MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. -- If your car is in a wreck and towed to a body shop, do you have to pay whatever charge they set just to get the car back?
Once your car is on the tow truck hook, are you on the hook too – whatever the costs?
Once your car is behind the razor wire under the watchful eyes of a pit bull terrier guarding it, do you have any leverage to negotiate costs?
The NBC Charlotte I-Team helped out a Montagnard immigrant who didn’t understand what she had agreed to when a body shop called her the morning after her car was broadsided on Monroe Road in east Charlotte.
“We don’t really understand what they’re talking about,” said Hoanh Nie, who goes by the name Annie.
She agreed to have her Honda Civic towed to Complete Automotive Repairs and Sales off of North Tryon just north of West Sugar Creek Road.
“English is really hard for Montagnard people,” she explained.
The marketer on the phone assured Annie. “She say, ‘Trust me; I will call the insurance and call the lawyer.”
That’s when Annie made her first misstep – signing a document agreeing to pay storage fees and a $250 administrative fee before any work was done.
When she called a week later to try to get the car back and move it to a different body shop, she says the woman on the phone became angry. A text message from the woman shows she asked for $605 even though no work had been done and said the storage fees would only go up, soon eclipsing the value of the car.
Jen Tolbert, who works with Annie and her family through Refugee Services, intervened. “They’re hard working people and they go to school and they work and it takes every penny just to be able to pay the bills.”
When the I-Team visited the C.A.R.S. shop, operator Michael Dam assured us there had been a misunderstanding.
“We’re not here just to take money off the customer,” Dam said.
Since Annie and her mother did not have collision insurance and since police had not found either driver at fault, insurance would not cover the repairs. And Dam insists he informed Annie of the administrative fee on a waiver and a work order which she signed.
That administrative fee also pays the salary of the employee who solicited Annie, so customers quite literally pay for someone to call and solicit them.
But after the I-Team got involved, Michael Dam agreed to a compromise. Instead of charging Annie and her mother more than $600 for a car which had not been repaired, he paid them $500 to keep the Honda as-is. He even let them keep the tires, which were relatively new.
“We worked out a compromise and I hope she’s happy with it,” he said.
Annie’s American mom, Jen Tolbert, said the tone changed once the I-Team walked past the razor wire and pit bull to speak with Michael Dam directly and not the sales rep who called them.
“Had you not got involved, I don’t know they would have ever seen that car again,” said Tolbert.