Editor’s Note: This story aired May 9. Since that time, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles has cleared Drive Right Auto Sales in the case of the missing catalytic converter and the original story has been updated accordingly. The Department of Public Safety continues to investigate the vehicle inspection station.
A state vehicle inspection station is still under investigation, but a used car dealership has been cleared in a case where a customer says she bought a used car that should have never passed inspection and now is in need of thousands of dollars in repairs.
In Feb. 2013, Brittany Freeman opted to buy a 2002 Nissan Altima from Drive Right Auto Sales in Arlington. Her father, John Freeman, helped her pick the car.
“I had a handshake, a firm handshake, with this guy and he straight-up told me, ‘This is one of the only cars on his lot I’d put my daughter in,’” said John Freeman, as he quoted the salesman at Drive Right.
After the handshake, and paying $4,400 in cash, the deal was done though the car needed a valid state inspection. The Drive Right Auto Sales salesman told Freeman he would get the car inspected down the street at Half Price Tire. After a two hour wait, the car returned bearing a sticker that indicated it had passed inspection.
“Two days later the engine light comes on,” said Brittany Freeman.
John Freeman then took the car to an auto repair shop for a computerized test of the vehicle’s on board diagnostic system. When the car failed the emissions test, John Freeman believed the car’s catalytic converter had stopped working days after buying the car. The catalytic converter is a key, and often costly, device that converts harmful pollutants into less toxic emissions.
John Freeman called Drive Right Auto to complain. He said a Drive Right salesman told him the warranty does not cover emissions, including the catalytic converter.
Over the next few weeks, a black film began to cover the back bumper and the car began to leak oil. So the Freemans then took the car to Christian Brothers Automotive in Corinth to diagnose the problem.
“They called me and said, ‘Your catalytic converter didn’t go out. There’s not one on the car,’ ” John Freeman told NBC 5 Investigates Consumer Unit.
NBC 5 also visited Christian Brothers Automotive, a state certified inspection location. The owner, Brandon Pfaffly, said Brittany Freeman’s car did not have a catalytic converter when it arrived at his shop and could not have passed inspection without one. In fact, Texas law mandates that today’s vehicles have the device to pass inspection. Pfaffly told NBC 5 the car looked like it had been rewired and had a device called a header, which bypasses the function of a catalytic converter.
Jared Beggs, a Christian Brothers certified inspector, said a technician should physically check for the presence of a catalytic converter in addition to assuring the car passes computerized emissions tests. He said if he sees a catalytic converter is missing during a test, the car will not pass the test.
NBC 5 called Drive Right’s owner, Tyler Smith. He insisted the car had a catalytic converter when the Freemans bought it. John Freeman filed a complaint with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. The DMV completed its investigation and told NBC 5 that, based on its review, the agency could not prove that Drive Right knew anything about the problem and cleared the company of wrongdoing in relation to the catalytic converter. However, the DMV fined Drive Right a $500 civil penalty for a different violation relating to Freeman's car. The DMV said Drive Right failed to register the car in the county of the buyer's choice and it issued a warning letter for failure to transfer title in a timely manner. DMV records show over the past two years there have been five previous complaints lodged against the company. All were minor and none was related to repair or maintenance issues. However, two did result in civil penalties.
John Freeman also filed a formal complaint against Half Price Tires with the Department of Public Safety, which oversees inspection stations. DPS records show there have been no other complaints filed against the company in the past five years. When NBC 5 called Half Price Tires, a manager said the car had a catalytic converter, and it passed inspection. He confirmed a state investigator had questioned employees.
DPS will not discuss ongoing investigations, but released the following statement to NBC 5:
“The Texas Department of Public Safety Vehicle Inspection Program certifies vehicle inspectors and inspection stations, monitors and ensures compliance with inspection standards, and supervises vehicle emission programs designed to meet federal clean air requirements. The majority of the inspection stations and inspectors follow the rules and regulations set forth in state standards. However, when violations do occur, investigators conduct inquiries and look into these violations of law and regulations, and respond to complaints. The department takes these violations very seriously, and takes either administrative or criminal action against those found to be in violation of the standards and rules of law.
We are not able to discuss specifics related to ongoing investigations.”
That’s little consolation for Brittany Freeman, whose car is in need of thousands of dollars of work.
Experts advise car buyers to get an independent pre-purchase inspection before you buy a car. They can cost under $100 and help you avoid financial pitfalls.
“I hope that they either fix the car or get my money back,” said Brittany Freeman.
If she does get a refund, she said she will steer clear of used cars and opt for a new one.