Woman's auto repair job turns into a trade-in sale


SAN JOSE, Calif -- Imagine taking your car to a dealership for a $45 part and leaving with a bill for $7,000 after being persuaded by what must have been the best salesmen on earth.

Now imagine that the bill is for a used car riddled with dents and with squeaky brakes, and loaded with extras you didn't realize you'd bought.

That's what happened to 67-year-old Leona Lara on June 20 when she took her 1978 Ford Fairmont to Fremont Ford for a smog pump. She wound up trading in her Fairmont for $100 and buying a 1991 Ford Escort.

"They said, 'Sign here, here and here,' and I didn't even have time to look at them, and I didn't even know what half these papers were for," Ms. Lara said. "But I figured they wouldn't lie to me."

Since then, Ms. Lara has lost a bit of the trusting nature that got her into the mess.

During the weekend, bolstered by honking drivers and nearly a dozen relatives and friends, she toted a "They sell wrecks here" sign in front of the dealership to pressure the salesmen into giving her her money back. And it worked.

By mid-afternoon, the dealership had written her a check to cover the options she'd unwittingly purchased.

"We resolved the matter," Ford floor manager John Thompson said. "I'm taking care of the brakes, and we gave them a loaner car."

He said he will personally drive the repaired car to Ms. Lara's Newark home.

The mix-up began when Ms. Lara took her car in to have it checked because it was making loud noises. According to Ms. Lara, a salesman offered to replace the smog pump for $400, including parts and labor. (Al Andary of Exxon Al's in Fremont said a smog pump usually costs $45 to $75. A dealership will usually charge up to $75 an hour for labor costs.)

Ms. Lara thought the service was too expensive, and as she turned to leave, said, "I ought to just trade this thing in," under her breath.

"They heard her, and that's when they swamped her trying to make a deal [for a new car]," said her daughter, Wanny Lara-Bush, 43.

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