Puyallup Herald

Puyallup comes together to buy car for homeless man, ends up with a ‘lemon’

Puyallup and its Salvation Army chipped in to help a man living out of his broken car buy a van that broke down two days later. Now the car dealership is refusing to exchange the van.

“My heart breaks for Jesse,” said Capt. John Kelley of the Salvation Army. “I drove the van yesterday, and it is indeed in need of repairs.”

Jesse Kinman was sleeping in the Walmart parking lot on 31st Avenue in a broken-down minivan for more than 11 months.

Getting to spend weekends with his kids in Tacoma required a three-hour trek, Kinman said.

The Salvation Army, relatives and churches banded together to donate more than $1,500 for a car to get Kinman to a job and to see his children.

“It was a whole bunch of people, a community effort, who paid for it to help him. It was an effort to help someone in need,” Kelley said.

Kinman had just gotten his driver’s license, and his life was picking up momentum. He had found a job but needed a car to get there, Kelley said.

Kinman and a friend headed to Enumclaw after spotting a social media post for a 2007 Dodge Chrysler Town & Country van with more than 187,000 miles. They test drove and inspected the van themselves, Kinman said. The dealer dropped the price for Kinman, and the van was purchased “as is” without an inspection being done.

Two days later, Kinman said, the van started having transmission issues. The first and second gears jump, the transmission sounds like grinding gears, and the van does not accelerate or reverse on hills.

He tried to return the van, but the dealership said they already tried to help him out by lowering the price and inspecting another car for free for him.

“If I knew there was something wrong with this car, I would not have sold it,” used car dealer Dustin Lydon said. “We feel as bad as they do.”

After a contract was signed, a dealership has no legal obligations if problems arise, the Washington Attorney General’s Office said.

“I can’t afford to allow a car dealership to sell me a lemon,” Kinman said. “It may be nothing to anybody else, but it’s my whole life.”

The Sumner Lions Club, a community service club, is hosting a garage sale to help Kinman purchase another car. The sale began Friday and runs to Sunday evening at the Bowman Hilton Mobile Country Club in Puyallup.

The goal is $10,000, Puyallup resident Todd McKellips said. Selling a used car is a tricky situation, McKellips said, but he wishes that the car dealer could have done more.

“It wasn’t anything they did purposely or hurtfully,” McKellips said.

The car dealer said it performed a safety inspection on the car but did not check the transmission.

“If it runs and drives fine while it’s here, how would we know?” said the Pat Lymon of the used-car lot. “They are sold ‘as is,’ with all faults.”

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.