Sold cars listed online create a tangled Web

Q: I recently searched for a certified used Toyota via the Internet and found one at a suburban dealership. I e-mailed the Internet sales manager; he wrote back that the vehicle was in great shape and asked whether I'd like to see it. I said I'd be there that night. When I arrived the contact told me to wait in his office while he got the van to test drive. He returned to say the vehicle was sold the day before.

I wasn't happy about wasting four hours and $30 dollars in gas. I drove home. A day earlier I had a similar experience at another Toyota dealer. A nearly identical deal on a Sienna, except when I asked for a stock number he said the vehicle was sold but he had others like it. It occurs to me that the two incidents were too similar to be accidents. Both Siennas were still on the Web site 48 hours after I was told they were sold.

—J.J., Pontiac, Ill.

A: If you called dealers and asked whether they have a car on the lot with pink doors and an elephant hood ornament, the response from some would be, "sure, come on in and we'll show it to you." A salesman can't make a sale until you walk in the door.

Steve Bernas, president of the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan Chicago, said often any complaint has three versions to it, the customer's, the salesman's and the truth. You can call his office at 312-832-0500 to file a complaint and have the BBB investigate whether this was bait-and-switch or a simple mistake. Bernas said when the BBB steps in it usually only takes a couple minutes to remove a vehicle from a Web site so there is no reason for it to take days. Perhaps an outside company is in charge of the site and isn't doing the job it should. But even so, Bernas said, "A dealer Web site should be reviewed and changes made daily."

Q: I disagree with your assessment of the BMW 1-Series (Transportation, April 13). It's almost a completely useless car for Chicago. It gets terrible mileage, is the size of a compact Corolla, is really ugly and costs about $40,000.

—J.L., Pontiac, Ill.

A: You're right. Fun cars should be banned. If Chicagoans find it useless, ugly, and/or too costly, they won't buy it. But they have that choice, just like folks have the choice to conserve resources and stack the kids on bunks in a two-bedroom house rather than waste lumber building three or four bedrooms. If 18 m.p.g. city/26 m.p.g. highway is terrible, what is 12 m.p.g. city/18 m.p.g. highway from a Toyota Sequoia? Should its owners be locked up?

Q: I sometimes wonder whether you're too pro foreign cars. You mentioned the only Toyota Sequoia as an option with three-row seating for the reader wanting to know whether the Lexus RX crossover would get three rows (Auto letters, April 6). Why not mention that the Saturn Outlook, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave have three rows?

—J.B., Chicago

A: The reader was interested in a RX, so we felt he would lean toward another member of the Toyota family in seeking a three-row SUV. That would be Sequoia. For every reader who complains about us being "pro" foreign, by the way, there is one who complains about us being "pro" American.

Q: Regarding the review of the Pontiac G8 (Transportation, March 30), I wonder how GM will promote this one. How about a guy driving in a Ford Focus when the Pontiac passes and he slaps himself in the forehead and says, "I could have had a G8!"

I can't wait for the El Camino-type G8, but suspect GM will find a way to mess it up with a folding roof and a $40,000 price tag like they did the Chevy SSR.

—N.K., Streamwood

A: Don't give up your day job for car advertising, N.K. Pontiac says the G8 car/truck won't offer a retractable metal hardtop like the Chevy SSR. No price yet since it won't come out until the fall of 2009 as a 2010, but the base price should be close to that of a G8 GT sedan, or about $30,000, not $40,000 like an SSR.

Write to Jim Mateja, Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago IL 60611, or send e-mail with name and town to trans

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