Racine Automotive Group

Rebecca Leininger of Racine sits inside the Jeep she purchased from Racine Automotive Group. Leininger is one of an unknown number of customers of the former dealership who say it failed, for months in some cases, to pay off trade-in vehicles that still carried liens from their original loans. Leininger said it took about 2½ months to get the business to pay off the loan on her trade-in, one which RAG sold within a day.

JACK ZELLWEGER, jack.zellweger@journaltimes.com

MOUNT PLEASANT —Racine Automotive Group, which closed in August, left some unhappy memories with customers who describe a pattern of irresponsible dealings on trade-in vehicles.

Waukesha County resident Chuck Harvey, the managing partner, opened the used-car dealership at 6940 Washington Ave. in spring 2010 at the former Belle Dodge site.

One sign of potential trouble for the business appeared this spring when the Wisconsin Department of Revenue filed tax warrants totaling about $100,000 against Racine Automotive. As of Saturday, online court records showed two of those warrants, totaling about $63,310, as being unsatisfied (not paid off) and still active.

Also, in interviews with The Journal Times, complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau and state and Facebook comments, a disturbing pattern emerged; it involved Racine Automotive and some customers who traded in vehicles that hadn’t yet been paid off. Those buyers described delays of weeks or months between when they traded in their vehicles and the dealership paying off the lien holders.

In the meantime, those buyers remained responsible for the loans and payments on vehicles they no longer owned — and which Racine Automotive had already sold, in some cases.

Rebecca Leininger, a Racine resident and Caledonia firefighter-paramedic, experienced that after she traded her Nissan Maxima to buy a Jeep Rubicon at Racine Automotive in July 2016.

The Nissan sold within a day, said Walter Leininger, her husband and a Caledonia Fire Department lieutenant. But it took about 2½ months, and many efforts by the couple, before Racine Automotive paid off the Nissan loan. During that time, the couple had to make a $334 payment on the car while repeatedly trying to reach Harvey, they said.

“Chuck was always on vacation,” Walter remarked.

“They were nice (at Racine Automotive), but I just didn’t understand how they were doing business,” Rebecca said. “It didn’t seem ethical.”

The process repeats

During that period, the Leiningers warned Brad Leininger, Walter’s brother, about the payoff problem because he had also recently bought a vehicle from Racine Automotive.

But Brad was already ensnared. After learning from Chase Bank that the dealership had not paid off the loan on his Hyundai trade-in, he said he called his salesperson at Racine Automotive.

“She said the person responsible would be Chuck (Harvey), and he was not in,” Brad Leininger recalled. The voicemail he left for Harvey was the start of a series of attempts Leininger said he made to get Racine Automotive to pay off his trade-in. The entire process took about three weeks, during which he had to make a $275 payment on the Santa Fe.

In the meantime, Brad Leininger said he’d seen his Santa Fe listed, then disappear, from the Racine Automotive website, apparently having been sold.

The dealership did eventually reimburse all three Leiningers for their extra car payments.

Dealer’s explanation

Last week, Harvey explained those payoff delays by saying: “That’s a bank situation. Every dealer in the state is dealing with that.”

About Racine Automotive Group buyers who described two- to three-month delays, Harvey said: “I don’t think there are cases like that.”

He blamed delays on the process dealers must follow and on slow lender processing of payoff checks.

If the interest changes the payoff amount, the lender will send the check back to the dealership, Harvey said. Then the dealer has to cut a new check.

That happens often, Harvey claimed: “Tons of times. Tons.”

The result could be a four- to six-week delay in getting the loan paid off, he said.

The Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association did not agree.

“I have never had a dealer tell me there’s a flaw in the process,” said Sue Miller, the association’s vice president for services.

As a common practice, the dealer should call the lender the same day the payoff check will be sent to get the right amount, Miller said.

“This crops up very rarely,” Miller said, “that the dealer starts delaying the payoff.”

More delays, complaints

Other car buyers told of having experienced the same problem with Racine Automotive. When The Journal Times wrote about the dealership’s closure, Facebook posts made in response included those from:

Erica Marks, who wrote that it took “almost two months” before Racine Automotive paid off the loan on her trade-in — and that the car had been sold before then.

Ann Couillard Krahn, who wrote that Racine Automotive took three months to pay off her trade-in.

Calvillo Caro, who wrote that Racine Automotive took two to three months to pay off her trade-in.

In a complaint filed with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, a Racine Automotive Group buyer wrote in part: “I have recently been contacted by the lien holder for overdue payments on the vehicle I traded in two months prior.”

The buyer wrote that Harvey said his business was “in the process of switching banks and would take care of the lien as soon as funds were available to them.” But, more than a week later, the customer wrote: “The lien has not been satisfied and remains in my name, damaging my credit rating.”

Complaints to the Better Business Bureau told similar tales of woe.

A BBB complaint posted Aug. 11 suggests the practice involving trade-in vehicles continued through Racine Automotive Group’s final months in business. On May 3, a buyer had traded in a 2014 Jeep in exchange for a 2014 Chevy Equinox.

“Today makes three months that have passed since the transaction,” the buyer wrote. “I have been calling and stopping into Racine Auto but I get the same story every time. They are ‘working’ on it.

“Well, in the meantime my husband’s credit standing is being damaged so he has had no choice but to continue to make payments on the Jeep that is no longer in our possession.”

A buyer wrote to BBB of selling a 2014 Dodge Dart to Racine Automotive on May 16 and wrote, “As of today, June 21, no attempts for a payoff has been made from the dealership’s end.”

“Every time I call I’m told that the owner is the only person who can see and give details as far as where the payoff process is in standing. I’ve asked a few times to speak with (Harvey) directly and … I still have not received one from him.”

It concludes: “Due to RAG not paying off the lien I have received a derogatory mark on my credit report for a vehicle I was told I was no longer responsible for making payments on.

“Additionally, I’ve had to make another car payment to my bank to avoid another negative mark on my credit report. This whole ordeal has been nothing but headaches from the beginning with RAG.”

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Reporter

Michael "Mick" Burke covers business and the Village of Sturtevant. He is the proud father of two daughters and owner of a fantastic, although rug-chewing, German shepherd dog.

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