Dear ABC News Fixer: Used Car Appeared at Elderly Aunt's Doorstep

PHOTO: Here are five things to consider when buying or leasing a car.Getty Images
Here are five things to consider when buying or leasing a car.

Dear ABC News Fixer: My husband's 84-year-old aunt lives in Chicago. She has been having problems making major decisions and handling her finances since 2009. My husband obtained power of attorney in 2010 to help her with her business affairs.

Recently, she sold her used car and said she wasn't going to drive anymore.

Some time later, she got a solicitation in the mail from a car dealership in Northwest Indiana saying it was her "final notice" to get a used car. She apparently took this literally, and got a ride there with a gentleman from her church. She ended up buying a used car – we believe without fully realizing what was going on. She had no money to put down, so she post-dated a check until she received her Social Security check.

The used car was $11,091.98. The payments were for six years, with the total price -- including a $2,500 service contract she didn't realize she bought – coming to $20,323.92. They told her to drive it home that day.

She will be 90 years old at the end of this contract.

When my husband, James, her nephew, found out about this, they went to the dealership and he explained that he has power of attorney and that she wasn't capable of making such a purchase. The salesman said to bring back the power of attorney document and they would look into it. James left the used car and keys there and brought back the form. The man at the dealership made a copy and said nothing.

When they got back to his aunt's home in Chicago, the car was there, parked on the street in front of her house. What can we do?

- Dariel Koehler, Crown Point, Ind.

Dear Dariel: So, that used car loved your husband's aunt so much, it drove itself back from Indiana to her house in Chicago … or the dealership really, really wanted to make that sale stick.

The ABC News Fixer guessed the latter, so we took a closer look at this deal.

First, your elderly relative wasn't exactly a good candidate for a car loan. She filed for bankruptcy in 2007, and her bank balance on the day of the purchase was $16.92. She told us she was waiting for her Social Security check, but even with that she wasn't sure how she could afford the $750 deposit, much less the monthly payments and insurance. (She stopped payment on the deposit check after your husband got involved.)

She told the ABC News Fixer that she thought she was just using the car to go to the Social Security office to get a document that the salesman wanted. When we interviewed her, she didn't remember everything that happened or know how to pronounce the name of the car she had bought.

The car was a 2009 Chevy Cobalt LT sedan with 45,663 miles; it was dark blue-gray with a spiffy rear spoiler, but it also had a defective power window.

We got in touch with the dealer, Webb Ford of Highland, Ind., and also with Ford Motor Co.'s media relations department. Ford's dealer communications manager said she couldn't speak to this case but promised to follow up with the dealer. Soon after, we heard from Dan Allen, the dealership's general manager.

Allen said there was no indication that your husband's aunt was unclear about the transaction and he said his salesman didn't do anything wrong. He said they've been in business for more than 40 years and don't ordinarily have issues like this. However, given the new information, he offered to void the contract as long as your husband and his aunt provided a written statement authorizing it. They did so the following day, and the dealership took back the car with no penalties to your husband's aunt.

Allen did make a good point, which is that your husband and his aunt should contact the credit reporting agencies and explain that he has power of attorney. They might wish to consider freezing her credit, which would prevent any future impulse purchases like this one.

Some other lessons to be learned from your relative's close call:

It's extremely difficult to undo a vehicle sales contract once it's signed. Many people incorrectly assume they have three days to cancel – but in fact, once they sign the contract, the car is theirs.

It's important to do some research on the front end. For example, the Kelly Blue Book private sale value for the car was about $8,600 -- so the $11,091 price tag looks high, and the $20,323 cost after financing (including that $2,500 service plan) is crazy-high.

Consumers usually get the best deals by paying cash for a car or financing through their own bank or credit union. Be wary of a sales person who encourages you to drive a car home before financing is approved, especially if you have bad credit. For more tips on buying a used car, CLICK HERE

- The ABC News Fixer

Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.

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