BANGOR, Maine - A Canadian couple who say they were turned down dozens of times when they tried to buy a new car in the United States are challenging what they regard as illegal discrimination.

Rhonda Chancey and Allan Coombs, a married couple from Paradise, Nfld., claim that more than 80 New England dealerships, including 61 in Maine, refused their business.

Chancey and Coombs filed a discrimination complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission and plan to sue five car companies. Similar complaints are planned in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, according to the couple's lawyer, Stephanie Jazlowiecki of Topsham.

Jazlowiecki said General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge were seeking to maximize profits by not allowing Canadians to take advantage of their strong dollar and buy new cars in the United States, where prices are much lower.

"The dealerships' uniform denial of sales of new vehicles to Canadian citizens is a blatant pattern and practice of nation of origin discrimination,'' Jazlowiecki told the Bangor Daily News.

"Individual dealerships claim they are not allowed or that it is illegal to sell to Canadians. But this would appear to be a patent violation of state and federal anti-discrimination laws, as well as federal anti-competition statutes,'' she said.

Automakers impose the same rule on Canadian dealerships, barring U.S. residents from buying vehicles when the dollar is particularly strong, Jazlowiecki said.

Chancey and Coombs visited most of the dealerships and e-mailed some of them in the last two months, Jazlowiecki said.

In many cases, sales staff only became aware of the manufacturer's rule against selling to Canadians when they tried to go forward with a transaction, the lawyer said. She said dealers were permitted to sell the couple a used vehicle.

Savings can be significant. A $40,000 Cadillac Escalade in the United States now fetches about $80,000 in Canada, Jazlowiecki said.

Last month, consumer advocacy groups in Canada filed a class-action lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court seeking $2 billion in general damages and $100 million in punitive damages from General Motors, Honda, Chrysler and Nissan for allegedly fixing car prices 25 per cent to 35 per cent higher in Canada than in the United States.

Jazlowiecki said her clients' case could also warrant class-action status. She said she has "been getting calls left and right'' from Canadians who also have tried unsuccessfully to purchase cars in the U.S.

Chancey and Coombs finally did buy a car, a 2008 Pontiac Torrent. A relative in New Hampshire purchased it for them at a local dealership and then sold it to the couple.

Even though they had to pay transfer tax and sales tax twice, the vehicle was still cheaper than it would have been in Canada, Jazlowiecki said.