Dealership Demands BMW Back, Then Claims You Never Returned It

Two years ago, an arbitrator ordered a car dealership in Queens, NY to refund a customer’s money under the “lemon law.” You’d think that would be the end of the story, but no… it’s the beginning. Jessica Harrison says she returned the “lemon” 2004 BMW to “Planet Auto Mall” but the dealer claims that they don’t know what happened to the vehicle. Now Jessica has to keep making payments on the missing BMW.

Fox 5 in New York did one of their notorious “Shame, Shame, Shame” segments about the debacle, confronting the dealer with pictures of the car being accepted and the $1700 in parking tickets that racked up as they left it out on the street for several months.

The whole story began when Jessica bought the BMW from Planet Auto Mall in Queens for around $45,000. Soon after she bought the car, it began shaking when she drove it. Planet Auto Mall’s mechanics tried to fix the car — but couldn’t. When she took it to a BMW specialist they found that there were so many things wrong with the vehicle that it wasn’t even safe to drive. Jessica filed a “lemon law” claim against the dealership and won — but that’s when her real problems started.

The auto dealer filed a legal challenge to the arbitrator’s decision — based on the fact that Jessica had not returned the car. So she did. And she took pictures. And now the dealer says they never got the car. Even though it was sitting outside their dealership for months:

Fox 5: “There were like, 17 or more tickets that were issued to the car… right on the street around here.”

Dealership Manager: “Sure. Somebody can say ‘OK, you know what? Hey. Here is… I’m bringing the car and I’m parking it over there.'”

Fox 5: “So you’re saying she might have…”

Dealership Manager: “She might have. I’m not sure.”

Fox 5: “She might have put the car on the street.”

Dealership Manager: “She might have put the car wherever she wants to put it.”

The dealership lost their case in May, but have still not paid up because they’ve filed an appeal. Fox 5 stormed in with their cameras and demanded answers of the dealership’s owner, but, of course, got none.

Jessica’s next payment is still due on the 14th.

Planet Auto Mall [MyFoxNY]


Edit Your Comment

  1. rbb says:

    She should have someone run a carfax report on the car just to see what’s happened to the car since it was returned. It would be interesting to see whose name is on the title.

    • segfault, registered cat offender says:


      • madfrog says:


        In NY state, you get the title (Lien or not) mailed to you, if the dealership did it’s job right. The Carfax report would still be interesting, though.

        • spazztastic says:

          @madfrog: Carfax is useless. They can only report what has been reported to them, or is in public records.

          I sold my old car to a dealership, admitted it had been in an accident. They ran the Carfax, and it came up clean; except for the mandatory state inspections, there was nothing on the report.

          • supercereal says:

            @spazztastic: If you made a claim or filed a report on the accident, I believe it would show up on the report. An accident that nobody knew about naturally wouldn’t show up.

            In my own experience, Carfax has been indispensable — I’m sure nearly all of major things that could happen to a car would show up on the report.

          • TechnoDestructo says:


            And my accident showed up on Carfax within a week. It isn’t useless. Saying Carfax is useless is like saying condoms are useless. They do fail, but they’re better than nothing.

  2. InThrees says:

    There’s probably a record of it being mulched after it sat in an impound lot for 13 months.

    That, or some police chief’s/sherrif’s daughter is driving it now.

  3. bohemian says:

    Why is she still paying this? Withholding payment sounds like an option.

    • zigziggityzoo says:

      @bohemian: Because it ruins your credit. You know those jackholes are going to report it to the credit bureaus.

    • morganlh85 says:

      @bohemian: These guys wouldn’t hesitate to ruin her credit if she did…it’s probably less of a hassle to keep paying for it and get your money back than to deal with all the credit bureaus to try to get the item removed.

      • DrMorison says:

        @morganlh85: she should be making all of the payments into an escrow account. Then the accoutn sits there and earns interest until she wins and can get the money back. Even if she wins against the dealership she will still have to fight them for the money she gave them.

        • BlondeGrlz says:

          @DrMorison: But the credit bureaus aren’t going to call her and say “Hey your bank reported to us you stopped paying on your car loan” and when she says “Yeah, I totally have that money in this account over here” tell her that’s totally fine. Paying is really the responsible thing to do until she gets its all straightened out.

      • wcnghj says:


        People don’t understand how easy it is to dispute things. She should have returned the car and gotten it on video, and they should have given money back on the spot.

        • bwcbwc says:

          @wcnghj: At this point, she’d need to get an injunction or other court ruling to allow her to pay it into an escrow account.

          If the title for her car still shows up in her name at the DMV, she can report it stolen. Even if it was in the dealership’s custody, it’s still legally her car. If the title shows up in someone else’s name, there should be a record of who transferred the title to the new owner and work back from there. The problem would be if the dealership sold it but falsified the title transfer to show it occurring directly from her to the new owner.

      • Git Em SteveDave loves this guy->★ says:

        @morganlh85: All you have to do is challenge the credit breaus to prove the debt is valid. If they can’t, it goes bye bye.

    • Primate says:

      @bohemian: The loan might be with her bank or some other bank unrelated to the dealer.

  4. Psychosocial says:

    I wouldn’t make a payment on that car if my LIFE depended on it. Screw that dealership. People need to stop worrying about their credit score so much. Long ago I figured out you have to monitor it almost every month to keep errors off of it. I simply don’t sweat it. Then again, I don’t need loans either…oh well.

  5. blackmage439 says:

    “…confronting the dealer with pictures of the car being accepted…”

    I don’t understand why this doesn’t seal the case. Photographic evidence of the car being accepted by the dealership, and driven onto their property, in their possession.

    More compelling, is the fact that the article makes no mention of any paperwork filed. You can’t just return a car without signing something absolving you any responsibility to it. What about the difference of the loan being returned (if applicable)?

    This is not the full story, folks.

    • Bahnburner says:

      @blackmage439: Exactly. This is knee-jerk journalism at its worst. Half-assed investigate something, ambush someone for drama, then let the corrections happen on page 19 (if ever).

    • blackmage439 says:

      @blackmage439: So, I just watched the video, and I have no sympathy for the woman.

      She claims her lawyer “and the dealership’s lawyer” told her to hand over the keys. Well, as the manager of the dealership notes, that’s no LEGAL way to hand over possession of a car. What kind of an idiot just hands over the keys to their car, and walks away?!

      This woman is guilty of blindly following her lawyer’s recommendation, and the dealership is guilty of not properly filling any paperwork at all. Hell you could absolve the dealership of that responsibility by the obvious fact that the woman (and her dad) should have not left the lot until the car was not legally their responsibility.

      Typical Fox Noise. More upsetting is the way The Consumerist conveniently left out the most glaring and obvious point of the manager’s discussion with the reporter, namely:

      “You can’t just leave your keys on the desk and say ‘here’s the car;’ that’s just not the way to do things.”

      I hope the sale of the Consumerist returns the site to more quality reporting of valid consumer issues. The quality of said “news” on this site has waned as of late…

      • Corporate_guy says:

        @blackmage439: I think the court case nullified ownership and returned ownership to the dealer. She did not need to sign anything. That is why the dealership had to appeal to a judge to claim she never delivered it. The dumb judge sided with the dealership somehow thinking there is an incentive for the person who went to court to force the dealer to take the undrivable car back to keep the car.
        The car was useless to the dealership because they already knew they could not fix it. They scammed her good.
        In this case you could say her mistake was that she didn’t park it in the middle of the lot. But technically the many parking tickets does prove she did deliver it. She will get it fixed in the courts, but it just means more wasted time and having to deal with more crappy used car salesman shenanigans.

      • picardia says:

        @blackmage439: Regardless of whether or not she fulfilled the proper procedure, there seems to be no question that THEY HAD THE CAR.

      • Pixelantes Anonymous says:

        @blackmage439: The dealership accepted the return. They took her keys, took possession of the car, drove it away and parked it.

        If the transfer wasn’t done properly, then the dealership stole the car. The dealership is in the business of selling cars. They know a whole lot better what’s involved with transfer of ownership than some barely out of her teens chick born with a silver spoon ($45K car from daddy…come’on!)

        I have no sympathy for the dealership.

      • West Coast Secessionist says:

        @blackmage439: “This woman is guilty of blindly following her lawyer’s recommendation.”

        Yeah, ’cause you should never trust a lawyer for this kind of advice. You should turn to someone with more authority on legal matters.

  6. Papercutninja says:

    If i remember correctly, Planet Auto Mall is one of those dealerships that have the SCREAMING ALL THE TIME COMMERCIALS ON THE RADIO. YOU KNOW, “NO CREDIT NO PROBLEM!!! ONE DOLLAR DOWN PAYMENT!!!! FREE PUPPIES!!!!”

    Always a sign of a good car dealer.

  7. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    Shouldn’t she have gotten some sort of signed receipt for returning the car?

    • mbz32190 says:


      Probably, and if she would have stopped for the receipt checker at the door she wouldn’t be in this mess :p

    • absentmindedjwc says:


      no, since possession of the car most likely changed to the dealer in the courtroom. They are arguing that they never received the car, so they do not have to pay.

      Responsibility lies solely in the hands of the dealership, and as all the tickets came from outside of the dealership.. I dont understand how they can fight this.

      As stated above, what gain would she possibly have to keep a car that was not fit to drive when she could turn it over for a refund?

    • mrearly2 says:

      Yeah! Where’s the paper trail?

  8. rpm773 says:

    Wouldn’t the arbitration determine what is to be done with the car? The article implies that she returned the car to the dealer only after it filed a legal challenge to the agreement on the premise that the car had never been returned.

    I didn’t think lemon laws focused on dealerships. I always thought they took the manufacturer to task, which means this would be more of an issue with BMW. And she’s still making payments? What exactly transpired in arbitration?

    And as mentioned by @blackmage439, any paperwork, receipts, etc when the car was turned in? Any proof of acceptance besides photographs?

    I’m not ready to absolve the dealership – I’m sure they didn’t lift an extra finger to help her under the circumstances, but I also think there’s more to the story.

    But of someone knows how these lemon laws work, it would be interesting to hear his/her take….

  9. jdhuck says:

    If you get any creepy feeling from a dealership when you walk in, then walk out.

    I was negotiating price at a now defunct Bill Heard dealership once and the sales person said, “Are you trying to Jew me down?”. I politely (not really) told the salesperson to go “F” himself and I walked out of the door. I was stopped “Arm Grab” by the sales manager and he asked who I thought I was for yelling at his sales person. I told him that I was the Jew that was about to sue his dealership for verbal assault and battery unless he took his hand off of me. I explained what happened and he fired the salesperson in front of me. (I know this does not relate, but I love the story)

    And I agree that there is more to the story than in the article. However, it is nice to know that slimy dealerships are everywhere. I have gone through arbitration and we signed paperwork through the mail and then dropped off the car at the dealership. I made the dealer give me a hand written receipt.

  10. sonneillon says:

    Stop paying them then when they hit your credit go to small claims court for violating the fair debt collection act. Your contract is already void so you are not obligated to join binding arbitration.

    • supercereal says:

      @sonneillon: For all we know, the dealership didn’t finance the car — she could be in debt to some bank for the loan. In that case, wouldn’t the bank have every right to hurt her credit if she stops paying?

      And I’m no expert on NY law, but is the contract really voided if nobody signed anything overriding the original? There’s technically no proof that she returned it (I don’t think photos alone can definitively prove that she returned it…).

      • sonneillon says:

        @supercereal: Then let the bank repo the car. In fact tell the bank where the car is. Because the bank will have the title if that’s the case. If the bank has the title then they wouldn’t be able to sell the car. It sounds like she is paying to the dealership.

  11. Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

    I agree, she SHOULD of gotten something in writing about surrendering the vehicle. But I truly don’t believe that this is a loophole for the dealership to wash their hands clean of the deal.

    I’m more furious at the fact that this dealership owner KNEW what vehicle was in dispute with the lemon law, KNEW that he had legally challenged the decision based on the fact that she hadn’t returned the car — yet he drives by a white BMW, same model, color, everything that’s parked outside his dealership everyday. She had to of returned the keys to someone, so they have no excuse in my mind. They tried a deferance of responsibility and it failed. If one of his employees failed to acknowledge the return, then he’s still liable like any other business owner would be.

    Fact is, this dealership could be doing the right thing and they aren’t. THAT’S why this story is on Consumerist.

  12. private1111 says:

    yeah there is definately more to the story. she would have had to sign something when she returned it. why would she take pictures and not sign a document of some sort? like judge judy says, if it dosent make sense its not true!

  13. brandymb says:

    An arbitrator ruling in favor of the CONSUMER? wtf?

  14. wgrune says:

    Ok, ill blame the consumer here and say there is no way I would drop $45k on a used car from a company with a website like . I am not saying what happened to her was right or deserved but sometimes you have to be smarter in these situations. A quick google search turns up numerous “scam” and “ripoff” reviews and the possibility that PAM may be being sued by BMW.

  15. tc4b says:

    I agree consumers should be more wary than this, especially in this case when she seems to have had her dad with her every step of the way. Even if she’s young and naive, which I can benefit-of-the-doubt for, Pop should have known it stank and done a better job getting evidence. Also, she should file a lemon law complaint against her lawyer.

    Still, this is a dishonest business, and I give them no pass whatsoever. When a business with years of experience goes to war against a consumer, it’s not going to be a fair fight.

    I think the best a consumer can do in just about any big-purchase situation is ask around, find out who people buy from, who they like. That way, you probably won’t have to go into battle in the first place.

    But just so I’m clear, fuck that scummy, dishonest dealer.

  16. rellog says:

    I hope she gets some serious punitive damages for their misbehavior….

  17. Pylon83 says:

    After watching the video, I’m not entirely certain that, beyond selling her the shitty car, that the dealer has done anything wrong. I don’t think it’s right to fault them for exercising their legal rights to appeal the arbitrators decision to the lower state courts, and then to the state appeals court. If they think they have a case, which they must or they wouldn’t be shelling out thousands in attorneys fees, they have every right to appeal. I’m a bit confused as to why the car wasn’t returned immediately after the arbitrators award, did they really think they got to keep the car and got their money back? Unfortunately for her, they may ultimately hurt her case. That said, since the video isn’t accompanied by a real story, it’s hard to get the real facts.
    With regard to the payments on the car, it’s very likely that the car loan is with a financial institution completely separate from the car dealer. Assuming that is the case, she can’t stop making payments on the car, as it will certainly hurt her credit, and probably get her sued. In an ideal situation, the dealer would have refunded her money, and she would have used that to pay off the car loan. Since they haven’t yet refunded her money, she can’t pay off the underlying loan. The judgment that the car was a lemon doesn’t extinguish her obligation to the lender. I suppose holding onto the car until the money was actually refunded may have been a smarter thing to do, as now they have the car and her money, and they clearly claim they don’t even have the car. It’s a crappy situation, but I don’t think slamming the dealer for appealing the judgment is proper. Slamming them for selling her a shitty BMW is another story.
    A final note, situations like these simply reiterate the need to have a car like this inspected by a deal or BMW-certified mechanic before purchase. A pre-purchase inspection that would have cost $200 would have avoided all of these problems. European cars are great, but they can be absurdly expensive to fix, and your average joe the mechanic usually can’t work on them (special tools, computer diagnostics, etc.) So let this be a lesson to anyone on here considering buying a used European car……GET A PRE-PURCHASE INSPECTION!

    • JoshReflek says:

      @Pylon83: so many words and yet you miss the point. go read some quality comments above you.

      • Pylon83 says:

        Well please elaborate on how I missed the point. Half the comments above are simply claims that she handed over the keys, thus it should be clear cut. If you’re going to criticize, at least do it effectively. Saying “you missed the point, your comment sucks” doesn’t really contribute much to the discussion.

    • tc4b says:

      @Pylon83: “After watching the video, I’m not entirely certain that, beyond selling her the shitty car, that the dealer has done anything wrong.”

      The other thing they did wrong was to not refund the purchase price. Unless you think it’s OK to sell people nonfunctional shit AND keep the money. Yes, they have legal rights to appeal, but it doesn’t mean they’re not assholes for doing so. They sold her a pile of shit and are keeping her money.

  18. stevejust says:

    Problem #1: $45,000 for a 2 year old BMW? The photo is a 3 series. You could buy it brand new fully loaded for that.

    Problem #2: Did she not test drive it?

    There’s so many things about this I can’t I can’t comprehend.

  19. Corporate-Shill says:

    Where is the paper work?

    All car dealerships are anal. There is paperwork needed to release the paperwork for the other paperwork.

    So where is the paperwork when the car was accepted from the customer? Customer should have her copy of the release. No release/acceptance form, no car delivered.

    Secondly, the car was left “on the street”? That ain’t the dealer’s property.

    • tc4b says:

      @Corporate-Shill: The dealer parked it there when she returned it.

    • absentmindedjwc says:

      well, since the appeal is there saying that she never returned the car to the dealer, and the first case was that they sold her a lemon. I am assuming (as stated above a few times) that ownership was transferred to the dealer in the courtroom.

      It would be in their best interest to park it off of their property and say that they never received it; doing otherwise would force them to pay her back. And they have 45 thousand reasons not to want to do that.

  20. Anonymous says:

    This is what happens if a consumer decides to handle a lemon law claim on their own. Now, before anyone jumps on me, it’s important to note that there are fee-shifitng provisions in the Lemon Law which provide completely cost-free lgal help. The manufacturer has to pay the attorneys fees ON TOP OF what the consumer resceives. So, there is no cost and no risk. This puts the consumer and the manufacturer on equal footing. Had she been represented by a firm, the matter would have been handled start to finish and they would have arranged proper drop off. She made an expensive mistake.

  21. kbarrett says:

    Your credit rating is merely an indication of how good a credit slave you are.

    Stop paying. Tell them to sue or be damned.

    Then cut up the damned credit cards.

    Rent your house, and save your money to retire early … and buy a home in the sticks for pennies.

  22. verdantpine says:

    I definitely hope this is one story we’ll be following up. These guys are almost as bad as Huling Brothers (who my mother-in-law used to work for) — [] if you don’t remember that sick story.

    My SIL is in a strange situation which is somewhat similar. Any lawyers here? Basically, she bought a car, and they tried to pull the old “yo yo financing” bit on her. “Ooops, we can’t give you the loan we already promised you, better bring it back.”

    Before bringing it back, she found that they mistakenly registered the title in her name, not that of the dealership or anyone else holding a lien. Conveniently, they now want her to return the car and even attempted to repossess it (remember, the title has her name on it). IIRC, she’s been making payments on the original loan as promised.

    Not sure what she can do with these bozos. I just hope the lady in this predicament in NY prevails.

    • jenl1625 says:

      @verdantpine: “IIRC, she’s been making payments on the original loan as promised.”

      How? At the dealership, they tell you what the terms will be. But you don’t have the account number or mailing address until you actually get something from the bank. If the original financing didn’t go through, you don’t get anything from the bank, so how could she be making her payments?

      I had someone try to hit me with a late fee one time because the original financing bank sold the loan immediately, and I finally received the account number and “how to pay” information the day after the first payment was due. I called the new financing company, and the stupid customer service girl tried to tell me that “late is late” and they were going to hit me with a late fee: “you knew what amount you’d agreed to pay, and when it was due”. So I got through to a manager and pointed out that I didn’t know who’d bought the loan, much less the account number or contact info, until that day. He was far more reasonable about it.

  23. carlogesualdo says:

    I feel pretty sure she financed the car through the dealer. If you go to the original news story, they have a photo on their website of the dealer’s lot. A clear shot of their awning says “you work, you drive.” In other words, they’ll finance anyone, and odds are good that’s how she managed to buy a $45,000 car. And why they’re being so shady about it after the fact.