I-TEAM: Dozens of complaints against Motor Mall on Atlantic Boulevard

Angry used-car customers say they didn't know what they were getting

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects, Eric Wallace - Senior Producer, I-TEAM, Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After a cancer patient and several other angry customers turned to the I-TEAM claiming they were duped by Motor Mall on Atlantic Boulevard, our investigators did some digging into the car lot and found dozens of complaints from used-car customers who say they had no idea what they were getting.

Those complaints about Motor Mall include:

  • Customers not knowing the vehicle had been totaled in the past -- meaning it was salvage and had been rebuilt
  • Customers not knowing they were only leasing the car versus buying it
  • Customers not knowing there were GPS tracking devices inside the cars

Charles Owens is one of those angry customers. He's fighting for his life, battling sarcoma - a type of cancer.

"I needed a car to get back and forth to my chemo therapy doctors," Owens told the I-TEAM.

A few months ago, he went to Motor Mall on Atlantic Boulevard, a well-known "Buy here, pay here" car lot in Jacksonville. He made a deal with Motor Mall on a 2007 Cadillac.

Within the first week of owning the car, he says mechanical problems started and he couldn't get insurance coverage for the Cadillac. That's when Owens learned the car had been totaled in 2016, and the words "REBUILT" were on the title.

In Florida, it is legal to sell rebuilt cars -- if the business discloses that information to the customer.

"What did they (Motor Mall) tell you?" the I-TEAM asked Owens

"They said the car was good. It ran good," he replied. "They never disclosed to me that the car was salvaged or damaged when I bought it."

The I-TEAM looked at Owens' contract with Motor Mall and found it does say the car was salvaged. But, found something else Owens didn't realize -- had hadn't actually bought the car, he was only leasing it.

"This is this is a lease agreement. It is not a purchase agreement, and it's got your signature there," the I-TEAM showed Owens.

"So I'm in trouble?" he asked.

"I just don't think that at the end of the day when you're paid off that's gonna be your car," the I-TEAM explained.

There was a long, emotional pause after we told Owens that the car Motor Mall had on its lot for $10,000, a car that he was now paying $508 a month for, was only a lease and he'd have to pay more at the end if he ever wanted to own it.

Owens originally turned to the I-TEAM when he couldn't get insurance on his Cadillac and the car was having mechanical problems,  that he said Motor Mall would not address. After learning from us he hadn't actually bought the car, he said the salesman never explained to him that it was only a lease.

"It's just not right," Owens said.

We looked into Motor Mall and found several local and state agencies have complaints against the car lot including the Florida Attorney General's Office, Office of Financial Regulation, Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, and the Better Business Bureau.

"The gist of the complaints are that they sell cars that are in poor condition, they don't disclose the conditions, they offer warranties they don't honor, the prices that they charge for the cars are excessive," said Tom Stephens, the President of the BBB of Northeast Florida.

The BBB gives Motor Mall on Atlantic Boulevard an "F" rating and told the I-TEAM the owner doesn't respond to customer complaints.

The I-TEAM did more digging and found police have been called to the Motor Mall property on Atlantic Boulevard 137 times over the past two years -- mostly for disturbances between customers and staff.

"It is a pattern," said Stephens "It is apparently a practice that is pretty common with them."

We took Owens' 2007 Cadillac that he got at Motor Mall to an independent mechanic to be checked, and mechanic Aaron Nelson, who owns Aaron's Car Care, said he found problems with the tires, the transmission and the electrical system.

Here is some of what Nelson said while checking Owens' car:

"See how this wheel is leaning in?"  
"I would say this car has been in a wreck, absolutely."
"It looks like something hit the lower A-frames." 
"Those tires are terribly out of line in the back."
"You can see somebody came over here did some wiring here.
"All of this is soaking wet back in here (the trunk)."
"It's got big issues, that's for sure."

"Is this car safe to be on the road?" the I-TEAM asked Nelson.

"I would not recommend it until you find out what is going on with the suspension," Nelson answered.

While checking Owens' car, Nelson found something else. 

"Looks like some sort of a GPS tracker. Is that a tracker?"

Nelson discovered a a GPS tracker in Owens' car, which is how Motor Mall keeps tabs on cars that are leased.

"I’m going through chemo and radiation. I can’t put more stress on me, and this right here is stressing me out," said Owens after Nelson inspected his vehicle.

After Nelson checked the Cadillac, the I-TEAM then checked with CARFAX. The Cadillac's history report confirmed it was totaled two years ago. And, the odometer history stated it was "potentially unreliable."

We then checked other vehicles on Motor Mall's lot as well. Those results concerned CARFAX spokesman Chris Basso.

"We found out that there are a number of vehicles being sold with major issues like branded titles and potential odometer rollbacks. Which not only impact the safety of these vehicles, but especially the value of those cars as well," Basso told the I-TEAM.

Motor Mall's owner answers I-TEAM questions

We wanted answers from Motor Mall owner Vadim Gavrilov, and he agreed to an interview with the I-TEAM.

Customer complaints

"We have all of these people that are upset with the brand. They are upset with your company. How can you make sure that this does not happen in the future, that we don't see any more complaints? That we don't have to add to this file?" the I-TEAM asked Gavrilov.

 "We can start by getting rid of all the people who are making the customers upset," he answered.

Gavrilov told the I-TEAM he has hired new management.

"The last thing that we want to do is give somebody a car that's going to give them problems," he said.

UNCUT INTERVIEWS WITH MOTOR MALL'S OWNER:
Part 1 | Part 2  

Car inspections

Gavrilov said his company buys and sells totaled cars that are rebuilt, but told us those cars are safe, inspected by the state, and available for better prices. 

The I-TEAM reached out to Florida's Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the state agency that regulates car businesses like Motor Mall, and the agency in charge of inspecting rebuilt vehicles before they are sold.

READ FLORIDA STATUTES:
Selling rebuilt vehicles | Defining rebuilt components

FHSMV wanted to make clear to the I-TEAM, although Gavrilov said the cars on his lot are safe and inspected by the state, as far as the inspection process goes by FHSMV, the agency only checks to make sure the parts that were supposed to be rebuilt on a car are in fact rebuilt, and the title for that car reflects it's a rebuilt vehicle. In a statement to the I-TEAM, FHSMV added:

"The department conducts vehicle inspections to determine whether what appears to have been repaired on the vehicle corresponds to submitted supporting documentation. The rebuilt inspection process does not include a mechanical safety or structural integrity inspection of the rebuilt vehicle."

Odometers

In our interview with Motor Mall's owner, we also asked Gavrilov about concerns by CARFAX about odometers. Gavrilov denies ever rolling back odometers.   

"Rolling back odometers is a crime. So we definitely do not do that. That is illegal. It is criminal. And if we were to do that, we would not be open," said Gavrilov. "We are a huge company, we are a multimillion dollar business. It would make no sense for us to do something that is illegal but is going to get us shut down. It makes no sense."

Disturbance calls at Motor Mall

The I-TEAM asked Gavrilov about the 137 police calls to Motor Mall's property in the last two years.

"A lot of times it is a dispute between employees and the customers. And sometimes we have to call police because the customers are just acting ridiculous because they didn’t make their payment in the car got repossessed," he said.

Charles Owens' 2007 Cadillac

We then addressed Charles Owens' Cadillac and the problems our independent mechanic found with the car from Motor Mall.

"I'm extremely disappointed with what happened to Mr. Owens. And that's why the sales person that dealt with Mr. Owens will not be back here," said Gavrilov. "Really, every customer should be taken care of. Whether they are sick, not sick. But this situation is horrible. The person couldn't get to his therapy because his car didn’t work." 

After the I-TEAM got involved, Gavrilov invited Owens back to the car lot and exchanged the 2007 Cadillac for a 2011 Mercury -- a car with fewer miles for $100 a month less than what he was originally paying.

 "It's something I really wanted to take drastic action on," said Gavrilov. "To make sure that does not ever happen again. It's not good as a business, it is not good as a person to treat somebody in that way. It's just not right."

Owens said he's happy with the Mercury he now has, because this car can get him to his cancer treatments.

"I love Channel 4 News. They were there for me. They heard my problem and they solved my problem," said Owens.

Motor Mall's contract

The I-TEAM checked the contract Motor Mall has customers sign and it does spell out the terms and conditions including when people are leasing not buying and that GPS trackers are installed. It also explains Motor Mall does offer auto insurance coverage for an additional price so customers can drive legally.

"It is in huge letters that says it is a lease, and it is a lease with an option to buy. So customer could at any point turn a lease into a sale," said Gavrilov.

But, because of our I-TEAM investigation, he said he will do more.

"I will tell the sales people to explain to the customer that it is a lease with an option to buy and that way they know exactly what their options are. At that point, if they decide they don’t want to lease it and they just want to buy it right then, we can do that also," he said. 

File a complaint against a used car business

There are several agencies you can turn to to file a complaint if you've had a bad experience after getting a used car in Florida.  Direct links are below:

Florida Attorney General's Office: File an online complaint
Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles: Link to printable complaint form
Florida Office of Financial Regulation: File an online complaint
Better Business Bureau: File an online complaint

Protect yourself BEFORE you get a used car

Consumer Reports says used cars can certainly be good options for people, but the consumer advocate warns there are things you must before you hand over any money to protect your family from a dud..

  • Do your research. Look for reliability ratings from sources like Consumer Reports’ used-car marketplace
  • Find the true value of the car you want to buy by checking condition, mileage, age, and equipment levels. But don’t rely on dealers for that information. Get a car report through CARFAX or AutoCheck -- which can help alert you to possible odometer fraud or damage,  or, if a rebuilt or salvage title was ever issued. 
  • To make sure no fraud or crime is associated with the car,  run the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) through the National Insurance Crime Bureau
  • Check for recalls. Safercar.gov will tell you if there are any safety-related defects or problems.
  • Once you’ve done your homework, state your price. If the seller won’t budge, don’t be afraid to walk away. You’ll see how quickly you’ll be given a price you can live with.
  • Before you sign the contract, take the car to a certified mechanic - not just an oil change shop. It’s worth shelling out the $100 or so it’ll cost for an inspection. 
  • If the car needs repairs after you get it inspected, Consumer Reports says don’t be afraid to demand the seller deduct the price of repairs from your offer.
  • Read everything before signing anything.

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