Used minivan a real mileage mystery

  • Article by: JAMES ELI SHIFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2010 - 12:03 PM

The odometer broke as the Golden Valley woman headed home from the White Bear Lake dealership. Or did it? Buyer Carol Canniff just wants it gone.

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Carol Canniff of Golden Valley hasn’t used her 2007 Dodge Caravan since she bought it from Barnett Chrysler Jeep KIA in March. After she realized the odometer wasn’t working, she asked the dealership to take the car back. It fixed the odometer, but won’t take back the vehicle.

Photo: James Eli Shiffer, Star Tribune

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For more than a month, a 2007 Dodge Caravan hasn't moved from its spot in front of Carol Canniff's house in Golden Valley. The odometer has advanced just 24 miles since Canniff bought the minivan -- the distance from the White Bear Lake dealership where she bought it March 20.

Canniff already has missed her first payment on the vehicle, and she expects the repo men to take it away eventually. The van doesn't have anything seriously wrong with it. Canniff just doesn't want it anymore since she noticed -- on the drive home from the dealership -- that the odometer wasn't moving.

Barnett Chrysler Jeep KIA promptly picked up the car, fixed the speedometer and odometer and drove it back to her house. By then, however, Canniff had done enough research to convince her that the royal blue Caravan might have more miles than the 37,037 claimed by the dealer.

The dealership maintains that the mileage is accurate. The general manager says the odometer just happened to break when Canniff drove it away.

"It's a crying shame that this occurred immediately after she left," said Jack Mayeron, general manager of Barnett Chrysler Jeep KIA. "Certainly we didn't think it rose to the level where a sale would be voided."

Canniff, who financed the $16,075 purchase, is learning the hard way that car buyers should do their homework before buying a used car. Not only should buyers find out about a vehicle's history, but it's also a good idea to ask about a dealer's return policy. Some dealers let people return cars within a few days if they experience buyer's remorse, but not Barnett Chrysler.

"I've never experienced this kind of sale," said Canniff, 58, a postal worker. "I just felt I didn't know what I was doing."

Canniff hadn't set foot in a car dealership for 10 years when she walked into Barnett Chrysler on March 20. The transmission had blown on her 1999 minivan, and she found an online ad for the Dodge Caravan. It was near closing time, so Canniff's test drive was a short loop in streets around the dealership. She said she wasn't paying attention to the speedometer or the odometer.

Yet as she drove her new car home, she noticed with dismay that the mileage didn't change. She called that night and left a message about the problem on the dealership's answering machine.

The next day, she got a Carfax vehicle history report that deepened her fears. From February to November of 2009, the Caravan logged just 3 miles. Also, the mileage was listed as 37,077 -- 40 miles more than the frozen odometer showed.

After Barnett employees retrieved the car for service, Canniff called the dealership and told employees to keep the car. Instead, they brought it back to her house the next day. A dealership employee walked into the Golden Valley post office, where Canniff was working behind the counter, and tossed her the keys.

"They should have just taken it," said Canniff's brother, David, who knows how to fix cars and watched Barnett's mechanic working on the Caravan. David Canniff thought the vehicle showed an unusual amount of wear and tear considering its relatively low mileage. "I told them that she's not going to stop bugging them about it," he said.

In the past month or so, Canniff has complained to Chrysler, the Better Business Bureau, the Minnesota State Patrol, the state's automobile dealer licensing unit and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

The dealership has responded to every inquiry. So far, Mayeron said, no one has found that Barnett did anything wrong. The Carfax report shouldn't raise any questions, he said, because Chrysler, which previously owned the car, often left cars on the lot for extended periods. The 40-mile discrepancy on the odometer could have been a clerical error, he said. Barnett Chrysler has an A+ rating with the BBB, and Mayeron said that Canniff got the car she paid for.

"This is a person that believes we ought to take the car back," Mayeron said. "We believe we do not have an obligation to do so. That's really where we part company."

Christopher Basso, a spokesman for Carfax, said buyers should research a car's history and bring along a qualified mechanic before signing the papers.

"Any time you see anything in a report that raises a red flag, you need to either dig deeper and get additional information, or you need to walk away," Basso said.

  • RESEARCH BEFORE YOU BUY

    Contact Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services to find out if a vehicle has been salvaged, been in a flood or totaled and what the odometer readings have been for the first 10 years. You can view records for free by visiting 445 Minnesota St. in St. Paul, or you can pay $9.50 to have the records mailed to you. Call 651-296-6911 or go to www.bit.ly/cJIZRa to get a record request form.

    For a fee, online services such as carfax.com provide similar information.

    JANE FRIEDMANN
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