February 26, 2020

Car tale begins in Mass.

Leighton Prescott of Fall River, Mass., formerly of Fairfield, wished he had stayed in Maine. But he had been laid off and, not finding a job locally, was forced to seek work out of state. A widower with three children, he had a challenging road ahead, but the new position paid well and life was getting just a little easier.

Then, as if his luck hadn’t been bad enough, the transmission on his 3-year-old car self-destructed just weeks after he started the new job. The car’s warranty was expired and the repairs cost $1,600, an awful hit for a single parent just trying to jump-start a new life. He bit the bullet and spent what was left of his savings to have the car fixed.

Several months later, Leighton’s finances had recovered sufficiently so that he was able to fulfill a promise to his late wife and the children: a trip to Walt Disney World. On a bright spring morning, he and the kids packed up and started the drive to Florida. All was going well until somewhere in Georgia when he noticed the car started balking on hills. He limped into a small town and, after spending the night in a motel, nursed the ailing vehicle to a local garage. Though not an authorized repair shop, the mechanics were able to find a used transmission and, after another night in the motel, he was on the road again the next morning – with an additional $800 in repair charges on his credit card.

When he returned to Fall River, Leighton took his story to the local dealership. But the dealer told him to read the small print. The replaced parts only carried a 90-day warranty. Leighton was fuming. When he could get nowhere with the dealer, Leighton started contacting anyone he could for help. The Better Business Bureau, Massachusetts attorney general, and several others told him he had no case. He finally went to a lawyer who said he didn’t have much of a case and that it probably would cost more in legal expenses than the money he hoped to recover to litigate. Like so many other consumers in similar circumstances, Leighton felt whipped and defeated.

Then he remembered his Maine roots. His wife had been a Northeast COMBAT member, having contacted us when she had been cheated by a mail order company and no one else would help. We had successfully arranged a refund. Leighton wrote COMBAT: “You are my last hope, I don’t think anyone out here cares about what has happened to me.”

At first review, we also felt he didn’t have much of a leg to stand on. Then we checked his particular make, model and year of vehicle for a record of recalls or transmission problems. By gosh, there HAD been a recall for exactly the problem he had encountered. For some reason, perhaps because he had moved or during the confusion surrounding his wife’s illness and death, he had not received or had missed the notice.

COMBAT contacted the Maine dealership where he had purchased the car. They agreed that the repairs done in Fall River should have been covered under the recall, and the Massachusetts dealership should have told him that. Because Maine businesses know how to treat their customers, they went to the extra trouble of contacting the Fall River outfit and arranging reimbursement of Leighton’s $1,600.

But then there was that $800 to replace the second transmission. What about that?

The tale of Leighton Prescott continues next week with Part II.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast COMBAT/The Maine Center for the Public Interest, Maine’s membership-funded nonprofit consumer organization. For help or to request individual or business membership information write: Consumer Forum, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329.

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