John Boughers of McLean thought he had a beautiful deal when he traded his old car for a 1978 Dodge at a Fairfax City Chrysler-dealer in July.
But yesterday Boughers was traveling on foot -- pacing back and forth in front of the locked showroom at Fairfax Dodge on Lee Highway. The dealership closed last Thrusday, the fourth area Chrysler affiliated dealer to halt sales since Chrysler's financial woes became public in recent weeks.
Since then, Boughers, like many other Fairfax Dodge customers has been in legal and financial limbo, unable to prove legal title to his newly purchased car, unable to get permanent license plates or clear up financing details, and unable to get any answers from the dealership.
"This is a real mess," said Boughers, a locomotive engineer for the Washington Terminal Co. at Union Station.
Nor were the customers the only people plunged into difficulty by the sudden closing of Fairfax Dodge.
Fairfax Dodge officials were unavailable for comment yesterday. A barely legible handwritten sign on the dealership doors said that "all tags and title work is being handled by the Maryland Tag and Title Service."
An official for Maryland Tag and Title said he was "highly aggravated" over the fact that the dealership has paid him $7,500 for the title work, without informing him that Chrysler Credit Corp., a Chrysler subsidiary, has decided to keep vital documents necessary to complete the titles.
"I've had 15 people call me about their titles today, and I can't do a damn thing for them until I get the certificate of origin from the Credit Corp. I've called the dealership and the Credit Corp. and can't get anywhere with either of them," the official said.
About 30 new car owners, Boughers included, were stuck without titles after Chrysler Credit Corp. took Fairfax Dodge to court Aug. 21, claiming the dealership owed $140,000 plus interest for unsold cars on its lot.
Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Burch Millsap issued a temporary injunction, forbidding Fairfax Dodge to sell any more vehicles without permission from the credit corporation.
Bob Benton, branch manager of the Chrysler Credit Corp. in Lanham, confirmed that he has received several "serious complaints" from disgruntled car owners who could not legally drive their new cars.
"I received calls on this matter Thursday and Friday," Benton said. "We will not be releasing the certificates until we've investigated their allegations. We will be looking into the records of the dealership and try to help these people."
Although some car owners had warranty difficulties at the three dealerships that closed earlier, problems at Fairfax Dodge have extended not only to titles but also to financing arrangements.
Boughers said he was promised that Fairfax Dodge would make the balance of payments due on his old car, a total of $6,974.40, as a credit in the trade for a new vehicle. But First Virginia Bank, he said, has yet to receive a payment.
"The temporary registration for the (new) car has expired, so I'm driving it illegally," Boughers said yesterday. "I can't legally prove that I own the new car. And now the dealership has told me that they sold my trade-in, and the bank keeps sending me these 'overdue payment' slips."
An identical situation faces David and Amy Vernon of 3956 Winterwood Ct., Manassas, employes of the personnel department of the Central Intelligence Agency, who traded a 1978 Pontiac for a '78 Dodge at the Fairfax dealership on July 26.
"We gave them a cashier's check for $5,600 and $4,000 of that was to pay off the balance of payments on the Pontiac," said Amy Vernon yesterday.
"They were supposed to pay the $4,000 to the Maryland National Bank. To date, the bank has said they have received no payment and they sent us two notices. The check has been cashed, but we don't know where the money is," she said.
The Vernons said they received neither a title nor a warranty. They were given an Aspen car manual, although they had purchased a Dodge Diplomat, and they say they can't find out where their old car is.
"I could kick myself," Amy Vernon said. "It should have dawned on us before this. No other dealership was offering to handle the payments on the trade-in car. It seemed like such a good deal."