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Barrett-Jackson Bidder Wins Mercedes Auction, Discovers Odometer "Discrepancy" Weeks Later

A Tennessee man who was the highest bidder at a Barrett-Jackson auction for a rare Mercedes-Benz claims he didn't find out the vehicle had an odometer "discrepancy" until weeks after the auction.

In response to a federal lawsuit filed by Gary Thompson, lawyers for the Scottsdale-based Barrett-Jackson say that window stickers on each car sold at its auctions say, in all-capital letters, "UNLESS OTHERWISE STATED, BUYER SHOULD ASSUME VEHICLES ARE NON-MATCHING NUMBERS AND MILEAGE TO BE NON-ACTUAL."

See also:
-Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale Auction: Some Awesome and Some Not-Awesome
-Slideshow: Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction in Scottsdale 2013

Although Thompson's lawsuit and responses from lawyers for Barrett-Jackson refer to the vehicle as a "2003 Mercedes-Benz SLR," the corresponding VIN and photos depict a 2003 Mercedes-Benz SL500, Designo Launch Edition -- one of 500 made, but still much less valuable than the SLR.

Thompson's winning bid of $53,000 -- $58,300, after commission -- was made at Barrett-Jackson's West Palm Beach, Florida, auction in April 2012.

"However, when SELLER resold the Mercedes to BUYER . . . SELLER never gave BUYER the opportunity to examine and sign the Title or even showed it to him, which would have disclosed the title discrepancy, to BUYER," the lawsuit states.

Thompson's lawsuit contends the title wasn't sent to him until almost a month later, which shows the 89,967 miles listed on the odometer doesn't represent the actual mileage.

Thompson "would never have purchased the vehicle, or would have purchased it for a fraction of the price he actually paid, if he had known of the odometer discrepancy," the lawsuit states.

Indeed, while the car sold for around $100,000 new, a search of the VIN brings up this used-car ad for the vehicle -- with fewer purported miles than when Thompson bid on it -- offered at less than $19,000.

It's not clear whether anyone knows what the actual mileage of the car may be; Thompson did not pick up calls placed Monday to numbers listed as his home and cell phone.

Thompson actually filed the lawsuit in a state court in Florida last summer, but it was transferred last week to federal court in Arizona.

Lawyers for Barrett-Jackson have said in court filings that there was no intent to deceive Thompson.

A motion to dismiss says that Barrett-Jackson was "acting only as the intermediary facilitating the sale of a car consigned by a third-party seller."

The lawyers claim that the window sticker -- claiming that mileage on odometers may not be correct -- proves there was no intent to deceive him.

You can see exactly where that sentence is on the window sticker below (we added in the arrows):

Thompson is seeking three times his actual damages, as well as attorney fees.

The moral of the story is, unless otherwise specified, assume that someone spent half an hour rolling back the odometer on the chop-shop special you're considering bidding on at Barrett-Jackson.

UPDATE 11:45 a.m.: A CARFAX vehicle history report on the Mercedes shows where this "discrepancy" may have come from. The original lessee had "exterior light bulb(s)" replaced about four months after getting the car in 2002.

The mileage was listed at 7,798, but when it was brought in for service nine months later, the mileage was 1,538. However, there's nothing abnormal about the mileage for the rest of the report, going into 2012.

"The mileage reported here conflicts with this vehicle's odometer history," the report says. "Ask a mechanic or the seller to confirm the actual mileage - this entry may just be a clerical error."

So, it's possible someone with sausage fingers in a Mercedes service department hit the "7" key twice when the car was brought in. Since the rest of the mileage entries are consistent, it looks like there might not be an odometer problem at all.

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Follow Matthew Hendley on Twitter at @MatthewHendley.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley