By Patrick Sullivan
David Allen knew trying to have his car shipped to Northern Michigan from California was going to be expensive and a big hassle.
Little did he know it would be a hassle he would still be dealing with eight months later.
Last December the history and political science teacher attempted to have his white 2006 Nissan Altima shipped from Los Angeles to his new home in Interlochen, where he had taken a teaching position a few months earlier.
The plan was for me to get my car and go home and see my family for the holidays, said Allen, a Boston native whose family still lives in Massachusetts.
Allen looked online and found a company called Tristar Trucking of Glen Head, New York, that would set up the car delivery for $745, a price that sounded fair to Allen.
He paid a deposit and received the contract on a Friday afternoon and called the company to ask some questions.
A company representative refused to go over the contract with him, told him he had to get off the phone because he has a social life, and left Allen wondering what he was getting into.
That should have been a red flag, Allen says now.
Allen said he just hoped his car would arrive soon so he could get home for Christmas with his family.
But last year, Allen would have no Christmas with his family.
The next thing Allen heard about his car was a message from someone who said a company Allen had not heard of, BPB Trans Corp., would be picking up his car in Los Angeles.
A few days later Allen learned that he would need to pay up to $725 upon delivery of his vehicle. Even though hed already paid a deposit and this would be more than he initially agreed to pay, Allen relented.
Im not going to dicker over 25 or 50 dollars here or there, Allen said. It just began to unravel as a less-than-above-board business proposition.
A week later Allen received a call from someone who said they were the truck driver. The person said he was in Michigan and would be delivering the car soon. Later that evening, he got another call. This time the driver told him he would not be coming all the way to Interlochen.
The driver said he was in Grand Rapids and he was going to drop the car off in Detroit.
Allen said he tried to reason with the driver but the driver finally hung up on him.
The next day, on Dec. 28, Allen talked to someone at Tristar who told him he had no control over the drivers. Allen said he was told: I cant hold a gun to his head and make him drive somewhere he doesnt want to drive to. ...Just hop on a plane and go and get it.
Allen said he pointed out he had a contract that promised delivery to Interlochen but the guy just told him to go and get your car.
People at Tristar only became more belligerent with him after that, Allen said.
CHANGE OF CONTRACT
Sam Farrell, a representative of Tristar, denied his company did anything wrong.
He said the contract was changed verbally and David Allen agreed to have the car delivered to Detroit.
What happened was, we couldnt bring it to where he was, it was all the way up in a nowhere place, Farrell said. So the driver brought it to Detroit and he put it in a storage facility.
Farrell insisted that Allen agreed to the change and could have gone with another company if he didnt like it.
We had it in the contract (to deliver the car to Interlochen), but before the car was picked up we told him we couldnt do it, Farell said. He said, No, bring it to Detroit.
Allen said that is patently untrue and that he had no way to get to Detroit without his car.
Farrell accused Allen of just wanting to get a new car.
He went to his insurance company and he reported the car stolen and he knows damn well it wasnt stolen, Farrell said.
BAIT AND SWITCH
Once the car was in Detroit, Allen said the price of the deal went up and he was told he would have to pay before he would be told where he could find his car. They told him it was going to cost him $10 for every day that he didnt send them money.
In early January, Allen was contacted from someone from the trucking company who told him to go to Detroit and pick up his car.
The man, who wouldnt give Allen his last name, said he was unaware of any contract and he refused to say where in Detroit Allen could find his car, Allen said.
On Jan. 7, Allen called the Michigan Attorney Generals office to file a complaint.
Joy Yearout, a spokeswoman from the Attorney Generals office, said her office received a call from Allen. She said the consumer affairs division usually attempts to informally mediate disputes between consumers and businesses and thats what happened in this case.
The car transporter company, BPB, responded to Allens complaint and the Attorney Generals office has not heard back from Allen on the matter.
We forwarded that to Mr. Allen and thats where it stands at this point, Yearout said.
Allen also contacted his insurance company and tried to file a claim. Allen has been paying an insurance premium on the car for the past eight months. A spokesman at the insurance company said an auto policy does not cover disputes between an owner and a transporter.
A few days after that, the trucking company again contacted Allen and told him again he needed to wire them money or he would not see his car again, Allen said.
He called back the attorney generals office, and they strongly advised against wiring any money.
By the time he received an invoice, which he said he only received from the attorney generals office because the transporters apparently sent it to them after the authorities started asking questions, the price to get his car back was up to $1,525, including a $450 storage fee.
Allen says now he doesnt regret not sending the money in what he characterizes as a bait-and-switch scam, because he doesnt believe that would have guaranteed that he would have received his car.
I had so many people cautioning me against doing that, he said. I cant help but think doing so would have been something between a wild goose chase and something unhealthy.
GOOD AND BAD REVIEWS
Farrell, of Tristar, denies his company uses a bait-and-switch scam to lure customers with low prices and then jack up the price once they are in possession of a vehicle.
I didnt jack anything up. I didnt have anything to do with any jacking, Farrell said. This is bullshit, in plain English.
It is not an uncommon allegation against Tristar, however. On an Internet site devoted to rating vehicle transporters, Tristar gets over 40 bad reviews of zero stars. Many people say they were quoted one price and then learned they would have to pay a higher price to get their vehicle back.
There are even more glowing reviews of Tristar on the website from people who say they received excellent, knowledgeable and honest service.
When it was pointed out to Farrell that many of those reviews sounded remarkably similar to one another and that they seemed to appear on the site in clusters on certain days, Farrell denied that he or anyone at Tristar wrote the reviews.
There was a time when we had a salesperson here, where he was asking them (the customers) to write a review, Farrell explained.
About those customers who write bad reviews because they thought they got charged too much, Farrell blames the customers for not reading the contracts carefully.
Do you think we did that ourselves or was there a contract involved? he said.
Farrell said he is getting fed up with the vehicle transport business because of widespread customer complaints.
This business became a totally worthless garbage business over the last year, he said.
Indeed, a look at the reviews of many small brokers of vehicle transporters found that many companies generated complaints similar to the ones lodged against Tristar.
DYING TO SEE THE DUNES
Allen has filed complaints with the Detroit Police Department and the Grand Traverse Sheriffs Department. Hes talked to lawyers about filing lawsuits. So far, though, hes no closer to getting things resolved.
He hopes somehow to get compensated for the value of the car. He no longer wants the actual car back.
These are kind of shady people, if you will, and given what Ive learned about them, I would not be anxious to take possession of some property thats been in their possession for a time.
He also hopes by telling his story, someone else might be more cautious when selecting a company to move a vehicle.
No matter what happens, Allen plans to buy a new car in September.
Allen believes a company like Tristar preys on the dependency the average person has on their car. Most people cannot go eight months without a vehicle. They need to get to work. They need to buy groceries.
Allen is lucky because in Interlochen he can walk to work and he can bike to the grocery store.
His bike, a beat-up 10-speed that he got years ago in grad school and he can leave outside in a parking lot and not worry about, has been his main form of transport. He even uses the bicycle for an occasional trip into Traverse City.
Thats not to say its always been easy.
On cold, snowy days, the couple miles between his house and the store can be too much.
There were days that you would say, You know, today Im not going to go shopping, he said. Snow tires are one thing, but a 10-speed is another thing in Michigan in February.
Though hes discovered getting around on a bike in Northern Michigan is fun and is good exercise, there are some things about having a car he misses.
Im dying to go to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, he said. And I havent gotten there yet.