Driver Accuses Auto Shop of Holding Wrecked Car for Ransom

Consumer advocates say they've received other complaints about the repair shop

By Keith Esparros, Robbi Peele and Whit Johnson
|  Monday, Sep 9, 2013  |  Updated 10:13 AM PDT
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A driver alleges that a Silver Lake auto shop held his car for ransom and delayed his paperwork for weeks when he tried to take his wrecked Lexus to another repair shop. Whit Johnson reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2013.

A driver alleges that a Silver Lake auto shop held his car for ransom and delayed his paperwork for weeks when he tried to take his wrecked Lexus to another repair shop. Whit Johnson reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2013.

Aaron Jarboe says he was relieved when he saw the tow truck amble up to his wrecked car. He’d been involved in a crash just a few minutes before, and by his own admission, he was rattled.

He knew enough to exchange insurance information with the other driver, but he hadn’t yet given much thought as to how he should handle his damaged Lexus.

The tow truck driver told him not to worry.

According to Jarboe, the driver told him his Lexus IS-250 had a sensor that puts out a signal should a crash disable his car.

The tow company was notified and the truck was dispatched within minutes.

Jarboe then said the driver took him and his car to an “authorized Lexus Collision Facility.”

“It all seemed to work out really well,” Jarboe said. “As soon as I got there, the guy was really nice.”

Jarboe says he was told insurance would cover all the costs, and that he just needed to sign and initial a form. He could even be taken to a rental car agency that could get him back on the road in minutes.

It all seemed too good to be true, Jarboe recalled.

Lexus says the feature described by the tow truck was not introduced until years after Jarboe bought his car, and the Silver Lake shop First Class Auto Craft is not a Lexus authorized repair shop.

Calls to the garage went unanswered for days, Jarboe said.

Finally, when he made the decision to move the car to another body shop, Jarboe said First Class delayed getting the necessary paperwork to release the car. The delays dragged on for 23 days.

When all that was finally squared away, he received more news from the shop.

“They would not release my car unless $1,400 in storage fees was paid, and it was going up $75 a day,” Jarboe said.

With other fees tacked on, Jarboe said the garage insisted on $2,800 in cash before the car would be released.

First Class owner Lawrence Rozenberg defended his business.

He said he does not delay the release of cars to rack up storage fees, and said the calls were not returned because one of his employees had been out sick.

He said all the potential fees were clearly listed on the contract Jarboe signed, and added that First Class does not pay tow truck drivers extra to recommend repairs be done at his shop.

First Class Auto Craft can take in as many as 150 cars in a busy month, Rozenberg said, adding that his shop has “tens of thousands” of happy customers.

On top of that, Rozenberg said he reduced the cost to Jarboe by $1,700 – asking to be paid only $1,100 to release the car.

Consumer advocates say that isn’t enough.

Kiry Peng, of the Business Consumer Alliance, said “many of the fees being assessed are excessive,” and that the BCA has received complaints against the garage.

He warns drivers to be alert, even in the frantic moments immediately following a crash. Drivers should be wary of any tow truck that shows up without being called, recommending your car be taken to a certain body shop, Peng added.

“Later, consumers find out the tow truck operator was not dispatched, nor do they have any affiliation” with the business they say sent them, Peng said.

As for Jarboe, he moved his car to a different shop and expects to get his repaired Lexus back soon. Still, he said this was an expensive lesson to learn, and “my insurance is paying for none of it.”

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