The situation has police and car owners wondering what happened to those cars and if the crimes of fraud or grand theft were committed. Many of the people who left their cars with the company also signed the titles over to the company. Other car consignment companies say that's not only unusual, but it's also not an industry practice.
"The car's now in their name so I'm not sure what I can do," Graham Ward told ABC7 News. On Friday, he asked Sunnyvale police what he could do to get his car back. He left his Volvo at Sunnyvale Motorcars last July on consignment. Now, the business is closed and his car, which he is still making payments on, is registered in the name of Sunnyvale Motorcars. "If I were to take the car, they could report it stolen... My car," he said.
Ward's Volvo is still on the lot but as many as 30 cars have gone missing since last week. Mechanic Burt Fryer, who has a business next to the car lot, says he saw them go. "The cars started to disappear. Tow trucks were taking them out and then Saturday morning, everything was gone," he recalled. The once full car lot was empty except for a few cars in the rear of the shop. "It's sad to listen to some of their stories. A lot of them have double loans on cars and they lost $20,000 or $30,000," Fryer said. Some of the vehicles were taken to an unnamed auto auction.
Police first learned of the problem last week when they received a call from a victim saying their car was stolen. Yelp was filled with comments from owners complaining about their missing cars. "We have twenty-plus potential victims of a fraud that our investigators just began working on right now," Sunnyvale police Capt. Doug Moretto said. He says the case is complicated. Some victims may have signed over their pink slip titles over the company essentially giving the cars to the business. Others may have actually had their cars stolen by the operators of the business.
"At some point in time, those agreements appear to have gone awry, somehow, some way. What we're trying to do is get to the bottom of what was agreed upon, what has transpired, and where we are now," Moretto said.
Late Friday afternoon, a process server went to serve papers on a lawsuit against the owner of Sunnyvale Motorcars Trixie Ann Garcia. ABC7 News tried to contact Garcia at her last known address, but found that she moved out a month ago and left no forwarding address. Sunnyvale police are investigating.
There are some ways to minimize the risk when you consign a car. Here are some tips:
Insurance: Keep your car insured when you hand it off to be consigned. If your car does get stolen by the dealer or anyone else, you should be covered by you insurance company. You own the car until it gets sold.
Title: Although you will need to show your title to the dealer as part of your consignment agreement, you should insist on keeping it until the consignor pays you for the sold car.
Online research: Search the web for reviews of the consignment dealership.