For some reason, right before the turn of the century, my mom wanted a brand new Chrysler Sebring coupe, exactly like the one pictured above. She got one, but what happened changed her perspective of buying a car not only while being black, but mine as well at a young age.
Everything started normal enough as I remember ( I was 12, and some things she had to explain to me later one when I was older but I understand it all now of course.) My mom was shopping around for a Chrysler Sebring coupe LXi, which I think was the top trim. She had her down payment and a trade in. So we went to the closest Chrysler dealer to us (which I’m not sure if I should mention the name here). First thing I remember was the pushy, typical sales manager or finance manager or whatever that was literally in my moms face over her down payment. She recounts him stabbing his finger at her and on the papers on the table because she wasn’t coming out with the amount down that he wanted to hear
Of course as a kid I didn’t care for how he was talking to my mom. My grandma was there and intervened. Mom says that he just kept saying over &over, almost yelling “we need this down or now deal.” “He basically took over the deal from the sales person, who by the way was very nice” she says.
Eventually, she got rid of the manager to deal with someone else who eventually sealed the deal. I remember being there forever it seemed like. At first I thought it was the dealership, but it turned out to be my mom. I learned this a few years later at Worthington Ford. My mom reads every single word of the contracts. Not only that, but she asks questions too, which pisses everyone off because you know they don’t want the customer to know what those contracts really say. But long story short, everything was signed and we were off.
Say what you will about Chrysler products from this era, but I remember the Sebring being nice and loaded for what it was. It was quick too, but remember I was a dumb kid. Anyway, like 12 days later, my mom gets a call from the dealership saying that she needs to sign some papers. This was weird, she thought, because she thought she signed and went over everything the night she bought the car. But she agreed to come anyway. So she left work early and went to the dealership.
What happened next still bothers her sometimes today. She said that as soon as she drove into the parking space and put the car in park, immediately 3 Grand Cherokee’s came out of nowhere and blocked her in on all sides to keep her from leaving. A salesman appeared at both doors. The one at the drivers door began trying to open her door while telling her to get out the car like a policeman. Startled she got out to see what was all this about. My moms isn’t a fearful person, especially around men, so she was more angered and startled than anything. She went inside, where there was some paperwork on a round table surrounded by 6 men. She recognized the pushy manager but not the others, who she suspected were some kind of managers or high ranking sales people.
“We need you to to give the car back. Your application was denied.” He tosses the keys to her trade in at her and pushes the paper and pen towards her. “Sign this so we can give you your trade in and down payment back”. I was never really sure why my mom signed those papers, nor has she ever really went into what transpired during that moment. All she said was that she signed the papers and walked out.
I remember her getting home, bursting in the room and throwing the car keys up against the wall, crying. She was still in her work uniform & I remember everyone asking what happened. I listened as she told. A lot I didn’t really understand at the time. All I knew was that they took my moms car from her and it must’ve been bad.
The weeks that followed were filled with lawyer meetings, long drives to Orange County and hours waiting in nice office buildings were me and my sis were often the only ones sitting waiting. My mom was angry and she was suing.
To make this long story short, the dealership tried to deny everything that happened, until a few of the sales people involved and had witnessed what happened broke and turned against the managers. What made the case was a simple sticky note that was apparently passed to the sales person from the manager that literally said” try to get more money out of her. We all know they never have any credit.” We all know who the they was that he was referring to. My mom says that when asked what they he was referring to in court, he stammered and said people in general. But my mom won her case. Not only did they get them for false imprisonment, but they also broke California law by waiting longer than the # of allowable days to contact my mom about her loan application being denied. The case found that they had known she was denied on the 8th day. They had till the 10th day to contact her to bring the car back. They waited till the 12th. Basically they were a bunch of racist people running a dealership trying to get over on my mom. They were all eventually fired, my mom won 25 grand ( years later I asked her why she didn’t ask for more, she said she didn’t want to appear greedy )and the dealership has since been redesigned and is under new ownership.
I just wanted to share this story that I always think about to remind everyone of how some dealerships still are. Not all are like this or or may be out there like this but there are some. So just beware.