Call for Action Success: How we got a local woman back $8,000 after overpaying for a car

MADISON, Wis. — Call for Action volunteers are celebrating another success story after answering the call from a local woman who says she was tricked into spending more money at a car dealership.

Marcia Thornton was convinced to stop by a local dealership after receiving a flyer in the mail, telling her she’d won something – she wasn’t even out to buy a new car that day back in 2020.

“I didn’t get 10 feet and there was a fellow right there – ‘can I help you?'” she recalled.

Thornton says she was rushed through the whole process and pressured into buying a Buick Encore.

“I said, ‘I’ll think about it, I’ll think about it, I’ll come back tomorrow’ – [and he replied], ‘oh no, it ain’t going to be here.”

She says they agreed on a price of $16,000, but the papers she signed and looked at later that night said $23,000 instead – with additions like a car treatment, warranty and service contract she says she didn’t agree to. Further, Thornton says when she returned to the dealership to straighten things out, she couldn’t find the salesman who worked with her or get anyone to help with the add-on charges. That’s when she called for action.

We asked the Department of Transportation how common these sorts of complaints are.

“The overwhelming number of dealerships try to do what’s right,” Brandon Wilbik of the DOT told us. “They’re not trying to sneak anything in, but someone who’s not sophisticated in the car buying process might gloss over this and not realize that is this product right for me.”

The DOT has a Field Investigations Team that follows up with dealership complaints – more common right now, given the pandemic’s impact on car sales.

“There’s a lot of competition out there with the topsy turvy market we live in now,” Wilbik said. “Do your research, be careful when you’re signing documents, make sure you’re reading all the fine language.”

You can also take advantage of the DOT’s investigation resources. Wilbik recommends trying to mediate with the car dealership in question yourself first. If you aren’t getting anywhere, you can file a complaint with his team.

That’s exactly what our Call for Action volunteers did on behalf of Thornton. Wilbik was able to get Thornton refunded almost $3,000 for a treatment her car never received despite payment. Our volunteers continued to mediate with the dealership for Thornton to reimburse her a total of $8,000.

“For two years, it was a big weight on your shoulders,” Thornton said. “And you were frustrated and didn’t know what to do, but after going through this – you it’s just like, you can breathe again.”

If you have a consumer complaint or question, or Call for Action volunteers are here to help. You can reach them by phone every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 608-270-2833 or call for action anytime online here.