Man pushes for change in RI law after used truck deal corrodes

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — John Vitkovich had been searching for a pickup truck for months. Then his fiancé surprised him with a 2010 Ford F-150. Unfortunately, Vitkovich says the truck “turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.”

Almost immediately, he noticed rust. “When I opened the door and I saw the rot around the driver’s side rear door hinge, it gave me some concern,” says Vitkovich. “And when I saw the amount of rust and rot underneath the truck, it gave me much bigger concerns. The problem is, in another year or two, there’s not going to be much of this truck left because there’s so much rust and rot on it.”

Vitkovich filed a complaint with the state’s Dealership Licensing Board against Autoland, the dealership that sold the truck. According to a dealer investigation report obtained by Target 12, the truck passed a Rhode Island inspection in July. But five weeks later, when Vitkovich took it to the state’s Safety and Emission Control, it was rejected because of rotting rocker panels.

Doug Staradumsky, the state’s Chief of Safety and Emission Control, tells us “When we looked at [the truck], the holes were there. It’s cause for rejection. Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact condition a month earlier when it was inspected.”

At a public hearing, Jeremy Whitty, the General Manager of Autoland, defended the sale of the truck and questioned Vitkovich’s use of the vehicle following the sale. “The vehicle, as far as we’re concerned,” said Whitty, “minimally passed inspection. But it did pass inspection. It looks like the vehicle was altered.”

Records obtained by Target 12 show the hearing process ended in mere days, when Autoland offered to buy the truck back from Vitkovich. Their offer of $19,500 was accepted in a separate agreement that was filed with the Dealership Licensing Board.

Now Vitkovich wants the state legislature to tackle used car laws.

“We should know where the vehicle came from,” Vitkovich says. “What about all of the vehicles that have been flooded in South Carolina, or Louisiana flood vehicles? It should say this vehicle was purchased from an auction, was traded in.”

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Vitkovich says if he and his fiancé had known this particular truck had been through several winters in Vermont, they would have never purchased it.

Target 12 requested an interview with Autoland as part of this report, but the dealership declined. We also followed up several times with the general manager, but our phone calls and emails were not returned.

We wanted to know how many complaints are filed against Rhode Island car dealerships. We checked, and found Vitkovich is one of 326 people who filed a complaint in 2016. So we went to Bud Craddock, the Administrator of the Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles, to get some advice on used car shopping.

“Make sure you know what you’re looking to buy,” says Craddock. “Know your price range. And then do your due diligence.”

Craddock says that process starts with a lap around the vehicle “Looking for any signs of obvious damage, fuel leaks, fluid leaks underneath the vehicle. Make sure the tires appear to be in good condition. Open the car, smell it. Are there any musty odors or is there an aroma of some sort of air freshener that would have been put in there to mask some sort of odor?”

You should also look for water leaks around the windows or sun roof. Then take the car for test drive. To get the most out of it, keep the radio off. “Make sure the windows, the power windows work,” says Craddock. “That the heater, AC works, windshield wipers work. Make sure it shifts smoothly, listen for sounds that don’t sound right.”

Before you sign on the dotted line, you should also take the vehicle to an independent mechanic you trust. And double check the inspection sticker. “By regulation they have to have an inspection sticker that’s been put on by the dealership that’s no older than 90 days,” says Craddock, “or has less than 500 miles on the vehicle. So if that vehicle hasn’t been currently inspected, then make sure it’s inspected before you drive it off the lot.”

There’s also a stack of documents you need; the title, the bill of sale, the tax form with the dealer name on it, and your receipts. If you have a warranty, read the fine print and make sure it’s spelled out on the bill of sale. And if you and the dealer agreed on any repairs, make sure those are in writing.