RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Rachelle Lathrop says she spent all of her savings, $3,000, on a down payment for a 2007 Mazda CX-7 because her old car died and she needed reliable transportation.
Right now, the single mother is out of work and in therapy because of an arm injury a year ago.
"I'm heartbroken," Lathrop said. "This was going to be my reliable transportation to and from physical therapy, so I can get back to work."
The Hopewell woman bought the car from Unique Auto Sales on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond back on February 25. She also purchased a 24-month, 24,000-mile service contract from a third party.
She said when the dealership delivered the car to her, the check engine light was on.
"I said, 'What's wrong with the car?' and they said, 'Oh, nothing. These things act kind of funny because of the computers and all,'" Lathrop said.
She says the dealership turned the light off and sent her on her way. Seventeen miles later, she stopped to get gas, and the check engine light came on again. Plus, it was hard to start. A diagnostic revealed a timing cam sensor was triggering the light.
She had it towed to an auto shop, where techs told her she needs a new timing belt...which would run about $1,200.
She went back to the dealership but says workers there told her she purchased the car "as is." When she pressed to see the manager, she says she was kicked off the property.
She says she also didn't have any luck when she contacted the service contract provider.
"I called the warranty company, and they told me it was pre-existing, and there's nothing they could do," Lathrop said. "I been trying to call Unique with this, and they won't return my phone calls and they've been of no help."
NBC12's Eric Philips also tried calling Unique and was told the owner was not available. When he pressed for a return call, he was disconnected.
So he went to the dealership in person, where a worker took his information for a call back that he still has still not received.
NBC12 also reached out to the service provider, Superior Protection Plan. An attorney for the company told him the claim is still open, but before they would pay for a repair, the engine would have to be torn down to determine if the cause of the breakdown was pre-existing.
Lathrop says she doesn't have money for a teardown. Plus, if it is found to be pre-existing, she would still have to pay for the repair. She blames the dealership.
"I feel like they put a bad car on me. They took advantage of me," Lathrop said.
Ian Vance with the Consumer Law Group says the chances of a service contract provider paying for a repair under these circumstances is slim.
"They have this language in their contract this is very strict and explicit that says 'we do not cover this, we will only cover this,' and it all boils down to what was told to you by the dealership that you relied upon," Vance said.
He says at this point, Lathrop can try to get a reputable mechanic who would be willing to testify in court that her issue existed when she bought the car, in an effort to get Unique to pay up. However, he says the better tactic is to protect yourself during the purchase process.
"Take a witness with you so that you can have someone to back up your story and get everything in writing," Vance said.
For now, Lathrop's car is just sitting there.
"You took my money and took advantage of me. Fix it," Lathrop said.
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