Treading on Trouble
A long career managing liquor stores led to a comfortable retirement for Henry Elkouri and his wife, Gertrude. They live in a lovely neighborhood in south Fort Worth, and they still travel and stay busy despite the typical health problems that afflict people approaching 90.
“Neither one of us feels very good. I think we’re kind of on our last approach,” he said matter-of-factly on a recent afternoon.
That doesn’t mean, however, that he was ready to sit still for what he saw as unfair treatment by a local car dealer. Elkouri served as a criminal investigator with the Army’s military police during World War II, and he still remembers a thing or two about investigating.
“He done me wrong,” Elkouri said.
The car dealer strongly denies the accusation, saying if anybody is trying to pull a fast one, it’s Elkouri.
Elkouri visited the Manuel Auto Group’s Lincoln dealership in West Fort Worth in 2007 and bought a brand-new Town Car Signature Limited luxury model for about $40,000. He already had a smaller car that he liked just fine, but he wanted a bigger and heavier car so his wife would be more comfortable on their long trips to visit relatives. He liked the Town Car when he saw it on the lot, but he preferred different rims. Rim options were included in a brochure that Elkouri had picked up at the dealership, and he showed a salesman the ones he liked. Another Town Car on the lot had the type of rims Elkouri wanted, and he pointed them out as an example. The rims were an upgrade, but the car salesman agreed to the switch.
Elkouri bought the car and returned a couple of days later to pick it up after the rims had been upgraded.
After about a year, he noticed that his tires were losing air frequently. Worried that he and his wife would be stranded beside the road, he bought a portable air compressor to lug around with him on trips. Finally, after two more years of dealing with mushy tires, he took his car to Discount Tire.
The service technician dropped a bombshell. He asked Elkouri how many miles the tires had on them. When Elkouri checked the odometer and said he’d driven 18,000 miles, the tech shook his head. The tires appeared to have many more miles on them than that, he said. He also said the tires were made in 2003, four years before Elkouri bought his Lincoln.
Elkouri’s bill for four new tires: $833.98.
He grabbed the bill, headed for Manuel Auto Group and spoke with a service technician about getting reimbursed. The tech said he’d have a manager call.
But Elkouri didn’t hear from anybody, and after a couple of weeks he returned to the dealership and spoke with a manager.
“I informed him that I believed, under the circumstances, I should be reimbursed for my tires and paid $1,000 for my trouble,” Elkouri said.
The old tires were still at a nearby Discount Tire, and Elkouri invited the manager to go look at them and confirm their age. Elkouri left them at the tire store because taking them “might raise an issue of whether those were the same tires that had been removed from my car,” he said.
The next day, Elkouri received a call from another manager at the car dealership, who asked if Elkouri recalled requesting different rims.
“I said yes, but I expected to get brand-new rims, and I sure expected to get brand-new tires, not four-year-old tires,” Elkouri said.
The employee said the rims and tires might have been older than 2007, but they didn’t have any miles on them and were still in like-new condition. Elkouri explained how the tire shop employee said the tires appeared to have more miles on them.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble with the tires, and they presented a danger to me,” Elkouri said.
General Manager Kirk Manuel acknowledged to Elkouri and later to Fort Worth Weekly that the dealership had switched out the wheels — tires, rims, and all — from the other car on the lot that day to Elkouri’s new Town Car. He said that’s what dealership employees believed that Elkouri wanted — those specific rims off that other specific car. He maintained that Elkouri had been treated fairly.
Manuel pointed out that Elkouri had driven on the tires for three years despite the alleged problems. He also said that Elkouri had never brought the original set of tires to the dealership so that the age and wear on them could be confirmed.
“He got all the usage out of them, and now I guess he wants new tires for free,” Manuel said.
Elkouri said his old tires are still at Discount Tire, but he doubts anybody from the car dealership ever bothered to check them. He hired Fort Worth attorney Tim Malone, who tried to reach an agreement with the dealership to no avail.
“Clearly the rims were swapped out, because that was part of the deal,” Malone said. “Legally, I think when you’re buying a new car, the expectation is you are going to get everything new. Even if you make an agreement on new wheels, it’s not an expectation that you’re going to get four-year-old tires with your car. It’s inappropriate.”
Elkouri filed a breach of contract lawsuit against Manuel Auto Group Ltd. in October in Tarrant County district court.
“Like all litigation, there’s never any guarantees, but I feel we are entitled to recover under the law,” Malone said.
Elkouri wants reimbursement for the cost of the new tires, as well as $1,000 for three years of aggravation, the same compensation he requested verbally at the dealership. Looking back, he said, he would have been content with just reimbursement for the tires if he had been treated fairly.
“If they had called me back right away, I would have probably just dropped that $1,000,” he said. “They didn’t have the courtesy to call. It made me mad. I’ve always bought new cars all my life, and I certainly expect to get new tires. Wouldn’t you?”
Manuel feels his staff provided excellent service at the initial sale and that now they’re being played. The auto group has been in business since 1977 and takes pride in treating people fairly, he said. Manuel Auto boasts a solid rating with the Better Business Bureau.
“That’s the only way you can do it and be here in business this long,” Manuel said.
No court date has been set on the lawsuit.