Target 8: Car dealer shut down by Sec. of State

GALESBURG, Mich. (WOOD) — One week after a Target 8 investigation involving a Galesburg used car lot, the state has suspended the dealer’s license to sell vehicles.

On Thursday, Michigan’s Secretary of State shut down Speedy’s Auto Sales, a tiny car lot off I-94 that allegedly posed as a private seller online.

However, that isn’t why Speedy’s license was summarily suspended.  Instead the state acted because it attempted to inspect the lot two times and discovered the dealer was not open.

A Secretary of State spokesperson said the point of laws requiring open hours and maintaining an open place of business is to allow buyers to address a problem or to allow regulatory staff to review documents and ensure cars are being sold legally.

“We appreciate WOOD TV bringing this matter to our attention,” said Fred Woodhams, spokesperson for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. “Secretary Johnson and the investigative staff here take their responsibility to protect consumers very seriously and this suspension shows that we will take action when dealerships appear to not be complying with state law.”

A Plainwell man believed he purchased a 2003 Saab listed on Craigslist from a Western Michigan University student, but discovered he actually bought it from the dealership a month later after contacting Target 8, which pulled the vehicle’s title.

Speedy’s Auto Sales owner Gil Gonzalez said the student did work for him at one point before being fired for not following the rules. Gonzalez claimed he didn’t know the student was selling cars online and off the lot until after the fact.

However, Gonzalez’s signature is on the title for the vehicle.

When confronted with that fact, Gonzalez said he signs a bunch of titles and can’t keep track of every car that comes through his dealership.

Dealers aren’t allowed to pose as private sellers online and must make it clear the cars are coming from their lot.

Speedy’s Auto Sales can request an administrative hearing to contest the suspension and regain its license.

The Secretary of State provides clear, step-by-step guidelines on how to buy a vehicle.

In a private sale, it’s critical that to review the vehicle’s title carefully, in part to ensure that the seller is the actual owner of the vehicle. The state also says it’s best if to go with the seller go together to a Secretary of State branch to complete the title transfer.

If that is not possible, then before you buy and leave with the vehicle, make sure:

  • The seller gives you the title. If you don’t have the title, you don’t own the car.
  • There is no outstanding loan against the vehicle. A title cannot be transferred until the vehicle loan is fully paid.
  • The odometer reading entered by the seller and vehicle identification number (VIN) on the title match the vehicle’s odometer reading and VIN.

Also, before you buy, make sure to get the vehicle inspected by a mechanic and be sure to check its VIN number.

Services like Carfax can run a VIN number and provide you with the vehicle’s history, including the number of owners, maintenance history and any crashes.