst that he'd gotten a deal that was just too good and he was going have to pay $10,000 more if he wanted the truck back.
"I was there," says another former manager, who did not want to be identified. "I saw it. I saw the smiles. I saw the laughs. It's just ‘let's get them.'"
Bill Heard frequently lets customers drive home in cars that have not been financed. Customers think they've got a car loan, but are often surprised to later find out that they really don't.
"They're riding for weeks or months and then they're asked to bring the vehicle back," Herron says.
The anonymous manager says, "If they sold 20 cars in a day, trust me, half of them will come back."
When Melissa Buck was asked to bring her car back, she said she wanted her trade-in back.
"And they said, ‘No, no, no, we can't do that,'" Buck recalls.
Bill Heard usually won't return a customer's trade-in even though the law says they're supposed to.
"That's actually company policy," the anonymous manager adds. "We'll tell them the trade is sold. We didn't know. We can't get it back."
Glenn Radford says that salesmen would then tell customers, "I'd love to give it to you, but it's sold. It's already gone. I'm sorry."
Melissa Buck remembers, "I thought, well, how am I going to go home?"
And that leaves customers right where Bill Heard wants them.
Radford says the salesmen had the answer: "Well, I've got this over here for you."
That's how Buck says she wound up with a Trailblazer, even though it was nearly $250 dollars more a month than the new car she'd had.
"It's like our car payment is higher than our house payment now," Buck adds.
Then there's Nancy Luna who still has no idea how she wound up paying more than $26,000 for a Chevy Malibu at Bill Heard when the sticker price was just $19,000.
"How closely did you look at what you were signing?" Kraus asked Luna.
"Probably not as close as I should have," she answers.
The unidentified manager says, "They just say, ‘Sign here and here and here and over here' -- and people will sign."
"It was just the way they rushed it at me," Luna said.
The manager adds, "They don't know what the hell they're signing."
Former managers, in fact, say customers are often signing blank sales contracts.
"Why are they given a blank form?" Kraus asks Herron.
"So they can make their changes," the former finance manager replies.
Bill Heard employees, they say, will then sometimes raise the price of the car -- even add hefty cash bonuses for themselves.
"It is easy to take advantage of those guys - easy," the unidentified manager adds.
And it's not only easy. They says that it's encouraged.
"They really don't care about their customers," Herron adds.
And that's why they say the message - "I know you got f**ked" -- says it all.
"If they hadn't left the message like that on the tape," Radford adds, "they said it when they were leaving the store."
We asked Bill Heard about what we'd found, and the company sent us the following statement:
"Our absolute commitment is to treat people right. The past problems portrayed by Channel 5 are exactly the kinds of issues we have been working very hard on for more than a year to correct. We have made great progress and we are going to do even more to make sure our customers feel they have been treated right."
Just to be clear, some of what we found occurred very recently.
Still, the company says it's going to try to work more closely with the Better Business Bureau to fix the problems.