Buyer Beware

That's a motto you might want to keep in mind next time you go shopping for a used car

At the time Payton was employed there, Svadbik sold his customers a 50-50 warranty. If the car broke down, the warranty promised the customer that Svadbik would pay for half the cost of major repairs. "They ran the labor and the parts bill up high enough that the customer was actually paying 100 percent of the bill," Payton asserts. "In other words they put a 100 percent markup on the parts and made high-enough labor charges to cover overhead and additional costs. When you paid half the bill, you were paying the whole cost and some profit."

In addition Svadbik charges his traditionally steep interest on major repairs he finances. "Now the customer has two payments: a car payment and a payment for repairs," Payton explains. "And pretty soon he can't keep up and they repossess the car. And still they go after the customer for all the outstanding payments anyway."

Payton goes on to provide an example of what he describes as a common Svadbik practice. "If a car is burning oil, it smokes," he says. "And if it smokes, you can't get it through emissions, so you can't sell it. But they're not going to put a motor into it and they're not going to fix it, so instead they found a company that sells white oil, which is made from silicone instead of petroleum. Voila, the car doesn't smoke anymore. It passes emissions and we sell it to the customer. Of course the minute the customer adds regular oil -- poof! -- you got a big smoker again. Some poor guy will come in and his car will be smoking like crazy, and we'll look at him and say, 'Well, you must have overheated the car.'" (Attorney Steven Hyatt insists Svadbik "has no idea what 'silicone white oil' is and has never used such a product.")

"When I first started working there, it wasn't as blatant," Payton concludes. "Until Vickie started working there, I never knew exactly how badly they were ripping people off, though I got feedback from the other end. Mechanics, as you probably know, wear uniforms with the company's name on it. When I worked in Perrine, I would sometimes go to lunch at Denny's or McDonald's or wherever. Constantly I would walk to the cash register and someone would say, 'Oh, you work for that company. Let me tell you, my son bought a car and his transmission blew up two days later, and they said it was abuse on his part.' It got the point where I didn't even want to go out in public wearing their uniform."

Super-Clean Mustang -- Only Junked Twice!
No car is more American than the Mustang. Ford's legendary sports car debuted at the 1964 World's Fair in New York City and proceeded to smash all records for first-year sales. Although the model is enjoying a resurgence, in the late Seventies and early Eighties the Mustang bloodline suffered from a touch of colic. With instability in the Middle East and gas prices sky-high, muscle cars fell out of favor. In response the Mustang devolved into a domesticated economy car with a relatively tame engine.

In February 1991 Homestead resident Jorge Rios bought a red 1981 Mustang from John Svadbik. After financing Rios's starting balance was $1156.77. Less than two months later the car was repossessed and, according to Svadbik's records, was junked. After the junking, and with the repo fees and other costs, Rios's balance stood at $1183.77.

But Rios shouldn't have had any balance to pay off. In August 1991, Svadbik resold the supposedly junked car to Solomon Small. The starting balance was just over $3000, an impressive markup. By law Rios should have been credited with the full price of the sale to Small. He wasn't, according to Coconut Palm records obtained by Vickie White. If he had been, his debt to Svadbik would have been erased. It wasn't. Instead after waiting seven years, Svadbik seized a late-model Ford pickup truck owned by Rios's girlfriend, whose name was also on the Mustang title. A recovery fee and seven years of interest on the account raised Rios's balance to close to $3000. To get the truck back, he paid Svadbik $2000. Despite the sale to Small, Rios's outstanding balance in May 1998 was still more than $800.

As for Solomon Small, records indicate he missed several payments on the Mustang, prompting its repossession five months after he bought it. According to Svadbik's records, the car was again junked. Small's account was credited $100. Five years later, in 1997, records show Svadbik was still searching for Small to pay off his $2400 balance.

It was a balance that should not have been there, according to records in White's possession. After junking the Mustang a second time, Svadbik sold it a third time. Homestead resident Tim Connolly bought the aging car in February 1992 for just under $3000. Five months of weekly payments knocked a grand off his balance. There is no indication in the documents White obtained that Connolly made a payment in June or July, prompting the car to be repossessed in August. In September, according to Svadbik's records, the car was junked a third time. By late 1997 Svadbik was still trying to find Connolly to settle his account.

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