This time three years ago, Lee Randolph was detailing his first car, a 2004 Honda Accord, making payments on it and enjoying life.
Today, Little Texas Auto Group of Arlington has his car and Randolph is in an ongoing legal struggle to get it back.
“It’s my first car,” Randolph said in an interview. “I just want it back and alert people about how some cars are sold with the odometer rolled back.”
Randolph said he had paid on the car for months before he obtained a CARFAX service record and found the odometer apparently had been rolled back by more than 40,000 miles. He said he tried to negotiate with Little Texas to no avail.
Will Johnson, general manager at Little Texas, said the company offered to give Randolph the title to the car if he signed a release of liability, but he wouldn’t.
More than 450,000 vehicles nationwide are sold each year with false odometer readings, costing American car buyers more than $1 billion annually, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Randolph, who details cars, admitted he didn’t know anything about buying a car in 2014, and he didn’t check records on the used 2004 Honda Accord. The sale price was about $12,000, and the odometer read about 117,000 miles.
He made regular payments, on time, for months.
But in December 2016, he learned he should have asked for the vehicle’s service record and searched CARFAX, which indicated that the odometer read 159,870 in December 2013 — almost a year before he bought it.
A later check of CARFAX showed that the odometer was at 117,436 miles in August 2014, a few months before Randolph bought it. The report noted the mileage conflict and said the entry could be a clerical error.
A letter from the Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner to Randolph says the agency had received a letter from Little Texas saying the car lot didn’t have any mileage record.
After finding the conflicting CARFAX numbers, Randolph confronted officials at Little Texas Auto Group, and asked for the title and money back.
They refused, Randolph said.
“We talked back and forth about it, and I finally told them that just give me the title and we’ll call it even, since I had already made too many payments for the car,” Randolph said. “They refused.”
Days later, and unbeknownst to Randolph, Little Texas Auto Group paid off the car and obtained the title from MidAtlantic Finance Co. in Clearwater, Fla.
In August, MidAtlantic sent Randolph a letter stating they had received a final payment, and that the title was provided to the company that paid off the account. Johnson confirmed Little Texas Auto Group paid off the account and got the title.
Randolph went to justice of the peace court in Arlington, claiming odometer fraud, breach of contract and contract theft.
Johnson said Randolph has not been a responsible vehicle owner, having been ticketed twice for not having insurance. Randolph confirmed that he had been ticketed twice for no insurance because he had other bills to pay, but that he now has no problem getting it.
On Oct. 20, a justice of the peace ruled that Little Texas Auto Group defaulted because they did not show up for court and awarded Randolph $2,800.
A few days later, Randolph’s car was repossessed and he received a certified letter dated Nov. 13, stating, “We have your vehicle as follows: 2004 Black Honda ACCORD because you failed to comply with the terms of our sales agreement.”
The letter stated: “We plan to sell this vehicle. You can get this vehicle back before we sell it by paying the entire amount you owe (not just the past due payment) including our expenses incurred in the repossession process. This amount is currently $3,322 but may go up if our expenses go up.”
Little Texas Auto Group officials said in the letter that Randolph could demand a public sale, but if they didn’t receive a notice of a public sale, they could sell the vehicle as soon as within 10 days.
“I’m sitting here thinking about crushing that car,” Johnson said.
Randolph plans to return to court.
“I don’t wish what I’m going through on anyone,” Randolph said. “I learned just because someone smiles a lot, it may not be a good deal.”
Odometer fraud detection
- Request a vehicle history report to check for odometer discrepancies in the vehicle’s history. If the seller does not have a vehicle history report, use the car’s VIN to order one online. Some of the available vehicle history report providers used in this country are CARFAX and AutoCheck.
- Look at the wear and tear on the vehicle, especially the gas, brake and clutch pedals, to be sure it seems consistent for the number of miles displayed on the odometer.
- Examine the tires. If the odometer on your car shows 20,000 or less, it should have the original tires.
- Check that the numbers on the odometer gauge are aligned correctly. If they’re crooked, contain gaps, or jiggle when you slap the dashboard with your hand, walk away.
- Compare the mileage on the odometer with the mileage on the vehicle’s maintenance or inspection records.
- Ask to see the title and compare the mileage on it with the vehicle’s odometer.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration