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CAR MILEAGE CAUSES CONFLICT

November 18, 2005

I bought a used Isuzu Trooper with 92,000 miles from Auto Mundial for $13,000. They guaranteed it for one month. The first day home it overheated. I brought it back and picked it up two days later after they “fixed it.” Overheated again.I went online to carfax.com and looked up the Vehicle Identification Number. It showed that the car was imported to Costa Rica three years ago and, at that time, it had 135,000 miles on it. I brought the car back and wanted a refund. They said they could not give me my money back, and offered me another car for an additional $7,000.How can I get my money back? –Harley Toberman Playa DominicalHarley Toberman told The Tico Times that after sending this letter, he and his lawyer decided to take the matter to the National Consumer Commission, a resource for consumers who feel they have been unfairly treated. The Consumer Support Department of the Economy, Industry and Commerce Ministry oversees the commission.There, he and Auto Mundial presented their cases in a hearing designed to find an alternative resolution for the conflict, without entering into legal proceedings. The commission sided with Auto Mundial, ruling the dealership fulfilled its obligations under the guarantee.According to Toberman’s lawyer, Anna Vargas, and Auto Mundial manager Henry Ramírez, the guarantee on the Isuzu Trooper promised repairs to the vehicle if anything were to go wrong within the guarantee period.“Here, the law says: first, try to fix the car,” Vargas told The Tico Times. “Then (if it doesn’t work), change it for another.”As for Toberman’s complaint about the incorrect odometer, Vargas said there was no way to prove who had altered it, nor is there a law to regulate that.Ramírez denied that his company had altered the car’s mileage, noting that Auto Mundial was not the company that originally imported the Trooper to Costa Rica. “In 33 years, we have never (altered a car’s mileage),” Ramírez said. “We are not selling a car’s mileage. We are selling the car. If somebody likes the car, they buy it. If not, they don’t.”However, Cynthia Zapata, the executive director of the Consumer Support Department, told The Tico Times that a dealer is the one ultimately responsible for selling a product that is what it appears to be. Zapata said she could not address Toberman’s specific case, but speaking in general terms, by selling a vehicle with altered mileage, a dealer is guilty of two violations of consumer rights: failing to give the consumer clear and truthful information, and failing to fulfill the terms of a contract.If the consumer has evidence that the mileage has been altered, she said, then he or she has a case. If, as in Toberman’s case, a ruling has already been made, the consumer can appeal and ask the commission to reconsider a specific point if he or she feels something wasn’t properly considered.The Tico Times recommends to its readers that when buying a car, they first check the car’s history using its Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), which, according to carfax.com, is a unique 17-character number assigned to all vehicles built after 1981. The VIN contains numbers and letters, but does not have the letters I, O or Q. It can be found physically on the car – on the dashboard or on the driver’s side doorjamb – or on title documents.Services such as those available on carfax.com will give a detailed history of the vehicle over the Internet.If consumers have complaints or feel they have been unfairly treated, the Consumer Support Department has a hotline, 800-266-7866, and also receiveswalk-in complaints at its Customer Attention Platform, in its offices on Ave. 3 between Calle 30 and 32.

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