By Shereen Siewert
A Wausau auto dealer that closed this year had dozens of complaints alleging the dealership misled customers by hiding records of prior crashes and serious defects from customers, a review of Wisconsin Department of Transportation records shows.
Wausau Pilot & Review reviewed hundreds of pages of documents as part of an open records request detailing complaints against Wausau Auto, which for years advertised vehicles under the “199Ride.Com” slogan. Complaints range from allegations of fraud to deceptive business practices. Several customers told investigators they were sold vehicles that had such serious mechanical issues they were nearly inoperable.
One complainant, an elderly woman from Prentice, accused the dealership of selling a vehicle that could not legally be operated on Wisconsin due to safety issues, a fact that was indicated on the purchasing agreement but was not brought to her attention, according to the complaint.
A dealer inspection of the vehicle, a 2009 Dodge Caliber, showed the front cross member badly deteriorated from rust. The front control arms were in danger of falling off along with the engine and transmission mounts easily becoming disconnected from the cross member, according to DOT documents. The dealer did not recommend any travel with the vehicle. Wausau Auto eventually bought the vehicle back.
In an email to the DOT, Wausau Auto owner Scott McCormick called the complainant “certifiably unstable.”
“We only bought (the vehicle) back because of her relentless fictional lies on (the Better Business Bureau) that we cannot respond to because of the privacy laws we are held hostage by,” McCormack wrote, in a July 27, 2018 email.
Another complaint, filed in 2018, alleged the customer bought a $2,300 warranty for a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder, only to be told later when requesting repairs that the warranty did not exist. A copy of the purchase agreement, obtained by investigators, confirmed the warranty.
Investigators then spoke with the general manager at Wausau Auto, who claimed he had changed warranty providers at the time of the sale but was unsure how the warranty purchase was not completed as promised. The dealer then issued a $2,300 check to the customer to refund the warranty purchase and the investigation was closed.
Several complaints detail issues with lending, when customers told investigators they took delivery on vehicles only to learn days later that their loans were denied, with demands to return the vehicle to Wausau Auto.
The most frequent complaints involve disclosure issues, with customers who say they were unaware of major damage or crash reports before making their purchases. One of the most recent complaints, filed in October, alleged Wausau Auto’s sister dealership in LaCrosse sold a 2017 Volkswagen Passat that was involved in a major head-on collision, something the buyer discovered only after spending nearly $15,000 on repairs. The LaCrosse location is also closed.
The business had also been warned in 2013 by the DOT about potentially deceptive advertising practices, according to state documents. The company regularly advertises $199 down with $199 payments, saying “everyone rides at 199ride.com.”
“Our Everybody Rides program virtually guarantees you can be approved and driving home in a nicer, newer vehicle regardless of credit problems you’ve had in the past,” the company’s Green Bay website reads. “The process is easy, painless and starts right now. There’s no embarrassment or harassment and we won’t sell your information to anyone.”
The company added disclosure statements to advertising messages and websites after being cautioned by the DOT.
Wausau Auto is no longer licensed in Wisconsin, according to the DOT’s list of active dealers. Yet, the company continues to maintain a Wausau Auto 199 Ride website.
Despite the complaints, Cynthia Pillar, a motor vehicle program specialist with the DOT’s field investigation unit, said Wausau Auto, LLC voluntarily closed this year.
“Wausau Auto was not subject to an administrative action on part of the Department of Transportation,” Pillar told Wausau Pilot & Review. “It appears to be a voluntary surrender of the dealer license.”
Locations in Antigo and LaCrosse are also closed, but the business continues to operate in Green Bay and Appleton.
Multiple attempts to reach McCormick for comment have not been successful.