Car Dealer Protection

The state Senate is considering a bill that would force consumers to try and settle claims against car dealerships that try to make an extra buck. The bill would let dealers off the hook for repeat offenses.

Mindy Shroyer bought a car she couldn't afford three years ago. Documents show her credit application was altered by the dealership to inflate her income from $1,800 to $2,800 a month. She also got stuck for several thousand dollars worth of extras that were crammed into the contract without her knowledge.

"I'm not the only person out there that is getting ripped off by auto dealers," she says.

Mindy came to Tallahassee to testify against a bill that would give car dealers a free bite of the apple.

"In either case, does this bill take away from the rights of the consumers?" asks Sen. Mike Bennett, (R) Bradenton.

The bill's sponsor says he is trying to protect consumers while forcing them to negotiate with dealerships before lawyers get involved.

Senators were skeptical.

Sen. Rod Smith, (D) Gainesville, says, "All they do is say oops I'm sorry and pay you your actual damages. Where is the deterrent effect to that senator?"

Also opposing the bill, car dealer John Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald's surprise testimony brought a caucus in the corner, then a move to skip the debate for another week while a deal could be worked out.

Outside, several dealers continued to say the legislation was needed to protect them from lawsuits.

"We all make mistakes, we do it in our personal lives, we do it in our business life, but we would want a chance to rectify that mistake," says Phil Smith of All American Ford.

In many of the cases under scrutiny, dealers alter documents after they are signed by consumers but before they are seen by lenders name.

Mindy Shroyer has been forced to work a full-time job in addition to being a full-time student just to make her car payments.