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We bought a Olds Cutlass Ciera Brougham last year from...

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Dear Tom and Ray:


We bought a 1988 Olds Cutlass Ciera Brougham last year from an Oldsmobile dealer. It was our pride and joy. When it got to 36,000 miles, we took it in for a "winter inspection." It was a free promotional deal. The bad news is, they dropped our car off their hoist, from five feet onto the concrete floor! It fell on its nose, and pushed in everything from the lights on down. The hood was buckled, three doors were bent, and there were all kinds of nuts, bolts, and screws on the floor under the dashboard. We know it can be patched up, but it will never be the same. We've told them we don't want it back. Why should we bring in a perfect car, and take back a damaged one? Our insurance company said it was $4,650 in damage, and the dealer says our car is worth $6,000. But the dealer sold it to us 10 months ago for $10,000! We want the dealer to take it in trade for another car. Has this kind of accident ever happened to you, and what is expected of the dealer in this situation?
Norman and Phyllis

RAY: Unfortunately, it has happened to me, guys. I was working on a customer's Nissan 280Z some years ago. I put it up on the lift, and didn't check to see whether the frame was sound enough to support the car. As it turned out, the underbody was all rusted out. And as I turned around to grab one of my tools, I heard this loud "groan." By the time I turned around to see what it was, the car was heading towards the floor at a 45 degree angle. And somehow, at the last second, it did a two-and-a-half-gainer with a twist and ended up on its side.

TOM: And it wasn't pretty! But since it was our fault, we did what any reasonable garage would do in that situation.

RAY: We told the customer it was like that when he came in!

TOM: No, we didn't. What we did was call OUR insurance company. All garages have insurance--not only for catastrophic claims like this one--but also for the simple, bone-headed mistakes that happen from time to time; things like forgetting to tighten the oil drain plug and seizing someone's engine, or pouring Felipo Berrio extra virgin olive oil into the transmission by accident. These things can happen occasionally, even in good repair shops.

RAY: And that's why repair shops carry insurance. So they can say to the customer "I'm sorry, it was our fault, we'll buy you a new engine..or new transmission."

TOM: And that's what this Olds dealer should do for you. They should give you another car, because I'm sure yours is ruined. After all, a fall from five feet is the equivalent of crashing into a concrete wall at about 15 mph. And even if they fix the visible damage, who's to say you won't have handling problems, alignment problems, or electrical problems for the rest of the car's life.

RAY: And unfortunately, you're not going to be able to handle this yourself. You're going to have to hire a lawyer. And find one who has specific experience with auto insurance claims, don't get a "wills and estates" specialist for this job.

TOM: Since the dealership won't swap you for another (uncrushed) '88 Cutlass in good condition, or similar vehicle, go ahead and take your insurance company's claim. And when that doesn't cover the cost of buying an equivalent replacement car, sue the dealership for the difference. That's what I would do. And then, by all means, buy your next car somewhere else.
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