Columbia Car Classics still closed down

Sunday, August 17, 2008 | 4:42 p.m. CDT; updated 4:49 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 17, 2008

COLUMBIA - An injunction hearing in Boone County Circuit Court on Friday will determine whether Columbia Car Classics will be allowed to resume business.

Boone County Circuit Court Judge Jodie Asel on Monday ordered the used car dealership, owned by Aaron Payne, to remain closed temporarily while the Missouri attorney general's office continues to look into more than a dozen complaints filed against the company in the past few weeks. Asel granted a 15-day extension of a temporary restraining order against Columbia Car Classics and scheduled the injunction hearing for 10:30 a.m. Friday.

Missing cars, missing documents

Manheim Auto Financial Services and Manheim KC, both of Kansas City, are suing Payne and seeking the injunction, saying Payne has failed to make payments on a $700,000 loan he took out to help him buy inventory. The restraining order, granted July 31, prohibits Columbia Car Classics from selling any of its cars so that the plaintiffs have a chance to collect their vehicles. To date, Payne has been unable to account for the whereabouts of some of those cars.

Sales documents for the missing vehicles had not been presented to Manheim as of last Monday, Aug. 11. The court previously ordered Payne to turn over all business records from June 30 to now.

Columbia attorney Skip Walther is representing Payne. He told Asel on Monday, Aug. 11, that he had learned of the case only 30 minutes before the proceeding and that he had yet to read the restraining order but that his client was in position to provide all of the sale documents to Manheim's attorney by Wednesday evening, Aug. 13. It was on that condition that Manheim's attorney, Tim Van Ronzelen, consented to the extended restraining order, even though he argued that the defendant was already in contempt of court for failing to turn over the documents.

Payne did not attend the hearing.

On Wednesday afternoon, Manheim filed a request to modify the order of delivery for the cars, asking that the company be allowed to take possession of any of the vehicles purchased with the loan, wherever they are found. The request cited witnesses who had told Manheim of the location of some vehicles. The court, however, denied the request.

In addition to the injunction hearing on Friday, Payne also faces an Aug. 26 court hearing regarding a breach of contract suit filed against him by First National Bank, according to Missouri CaseNet. Payne has declined to talk about the situation.

"Just got too big, just stopped caring"

Columbia Car Classics, which used to have two locations, now operates only on Madison Avenue with frontage on Business Loop 70. The Better Business Bureau gave the Madison Avenue dealership an unsatisfactory rating after receiving six complaints about contract and customer service issues in the past 36 months and learning that it failed to respond to one of the contract complaints.

In 2005, Columbia Car Classics' previous location on I-70 Drive Southwest received a satisfactory rating from the Better Business Bureau, which agreed that it had handled complaints appropriately.

Matt Holmes, a former mail-order car parts dealer who has done business with Payne, said he saw a difference over time in how the two Columbia Car Classics locations did business.

"I saw Aaron growing, the business growing," Holmes said. "(But) trying to pump out that many cars that quick - there's no way he can put in the time with each car that he did when it was there next to Chevy's."

Holmes said that although he would have been happy to buy a car from Columbia Car Classics six or eight years ago, the company's customer service and vehicle maintenance has since declined. He said Payne at one time had the potential to succeed in the auto business.

"The quote I've heard the most that describes Aaron dead on is a ‘natural-born used car salesman,'" Holmes said. "Everything I heard when he started up was that he could talk you right into things, and you'd feel glad he did."

Holmes suspects the growth of the business led to trouble. "They just got too big, just stopped caring."

In the past few weeks, the attorney general's office has received 12 to 15 consumer complaints about Columbia Car Classics. Attorney general spokesman Scott Holste said the complaints have focused on three main problems: consumers who did not receive titles; those who said the dealership failed to pay off on their trade-ins; and people who reported that although they had paid the business for extended warranties, their money was never forwarded to the warranty company.

Holste said the attorney general's office is still looking closely into the complaints.

Missourian reporter Jacob Barker contributed to this report.


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