One expensive car repair is enough to send some people spiraling into poverty

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You are Daniel Chu and your privately owned Tricolor Auto is a Texas success story. Your Dallas-based empire specializes in selling used vehicles to the underserved Hispanic community. Customers without a credit history or a Social Security number can get a good deal, you say.

The three colors in your company name refer to the three colors on the Mexican flag. In 17 years your empire has expanded along with the Hispanic population from one original store in Dallas to 16 in Dallas-Fort Worth, 33 in Texas and a total nationwide of 55. You expect to sell 35,000 cars this year.

Meanwhile, you are Cynthia Jackson of Garland, and you bought a Ford Explorer from Tricolor (pronounced tree-calore) last year. When the water pump failed, you say (and the company disagrees) that Tricolor would not fix it. That launched you into the fight of your life with Chu and his company.

Chu disagrees with your complaints and offered all your money back, about $6,300, which includes your $3,000 down payment, plus your biweekly car payments. You refused and fought on.

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Cynthia Jackson of Garland says a used car she bought from Tricolor Auto led to no end of...
Cynthia Jackson of Garland says a used car she bought from Tricolor Auto led to no end of problems. The owners say they did nothing wrong.(Courtesy of Cynthia Jackson)

Spiraling downward

Her tool to fight back was ingenious, something The Watchdog had never seen before. But before I show you what she did, it’s important to note that Jackson’s dilemma clearly depicts how so many Americans live life on the financial edge. One expensive car repair is enough to send a poor soul into poverty.

She recently explained in a letter to the company why she was reluctant to take the money back offer of $6,000. She originally asked for $20,000 and reduced that to $18,000. Her justification?

She spent $1,500 on repairs. Paid $2,300 for a rental car. Could not afford the rental.

“This meant I had to give up my job, which led to more losses,” she wrote the company. She lost $7,200 in income. Had to give up her place to live. Borrowed $5,200 from friends for essentials. Faces a pile of unpaid bills.

She couldn’t afford the car payments, and the car was repossessed.

She concluded, “I have had the humanity taken from me, and I have been reduced to poverty.”

‘Enormous respect’

Chu says the Buy Here Pay Here car industry “has a very bad reputation …. Predatory. Taking advantage of people.”

He works hard to counter that and adds, “We try very hard to build a reputation that provides value to the customer and treats that customer with enormous respect.”

As proof, he offered his third-party customer service scores, calling them among the highest in the industry.

Her ‘campaign’

So what was Jackson’s unique strategy? After, all, The Watchdog has received complaints about used (and new) car dealerships for two decades. But she didn’t write a letter like most. She sent a professional news release, concocted by her husband, Kevin Kiepe.

Headline: “For immediate release. June 6, 2024. 61-year-old Belizean American Grandmother’s Plea for Justice.”

In the release, she vows to launch “a heartfelt campaign to seek intervention and regulatory reform.” As part of this, she has contacted the Governor and the Attorney General.

“I encourage anyone who has faced similar problems to come forward and share their story.”

Andrew DeLuca, Tricolor’s general counsel and chief compliance officer, told The Watchdog that in his 15 years in the industry, the “pseudo news release” as he called it, “was really one of a kind. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

He said some facts in the news release were wrong, and he asked Jackson to stop the spread of false information.

I wish I could tell you who is right and who is wrong. Not all Watchdog stories have obvious good guys and bad. All I can tell you is this is a perfect case for a Texas small claims court judge to sift through this mess.

On most facts here, the two parties disagree. In small claims, you sue up to $20,000 and you don’t need a lawyer. Jackson has to bring evidence of lost income and all the other losses she endured.

Settlement?

Chu told me that with Jackson’s threats of exposure through her campaign, he felt like a victim of extortion.

Did the campaign work? Too early to tell. But as I write this, Tricolor has offered all her money.

But there may be conditions. The lawyer’s letter states that “we would also require you to retract any statements you have made to the media, including The Dallas Morning News, and state that the matter has been resolved to your satisfaction.

“Lastly, we would require a confidentiality provision in the settlement agreement to ensure that you do not make any more false statements to third parties.”

Upon hearing that, Jackson’s husband said, “We will not be retracting anything.”

Buy Now. Pay Now. Fight Now.

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