European Stars and Stripes, Darmstadt, Germany
FOR SALE: 1989 Chevrolet Astro van. Doors rattle, rolls while in park, very low mileage because of months in repair garage. Still under warranty – sort of. Contact irate AAFES customer in Stuttgart.
If Johnny Fox wanted to sell the Astro van he purchased through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, he might run an ad something like this. He said he doubts there would be many takers.
“But I don’t want to sell it,” said Fox, a civilian employee in Boblingen, Germany. “I want them to return my money and take back this van.” He’s wanted that for 2½ years.
Fox purchased the van from a dealer in Stuttgart in June 1989. He paid in full with a cashier’s check for $17,322.
But on the test drive he was bothered by a rattle in the doors. After a closer inspection he concluded that both back doors and the driver’s side door were not shutting properly and he feared it would not be safe for his two children, now ages 4 and 11.
However, Military Car Sales officials say Fox has exaggerated the situation. Military Car Sales is the company hired by Chrysler and General Motors to sell its cars on military installations in Europe.
The company customer service manager, John Toles, told The Stars amd Stripes in December that all possible measures had been taken to repair the van and that, although there was still a “small” rattle in the doors, the van was not unsafe. He also said that Fox wa·, given a rental car for five days and subscquntly said he was satisfied with the repairs.
Fox denied that. He said he was told by his salesman that he had to accept the vehicle despite the problems, because he had paid for it and had authorized a private company to ship it from Bremerhaven to Stuttgart, which is the same as accepting it.
On this point, at least, there is no dispute. If buyers request delivery of new cars to a place other than a European port, they waive the right to reject the vehicles. This should have been explained to Fox before he signed the inland transportation agreement, AAFES officials said.
Fox said he was not aware that he had waived his right of rejection until after the fact.
Fox said the salesman told him that if he didn’t accept the vehicle military police would be called to impound it. He said the salesman then promised to personally see that the problem with the doors was repaired as soon as possible. Fox accepted the van and took it to a German garage the next day. Two weeks later the garage told him to pick up the van. They also told him they could not fix it.
“They said there was a factory defectand that it was unrepairable,” Fox said.
Soon after, Fox said, he detected that the headliner sagged and that the van would roll forward even though it was in park. It was then, he said, that he became determined to return the van.
“I wasn’t going to put my family in an unsafe vehicle,” he said.
He called AAFES’ European headquarters, then in Munich, and was referred to Military Car Sales. Fox said that Toles assured him the problems would he fixed and persuaded him not to seek a refund.
What ensued, according to Fox, was months of bickering with Military Car Sales, German mechanics, AAFES and Chrysler Corp. over the problems with the van. Some of the defects have been repaired, but the doors still rattle and the van occasionally will roll while in park, he said.
The van was in and out of three garages from June 1989 to December 1991, Fox’s records show. Last week he said the van has been driven just 8,000 miles.
Fox contacted his congressman, Rep. G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery, D-Miss, near the end of last year. Montgomery wrote to AAFES headquarters in Dallas for an explanation.
In February, Brig. Gen. John Finan, vice commander of the exchange service, replied in a letter to Montgomery. The general wrote that German garages had repaired the loose doors and that the congressman’s letter was the first that AAFES had heard of tht trammission problems.
“That’s simply not true,” Fox said. “I’ve been complaining ahout this for nearly three years. The general is misinformed. ”
Last week, Fox’s van was back in the garage.