Saturday, August 14, 1999

Mel Farr target of lawsuit

Claim: On-Time Device dangerous

The Associated Press

        DETROIT — Auto dealer Mel Farr thought he'd found a way to offer cars to people with bad credit, and protect his profits — a high-tech dashboard gizmo that prevents cars from starting if the customer is delinquent on payments.

        But now Mr. Farr, who has a dealership in Cincinnati and is one of the nation's biggest car dealers, is facing a lawsuit from two Michigan women who contend the On-Time Device shut their cars down while they were driving.

        Mandi Bergeron, 21, and Chavela Jones, 21, sued Mr. Farr on Thursday. Their lawyer contends the device relegates people to second-class status.

        Attorney Kenneth Hylton Jr.'s lawsuit contends the leases on the two carsshould be voided. It seeks damages of more than $25,000.

        The On-Time Device is made by a small California company called Payment Protection Systems. Mr. Farr has put the device in about 200 vehicles. It consists of a keypad and a tiny light.

        Customers who come to a payment center once a week get a six-digit code when they pay their bills. They punch in the code on the keypad and if it matches the proper code, the light turns green and the car can be started.

        If more than a week passes without a new code, the light stays red, a buzzer sounds and the car won't start.

        “You've got consumers who are schemers, liars, people who've never paid anyone,” said Mel Farr spokeswoman Charlene M. Mitchell. “It's a hard market to deal with. But most people are honest. It's the small percent that doesn't stay up-to-date that adds up to lot of dollars.”

        Ms. Mitchell also contended the device could not have caused the cars to stall. And so far, no customer with the device has fallen behind in payments.

        Mr. Farr, a former Detroit Lions running back, has 12 dealerships in Michigan and Ohio.


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