Imagine buying a car only to later learn it had been reported stolen. That’s what happened to a Maryland man who bought a car at auction from the D.C. government.
He said he spent weeks trying to get his money back with no luck — until News4 began asking questions.
When a Nissan Altima popped up for sale last year at a D.C. government auction, a Maryland man bought it, never imagining how the situation would unfold and create a headache for others.
He later learned the car was reported stolen by Hertz in Baltimore, according to county police records.
“Not only it was stressful financially, it was emotionally. I have a small business. I have a family here,” said the buyer, who asked News4 not to use his name, citing privacy concerns.
The buyer runs a car resale business called Timonium Imports. After buying the car from a D.C. government auction, he resold it to an auction house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. They then sold it to a dealership in Grand Rapids, Michigan. That’s where Michigan resident William McClure bought it.
“Somebody dropped the ball somewhere,” he said.
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When McClure tried to register the car, a police officer asked to meet with him, he said.
“He said, ‘Yup, that car was reported stolen. I have to take it it.’ And I said, ‘Yes you do, because I want no part of this car,’” McClure recalled with a laugh.
“If the cop hadn’t bought my story, and I had the documentation, he could’ve arrested me,” he added.
So how did this happen? Part of the problem may have been timing.
A Hertz employee told Baltimore County police the car went missing from a lot on Oct. 6, 2020, a police report says. The D.C. Department of Public Works towed the car on March 3, 2021, they told News4. But Hertz didn’t report the car stolen until March 16, 13 days after DPW picked it up.
According to the police report, a Hertz employee told police, “Hertz likes to do their own investigation and if they don’t find anything they then report it to the police.”
The car rental agency declined to comment to News4.
The man who bought the car at auction in D.C. said he had to refund the auction house in Pennsylvania.
“I have to pay the people that I sold the car to, and they were so gracious that they didn’t file criminal charges for selling a stolen car,” he said.
DPW told News4 the department followed “all protocols available” and checked two stolen car databases when the car was towed. Nothing came up, they said. The department said the car was not listed as stolen at the time of the auction and that it sent two letters to Hertz in Baltimore to let them know the car was in its possession. Hertz never responded, DPW said.
The man who bought the car said he tried for weeks to get his money back from DPW with no response until News4 started asking about the vehicle.
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“If it wasn’t because of you, this thing would’ve been still been sitting in the office and not going forward,” the man said.
He said he’s now in the process of getting a refund and that he hopes no one else has to go through the same process.
If you’re buying a used car, Consumer Reports advises that you look it up on VehicleHistory.gov. The website contains databases that can tell you if a car has had any safety issues or has been reported stolen.