JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Calls from upset customers continue to fill the News4Jax newsroom, a day after the state announced it launched an investigation into Riverside Chevrolet.
It follows a News4Jax I-TEAM investigation looking into dozens of complaints from customers who accuse the dealership of not paying off the loans owed on their trade-ins. It caused their credit scores to drop as much as 70 points.
State regulators said the dealership could receive fines up to $1,000 per violation and have its license to sell cars suspended. Several customers said they've gotten lawyers to pursue legal action.
Jim Kowalski, the president and CEO of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, said for situations like these, paper trails are the best ammunition.
"[It's] always about the paperwork and the documentation," Kowalski said. "Don't be afraid to send a confirming email or confirming texts."
There are times, however, when paperwork could be a problem.
Many dealer contracts, including Riverside Chevrolet’s, come with an arbitration clause. That means when signed, it gives up a customer's right to sue. That includes a class-action lawsuit.
Instead, it must be settled through a mediator, Kowalski said.
Upset customers can still hire a consumer attorney, and if they are below a certain income they can use legal aid. But Kowalski said consumers can also file complaints to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the Attorney General's Office and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Kowalski also does not recommend trading-in a car that's not paid off to the dealership.
"Before you go to a car dealership and look for financing, go to your local credit union. We have excellent local credit unions," Kowalski said, mentioning Vystar, Community First and 121 Financial.
Customers can contact legal aid by calling (904) 356-8371 or by going to Jacksonville Legal Aid's website.