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Sean P. Murphy | The Fine Print

His truck broke down minutes after buying it. He still hasn’t gotten a refund

Robert Crotty has for months sought a $3,535 refund after he bought a used truck that almost immediately died.
Robert Crotty has for months sought a $3,535 refund after he bought a used truck that almost immediately died. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)

Eighteen-year-old Robert Crotty Jr. drove away from the Attleboro used car lot in his newly purchased pickup filled with pride and excitement. But three blocks away, the 2002 Dodge Dakota died.

He couldn’t start it or move the gearshift, and a weird odor started filling the cab. He’d heard a loud knocking sound before the truck stalled and figured the transmission had seized up. He assumed the smell came from a leak in the air conditioning.

The truck, for which Crotty had paid $3,535, was towed back to Old School Auto Sales.

At the lot, one of the salesmen assured Crotty they would fix the truck.

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“No, we don’t want it,” said Crotty, who was accompanied by his father. “We want our money back.”

“You’ll have to talk to the owner,” the salesman said.

“OK. Where is he?”

“He’s not here now.”

Crotty left the truck on the lot after being promised the owner would call him that day. That was in August. The call never came. Crotty says he has called Old School dozens of times. But he has never gotten through to the owner, who is identified in public filings with the state as David I. Montenegro.

Nor has Crotty received a refund.

Isn’t there a law against that?

You may be thinking of the state “Lemon Law,” which applies to purchases of both new and used vehicles. The law offers good protection for buyers of defective automobiles under certain narrowly defined circumstances.

But getting a refund under the Lemon Law is not a simple matter. There must be a substantial defect in the vehicle, and the seller must be given at least three chances to fix it before a refund has to be issued.

When Crotty finally got someone on the phone a couple weeks after the truck broke down, he was told he would get a refund when the dealership sold the Dodge Dakota to someone else.

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It’s been almost six months, and the truck is still listed for sale on the Old School website, at a price slightly higher than what Crotty paid.

I got involved in Crotty’s case after receiving an e-mail from PeopleClaim, an online dispute resolution service. Crotty had contacted PeopleClaim in late December, and a month later, with no resolution in sight, PeopleClaim wrote to me suggesting I look into it. Which I was happy to do.

I drove down to Old School Auto Sales to get its side of the story. I talked with Kim, the office manager, who declined to give me her last name. She readily admitted the truck was damaged but put the blame on Crotty, saying he pulled into a nearby parking lot and began doing “doughnuts” — spinning the truck in tight circles by turning the wheel all the way in one direction while jamming the gas pedal to the floor.

“He broke something” in the truck, she told me.

“What broke?” I asked.

Kim said she didn’t know, but promised to call me that day with an answer to that and other questions. Before I left, I asked to talk to Montenegro, the owner.

“He’s not here now,” she said.

Kim did not call me back and Montenegro did not return a message left at a number listed for David I. Montenegro in Central Falls, R.I.

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I find it hard to believe that Crotty would indulge in reckless hot-rodding minutes after paying thousands of dollars in borrowed money for a truck he purchased because he needed it for his new job.

And Crotty scoffed when I asked him about doing “doughnuts.”

“That didn’t happen,” he said.

Crotty’s dream is to be a union electrician. In June, he graduated with honors from Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School in Wakefield. He did so well that he was accepted into the highly competitive, multiyear apprentice program run by the electricians union, Local 103.

The program requires him to be on job sites with all his tools and gear four days a week, and in a classroom for one day. I talked to administrators at his high school and the apprentice program. They described him as a determined young man.

(Crotty bought another truck after the debacle in Attleboro.)

One option Crotty should seriously consider is filing a consumer-protection complaint in small claims court. After a hearing, a clerk-magistrate could order Old School to pay him “treble” damages, meaning he would receive up to $10,605 ($3,535 times three).

Crotty found Old School by looking for a deal online. When buying a used vehicle, it’s best to stay close to home, where you can have a mechanic of your choosing check out the vehicle before money changes hands. The Crottys didn’t have the truck looked at before they bought it, which was a mistake.

And as always, document everything: every call you make, every response you get (or don’t get), the names of everyone you talk to (full names, if you can get them). Make a log of your interactions on your smartphone.

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And one other thing: Read online reviews. It might help you avoid a lot of stress. I saw two positive reviews of Old School, but most of what I saw online was thumbs down, such as one that said, “Save yourself aggravation and money, and run, run, run away from this place.”

An update

It looks like Pamela Howard, who was sued by the owner of a pet shelter for taking her adopted cat for a little romp in her backyard, will get to keep her beloved Muse, after all.

Under terms of the adoption from the Odd Cat Sanctuary in Salem, which rescues abused cats, Howard had agreed to keep Muse indoors at all times for his safety.

Howard took Muse into her backyard once, on a leash for five minutes, and posted a photo on Facebook — prompting adoption agency director Tara Kawcyznski to go to court, claiming breach of contract and demanding Muse be returned.

Howard spent $3,000 on a lawyer in her fight to keep the blue-eyed, half-Siamese she adopted last year. She won a preliminary round in court on a technicality, but Kawcyznski held out the possibility of continuing the legal battle.

But now her lawyer says that Kawcyznski agrees Howard is a loving owner and can keep her beloved cat.


Sean P. Murphy can be reached at smurphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.

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