Three hundred bucks may not seem like much to a big car company or dealership, but it sure means a lot to a financially challenged customer like Cathy Veris.
She has to stretch her monthly $480 Ontario Works payment on rent, utilities and food. The luxury of new clothing and entertainment don’t even figure into the equation.
The struggling single mother of two, who does volunteer work helping lonely, distressed and emotionally vulnerable people cope, faces enough debt already, but an additional $299-plus-HST charge for a $10 car registration fee tacked onto the purchase option of her leased 2007 Toyota Yaris was a major expense she just couldn’t afford.
After she contacted The Star’s Wheels section for help, her problem got solved.
“I’m overwhelmed by how fast things got resolved once The Star intervened,” Veris said this week after a representative from Erin Park Toyota phoned to apologize and offered to refund the fee and tax.
On Wednesday evening the dealership’s business manager, Derek Hodgman handed Veris a refund cheque for $337.87 ($299-plus-HST) and the vehicle’s ownership certificate.
The refund brought closure to her stressful three-week ordeal of dealing with Toyota Canada and the dealership handling her purchase option on the car she and her daughter, now 28, leased together five years ago.
In addition to the $5,773.85 buyout price, she paid a $25 car proof fee, a $5 Ontario Motor Vehicle Industry Council charge, $20 to have the ownership transferred to Veris and her daughter, and the disputed “Platinum Protection” registration fee ($299), all of which were subject to an additional $793.37 HST charge.
When she initially asked why she couldn’t go to her local Service Ontario Driver and Vehicle Centre and pay the $10 registration herself, she said she was told: “These are the rules and regulations at the dealership — and we all go by the rules.”
It was the financial sore spot in the deal to buy out the leased car the mother and daughter co-own and purchased on a line of credit.
“I felt like a beggar knocking at the door and pleading. Should I just have said; ‘OK, this may not be fair but that’s life, so we should just pay up and shut up?’
“I was bankrupt once and I don’t want to go there ever again, but I’ve been made to feel embarrassed because I’m underprivileged and financially challenged.”
After breaking up with her husband 23 years ago, Veris was committed to raising her young daughters, aged two and five at the time. She studied shiatsu therapy and worked as a therapist for the next two decades in a field that provided no job security or benefits.
“I couldn’t make much money even though I was working a lot of hours and as I got older it became physically difficult for me to continue. Although I had a passion for the work, I had been living from cheque to cheque, didn’t have any savings or a pension plan and I received no medical benefits while raising my daughters,” said Veris.
“When my back gave out and my body couldn’t take it any more, I had to stop. I went to school on a government-paid program to get training in social work and I’ve been doing community service volunteer work since getting my diploma,” she added.
She works 12 unpaid hours a month handling a phone line for Distress Centre Peel, where she listens to and offers emotional support to people facing a life crisis that may involve loneliness, depression and thoughts of committing suicide, mental health issues, physical challenges, divorce, job loss and financial hardship.
“I could be one of my callers. I can’t work long hours because of my back and I’m taking care of myself in the same way I took care of people when I was a shiatsu therapist,” she explains.
Veris also volunteers as a community service mediator with the Dixie Bloor Neighbourhood Centre, where she intervenes in neighbour conflicts and disputes, and she also helps teach life skills to youth through the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Rebound program.
She makes no salary, but hopes to find work in the social service community as her resumé broadens.
Her five-year old Yaris has about 223,000 km and it occasionally needs service and repairs, which both she and her daughter contribute to.
“I felt alone and I felt there was no one out there that I could turn to. Even when talking to the Ministry of Transportation, all I could get was basic information and when I asked what my rights were, they told me to just go ahead with what the dealership says,” Veris said.
“Taking my problem to the Toronto Star has been embarrassing for me. If others in similar situations can find comfort and support in it, then it was the right thing for me to do.”
In the end, the Toyota dealership did do the right thing.
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