COLUMBIA - An 822-mile round-trip drive in a car without license plates is not a ride most drivers would look to take. Especially not twice.
Brenda Villalobos is one of many Columbia Car Classics customers still waiting for her car title.
On the phone: Consumer protection hot-line 1-800-392-8222
By mail: A printable pdf document is available at ago.mo.gov/consumercomplaint
"I have an $18,000 truck that I can't even drive," she said.
Villalobos bought a 2004 Ford F150 on May 20 from Columbia Car Classics on Business Loop 70 West. She returned to pick up the title for her car and register it on July 12, which should have been "more than enough time to get a title," she said.
The staff said it didn't have the title because Columbia Car Classics' owner Aaron Payne hadn't picked it up from St. Louis yet. Payne would pick it up by the next week, the staff said.
Villalobos is spending the summer in Louisville and had taken the 822-mile drive for the sole purpose of registering her vehicle in Columbia. She drove back without the title.
On Wednesday, after a number of unanswered phone calls to Columbia Car Classics, Villalobos made the drive again from Louisville to pick up her title and register the vehicle. However, when she arrived, she found an empty lot, an empty office, and no way to find out about her title.
"I have no where to go," Villalobos said. "I'm going to have to pay for an attorney."
On July 31, the Boone County Circuit Court issued a temporary restraining order against Columbia Car Classics on behalf of Manheim Auto Financial Services Inc. and Kansas City Auto Auction Inc. The plaintiffs in the suit financed the purchase of more than 50 vehicles for the used car dealer but have not been paid after the sale of each vehicle, a breach of their contract, according to court documents.
When the plaintiffs visited the car lot near the end of July, they found only 22 vehicles, which they repossessed after the court gave its approval on July 31.
"Were the cars sold? If they were sold, where did the money go? If they weren't sold, where did the cars go?" said Tim Van Ronzelen, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the suit.
Van Ronzelen said attempts are in progress to verify Payne's claim that all the cars were sold.
Dena Latimer's 2005 Volvo XC90 SUV is one of the many that Columbia Car Classics hasn't paid Manheim Auto Financial Services Inc. for yet, according to court documents. Latimer bought her SUV on June 16 and was handed an envelope with what she was told had everything she needed to register the car. When she went to register the SUV in July, it became apparent that the title was missing.
This wasn't the first time Latimer had trouble getting a title for a car she bought at Columbia Car Classics. Last summer, she bought a Chevrolet Avalanche, but it turned out to be "a real piece of work." Latimer returned this summer to trade it in for a different vehicle. It took so long to get the title for her car that Latimer was charged a late fee in registering her vehicle, but she got it. Columbia Car Classics had even paid her back for the late fee, so she had good faith that a similar scenario would play out again. But then Wednesday, when she went to the office to ask where her title was, the office was bare.
"My big concern is what I do for my job is travel," Latimer said. "What if I'm in an accident or get pulled over? The vehicle's not registered."
Latimer said her brother also had trouble with Columbia Car Classics over a car he bought in June. He filed a consumer complaint with the Attorney General's office. His is one of 26 complaints against Columbia Car Classics, according to the Attorney General's Web site. Eight of those complaints were filed in 2008, four in the category of "odometer rollback and title violation," according to the Web site.
"We are taking a very hard look at the complaints we've received about Columbia Car Classics," Scott Holste, spokesperson for the Attorney General's office, said.
In particular, Holste said, some complaints have alleged that owners were not able to get car titles. He said the Attorney General's office wants to hear from other consumers with complaints about Columbia Car Classics in order to have the most information possible as they move forward.
Payne said procedural problems have gotten in the way of getting titles to his customers.
"My main concern is to take care of my customers," he said "My number one goal is to get their titles over everything else."
Payne said the economy has played a big part in his business's troubles, with high gas prices and tighter personal budgets keeping people from buying cars.
"Our number one concern is our customers," Payne said. "It's a bad situation that we had to close after 12 years. I appreciate all the people who have called with condolences."