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    Dealer refunds buyer for Charger

    The buyer mounted an e-mail campaign after problems plagued the vintage car. The dealer calls it an "unfortunate situation.''

    By EDIE GROSS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000


    Clayton Stokes III's vintage, cherry-red Dodge Charger quit running two days after he bought it.

    Now, 3 1/2 months after arguing with the Clearwater classic car dealer that sold it to him, he's getting a refund.

    P.J.'s Auto World on Cleveland Street agreed Wednesday evening -- the same day a Times story detailed Stokes' problems with the car -- to pay Stokes $10,450 for what its general manager called an "unfortunate situation."

    The money will cover the $9,400 Stokes paid for the 1966 Charger, $500 in new gauges he bought, $500 that he gave a Maryland mechanic to work on the car and another $50 that he spent on an old-fashioned radio for the car. The car will be returned to P.J.'s. P.J.'s also sent a check for $1,075.33 to Walp's Service Center, the Annapolis, Md., auto shop that tried to fix the multiple problems with the car. Will Garland, a mechanic at Walp's, said his shop deposited the check Thursday and is waiting for it to clear.

    Bill Grant, general manager at P.J.'s Auto World, said he regretted the ordeal and that the Times had nothing to do with his decision to refund Stokes' money.

    "We value our customers very much," said Grant, who said the company had been in business more than 20 years. "It bothers me that this happened."

    Stokes, a graphic artist for NASA in Annapolis, said that the past three months were frustrating, but that he was pleased with the outcome.

    "When somebody says, "It's in excellent condition,' . . . you expect a certain amount of validity with that statement, and that was just not here," Stokes said. "I felt an injustice had been done to me. I thought, "Nah, I can't let these people get away with this.' "

    Stokes began looking for a 1966 Dodge Charger this year for nostalgic reasons.

    Several strokes and heart attacks had left his 76-year-old father, Clayton Stokes II, very ill. Stokes, who recalled a childhood trip he took with his father in a 1966 Charger, thought it would be nice to buy the classic car and take his father for rides.

    He spotted the red Dodge Charger on the Web site for P.J.'s Auto World and fell in love with the car after watching a video sent to him by the dealer. He wired $9,400 to P.J.'s at the end of June, and a week later, the car was delivered to his home in the back of a covered truck.

    Two days later, before Stokes was able to take his father for any rides, the car died. P.J.'s Auto World directed Stokes to Walp's Service Center, where mechanics found more than a dozen problems with the car, including a fuel leak, a bad engine, a rusted-out undercarriage and gaps in the floor boards that would have allowed exhaust fumes to waft into the car.

    Garland said employees at P.J.'s Auto agreed to pay for the repairs, which added up to $1,575.33. Stokes paid the first $500 and expected a refund from P.J.'s Auto.

    But both Stokes and the mechanics at Walp's Service Center had trouble getting any money from P.J.'s Auto. That's when Stokes began e-mailing Pinellas County commissioners, the consumer-affairs department and the Florida attorney general's office for help.

    Consumer Affairs is looking into his complaints.

    Stokes also e-mailed several hundred classic car enthusiasts he met online. Many of them sent nasty messages to P.J.'s Auto, urging the company to resolve the complaint.

    Under the latest agreement with P.J.'s Auto, Stokes must e-mail those classic car fans again and explain that the car dealer has given his money back and reclaimed the Charger.

    "He has done irreparable damage, even if he does that," Grant said.

    Stokes said he will send the e-mails as soon as his check from P.J.'s Auto clears.

    "I'm not going to send letters to anyone until I get the check in my hand and it's cashed," he said. "When I have that, I'll be more than happy to do what I promised to do."

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