Car Dealer Picked The Wrong Classic Car Buyer To Lie To…

INTENTIONAL MISREPRESENTATION COSTS SELLER $110,000

A Christiansburg, VA judge ruled against a car salesman who has faced litigation from several disgruntled customers, turning a most recent $10,000 squabble into a $110,000 judgment. The case finalized this week marks at least the third time in the past 10 years Eldon Lee Smith has been sued for selling cars that buyers claimed didn’t live up to his promises.

This time, Gary Duncan, one of the owners of Duncan Automotive Network dealerships, said Smith intentionally misrepresented a classic car as having its original engine when he knew it did not. By the time legal fees and punitive damages were added to the mix, Judge David Carson ordered Smith to pay more than double the $45,000 Smith charged Duncan for the car in the first place. Duncan’s suit is the second judgement against Smith in the past two years. A third from 2006 never reached a trial because it wasn’t pursued after initial court filings.

Duncan, whose family has run dealerships around the New River Valley for the past 61 years, said more and more classic car sellers are embellishing descriptions online. That’s why he decided it was important to litigate this case. “It’s just not right,” Duncan said. “It’s a great car. It’s just that the numbers don’t match.”
1970 Pontiac GTO

Duncan sued after he agreed to buy a 1970 Pontiac GTO from Smith for $45,000 in 2011, according to court records. Duncan said Smith advertised it as a “numbers matching” car, indicating it had original parts and was therefore more valuable in the world of classic car collectors.

In his complaint, Duncan argued Smith knew the Pontiac did not have original parts, but he intentionally misrepresented the vehicle to fetch a higher price. Based on Duncan’s calculations, the car should have been worth about $35,000.
1970-1981 Pontiac Engine Code -
it should be the end of the  VIN code 
of the car from the panel. If it doesn't match,
it is not the original engine from the factory. 


He said he advertised it as “numbers matching” because the vehicle identification number matched that of an authentic Pontiac GTO. Smith said he never told Duncan the vehicle had a “numbers matching engine.” Smith also said he never went under the hood to check serial numbers himself, so he didn’t know the engine wasn’t original at the time of the sale.

Smith said complaints are typical in his line of business. He said he’s been selling cars since 1991 and pointed to the “Top Rated” seller status his eBay account, “hut-mot-co1” maintains. Court records indicate he sold cars through a different account, “usa-1-today” as recently as 2014. 

"A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for his client"

Smith added that he was facing well-financed opposition in the courtroom as he represented himself against Duncan’s experienced lawyers.

With more than 100 years in the automobile industry between them, Paul and Gary Duncan’s successful working relationship in the Duncan Automotive Network has branded their name with friendship, trust and excellence in the New River Valley. Living their “brand” every day, the father and son have turned automotive customers into treasured friends over the years, and employees into members of their family.

“It’s all about money. It’s David and Goliath, I’m telling you,” Smith complained. “It’s all about him and his money. … The bottom line is he wanted the car, he kept the car and so I have nothing to offer them. I don’t have anything.”

Smith was ordered to refund the original $45,000 to Duncan, plus interest from the date of the sale in 2011. He must also pay $15,000 in punitive damages and $51,000 in legal fees and other court costs. If Duncan chooses to keep the Pontiac, $35,000 will be subtracted from the amount owed, according to the judge’s order.

Reached by phone after the judge’s ruling, Smith maintained that he did not misrepresent the vehicle.

Duncan said in an interview on Monday that he previously employed Smith and has bought 97 cars from him over the past eight years. The Pontiac was intended for his personal collection, which includes almost 400 vehicles.

When he discovered the car wasn’t as advertised, Duncan said he asked Smith to buy the vehicle back. When he refused, Duncan said he decided to sue. Smith said he did eventually offer to buy the car back, but that was shortly before the start of the trial. By then, Duncan said he had accrued $50,000 in legal fees.

NOT AN ISOLATED INSTANCE OF PROBLEMS

According to court documents, the Better Business Bureau has also received complaints from a handful of Smith’s customers who reported everything from inaccurate mileage, to cars that couldn’t pass safety inspections because horns and turn signals didn’t work.

Smith previously sold classic cars on eBay through his Today’s Auto dealership in Shawsville. That business shut down after after Virginia Motor Vehicle Dealer Board fined Smith $14,000 and revoked his dealership certificate in 2014, according to MVDB Executive Director William Childress. Smith now has a car salesperson license with Hutchison Motor Company in Christiansburg, according to Childress. That dealership was also fined $8,000 by the MVDB for violations related to its employment of Smith. None of the lawsuits are tied to cars Smith has sold while employed at Hutchison.

Among the complaints filed, include cars that had hidden damage, one that was not restored as promised and another where Smith was accused of advertising an inaccurate model year, according to court filings. Smith was ordered in 2015 to pay $39,000 to James Passmore, a customer in Louisiana who said he paid for a car but it wasn’t as advertised when he went to pick it up, according to court records. Passmore never took the car and returned the title to Smith, but his money was not refunded.

LESSON LEARNED –

Documentation does matter…  As Gary Duncan said “more and more classic car sellers are embellishing descriptions online” which opens the door wide for all sorts of abuse and misrepresentation.  How can a buyer be sure they are buying what the seller tells them – ask for the documentation!

Documentation saved with Garagistry provides a Seller the opportunity to preserve receipts, invoices, photographs, and related documents which will support their claim the Classic for sale is as described.  

Buyers, you have the right to expect to have a Sellers statements about a vehicle supported – ask for proof!  

And Sellers – do it right - create a Garagistry account today and start building the documentation for your Classic and the day you plan to sell it. Start here! This is not the time or place to profess "Let the buyer beware..."

The Garagistry Team

Garagistry appreciates the article by Jacob Demmitt of the Roanoke Times for his contribution to this story.

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