Selling a car online ends up wrongly costing too much. Who should pay?

But Talks took on an entirely different tone after a dispute erupted over who was responsible for hundreds of dollars in towing and storage fees when the car broke down.

It became so cruel that Smith said she not only felt betrayed, but scared.

“She was talking hard to me,” Smith said of the Carvana actress, who asked her to pay most of the cost of towing and warehousing. “She didn’t want to hear anything I had to say.”

The Carvana actress also let her know that Smith’s credit could be damaged if she did not agree to pay the fee, which Smith said seemed like bullying.

The problems began within days of the Volkswagen Tiguan being delivered to its home in Portland, Maine in early July. Carvana is one of the leading online retailers of used cars only in the country, offering it at uncompromising prices. Buyers can do the whole deal online.

She added that days after the car was delivered, Smith took the car to a mechanic who discovered an oil leak in the engine. The mechanic said driving it was safe for her, but eventually she should fix it, she said.

Later the same day, the engine light lit up, indicating a different issue, a tire alignment issue, she said.

That was enough for Smith, who is 43 and works in technology. She thought the Tiguan was a lemon and canceled the sale, which Carvana allows within seven days of delivery, with no questions asked.

On its website, Carvana promotes the “150 point check” that it performs on every vehicle it lists for sale. “Whoever searched my car apparently missed a few things,” Smith said. “You scared me.”

As an alternative, Smith chose a Volkswagen Golf. But Carvana said it would take three weeks for delivery. Carvana, while waiting, said Smith is welcome to drive the Tiguan.

But Tiguan walked out while Smith was stopped at a gas station a few days later. Smith said that “Amanda,” the Carvana customer service representative she called on the phone, told her to leave the Tiguan where she was. Carvana will pick it up.

The 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan, which Lauryn Smith bought online from Caravana, has been in the Westbrook, Maine hold area since July 20.Photo by Carl D. Welch for The Boston Globe

But before ending the call, Smith wanted reassurances, she said. In response, Amanda said, “I assure you you can leave the car at the gas station and we’ll take care of it.”

Smith arranged to come home from the gas station and thought she was done.

But three days later, Amanda called Smith, wanting to know if Smith would agree to pay for the car to be towed from the gas station, and the company would later receive compensation. Smith said she was surprised by the call because she assumed the Tiguan had been towed days before.

Smith said she told Amanda she wasn’t confident the car was still around. Amanda said she would check at the gas station and tell Smith if there were any problems. Smith said Amanda never called again, and again I thought she was done with it.

On August 4, the VW Golf arrived, as scheduled, but the delivery driver refused to release it unless he got a Tiguan in return. Smith said she had no idea where Tiguan was.

Smith called Carvana, and eventually a representative said the Tiguan had been tracked, but the cost to tow and store it since July had been $990, and Carvana wanted it to split the cost with the company, $495 each.

Smith refused, saying that Amanda had taken responsibility for the car, and that Carvana was only responsible for the exorbitant storage fee. She said she spent hours on the phone with Carvana. Most of the customer service representatives I spoke to said they agreed she was right, but there was little follow-up from Carvana.

Smith said things got ugly on August 7, when a Carvana representative called to say Carvana would not pay more than $500 for the fee. (By then, the Storage Tab was over $1,200 and climbing.)

The Carvana representative said that if Smith did not agree to pay, she would risk taking the car back and her credit would be severely affected, Smith said.

Smith said the actress told Smith she was the legal owner of the car by virtue of signing a three-page retail purchase agreement.

Smith continued to refuse to pay.

But after a few days, Smith said she felt like a big company was getting over her, so she backed off and paid the towing company 1500 dollars. She had many sleepless nights.

She said none of this was her fault. If Carvana had told her she was in charge of towing from the start, she would have taken care of her. But she said Amanda assured her otherwise. I trusted her and the company she represented.

I wrote a detailed email to Carvana, recounting what Smith told me. You said that Carvana was apparently in a position to validate Smith’s account by checking her own records (calls are being recorded).

Carvana did not respond to my repeated attempts to reach her via email and phone.

Without hearing the Carvana side of the story, it seems to me that this situation has been mishandled. If Smith is right in her assertions – which Carvana apparently can easily verify by checking her own records – she should do the right thing, make up for Smith and apologize.


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