When the Dealership Crashes Your Car

Simple oil change turned into huge ordeal for California couple.

ByStephanie Zimmermann
October 01, 2016, 4:15 PM

THE ABC NEWS FIXER— -- Rich and Jenny Barkley of California loved their Mercedes-Benz car, figuring their investment would last them well into retirement. So imagine their surprise when after leaving their car with the dealership, it got smashed in a wreck on the way to another facility, which put them $10,000 in the hole!

Read Rich’s original letter to the ABC News Fixer below, and see how The Fixer helped them get their money back. Also, check out The Fixer’s advice on how to be your own fixer.

Do YOU have a consumer problem? Maybe The Fixer can help! Submit your problems at ABCNews.com/Fixer.

Dear ABC News Fixer: My wife took our E350 Mercedes-Benz sedan to a dealership for an oil change. Their employee drove our car to another facility nearby and made an unsafe left turn in front of a minivan and totaled our car.

The dealership insists their only responsibility is to give us a check from their insurance company. I want the car replaced with one of similar mileage. The check will not cover the cost of a car with the same equipment and miles.

This was the car my wife and I were planning to drive in our retirement. I need another car. I have the police report showing it was their fault.

- Rich Barkley, Fullerton, Calif.

Dear Rich: You’ve experienced what many motorists fear – that when we hand off the keys to someone else, whether it’s an auto technician or a valet or whoever, that our car might not come back the way we left it. You sent the ABC News Fixer the post-crash photos and they were not pretty.

Naturally, you expected this would all be taken care of, as none of it was your or your wife’s fault. But you soon found out it was not that simple.

First, the dealer’s insurance company offered $22,000, an amount you felt was absurdly low. They later upped that to $ $29,300, which still wasn’t enough to replace the car and make you whole.

Meanwhile, the dealer showed you a used Mercedes they thought might work, but it was a dark color (you had specifically chosen a special shade of white for your car), plus it had more miles and you said it was in worse shape.

Weeks passed. Then the dealer’s insurance company informed you that the $29,300 would be their final offer and said you had one week to take it or leave it – and return the loaner car you’d been using.

With that one-week deadline, you and your wife, Jenny, desperately shopped on your own, finding a suitable used E350 elsewhere. You bought it, figuring you’d finish the haggling later. The cost, including a warranty similar to your original car’s coverage, was about $10,000 more than the insurance company’s final offer.

You tried to recoup the money, with no luck. And that’s when the ABC News Fixer got involved.

We decided to cut through the noise and go straight to the top – to AutoNation, the country’s largest auto dealer group, which oversees the dealership where this happened. We found a top executive and told him your tale of woe, and he agreed that you shouldn’t have to suffer because someone else crashed your beloved ‘Benz.

We explained that you weren’t trying to profit from this mess – just to break even.

In a matter of days, this was fixed! AutoNation convinced their insurer to make you whole, increasing your settlement by $10,000.

“It was an unfortunate situation,” said AutoNation senior VP Marc Cannon. “No excuses... We were glad that we could satisfy the customer. We recognized that the insurance company did not have the best interests of the customer at heart.

“We were glad we could influence the insurance company to do the right thing. We were sorry the customer was put in this position," he said.

The ABC News Fixer was happy to help nudge this along. But what if you don’t have a fixer? Here are some tips:

- If you can avoid it, don’t get ahead of negotiations and put more money into a resolution. You’ll have a stronger argument if you can wait.

- If the local people won’t help, go straight to the parent company. You can search online for the VP of customer service, community relations or even marketing or investor relations and shoot them an email with a succinct description of what happened. They’ll be removed from the local drama and might bring fresh eyes – and the power to get things done.

-Always start out as the nice guy. Use this line to get them invested: “How can WE fix this problem?” Don’t worry – you can get tough later.

-Suggest a fair and specific resolution and give them a reasonable deadline.

- The ABC News Fixer

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