From the perspective of aftermarket repair shops, the Today Show’s recent investigation on rip-offs in the automotive service world might appear to be mostly good news.
There’s still cause to be concerned, however, as you’ll see fromTHIS VIDEOof the segment, which aired Oct. 19 on NBC.
The report, by NBC reporter Jeff Rosen, followed a Jeep Cherokee with a rigged faulty AC relay to five aftermarket shops – two Midas shops, two Meineke shops, and a Pep Boys shop.
According to the technician hired by NBC to rig the car, the fix should have been easy to diagnose and fix, and should cost about $100.
How did the aftermarket fare? Well, three of the five shops found the problem quickly and charged less than $100. (The Pep Boys shop actually suggested the vehicle owner buy the part and install it herself for just $25. I’m not saying that’s good business. They’ve completely given away their diagnosis for free. But it made the customer feel pretty good.)
Unfortunately, however, a Midas shop in Long Island, N.Y., inflated the bill to $464, charging for an unnecessary AC recharge and a cabin air filter that they never even checked. Their rationale: they were going by the mileage of the vehicle (40,000 miles and off-warranty).
A Meineke shop in New York never checked the relay, said he found a leak in a valve, and tried to sell a replacement part and an AC recharge. The bill came to $393 – and the original problem still exists.
It’s worth noting that this investigation was a follow-up to a previous one which targeted the service departments of new-car dealerships. In that investigation, the majority of dealerships flunked the test with flamboyance. Their estimates to fix the $100 problem ranged from $270 to $2,171!
But we shouldn’t be too pleased with ourselves, just because fewer shops were incompetent (or duplicitous) and they took their customers for less money.
I do, however, take some solace in the fact that at both of the failed shops, management owned up to the problems.
Midas acknowledged that its tech didn’t follow company standard inspection processes, and has ordered its techs at that store to receive additional training. I suspect “standard inspection processes” involve more than just going by the odometer to determine whether a part requires replacement. It means actually looking at the part to verify its condition.
As for Meineke, head office took quick and dramatic steps, replacing all the technicians and managers. They acknowledged they’d had other complaints about that shop. (Perhaps if they’d acted on those initial complaints, they wouldn’t have been stung by an investigation by a national morning show!)
Bottom line, incompetence and unethical behavior will be found out, and it will cost you a lot more than just angry customers. It could ruin your career and kill your business.
In this industry, we have to be aware that we will frequently be under the microscope by consumer interest groups. It happened earlier this year with CTV’s W5 program, and it will happen again, now doubt. Their concern is understandable. We’re selling specialized knowledge to consumers who are naturally suspicious of us, who can’t easily verify our diagnosis, and who hate spending money on their vehicles. And what we’re selling isn’t always cheap.
We better be able to justify everything on the repair order. It’s the only way to build trust among your readers – and among the millions of people who watch shows like W5 and The Today Show.
What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments.
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