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News > Features > 10/21/2011  



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 from THIS VIDEO  of 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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January 28, 2012 - Allan says:
 You make some excellent points, Anonymous. The consumer who builds a relationship with his or her service provider is almost certain to get excellent service. 
January 27, 2012 - Anonymous says:
 Why don't they do a story about how to get serviced properly? I mean as much as these stories tick me off it's the way the bulk of customers seem to operate. No relationship, no research, nationwide chain, free stuff, low VISIBLE cost. Where is understanding the needs of their own vehicle, research on respected local (and thus accountable within the community) shops, relationships with service personnel that haven't changed since the last visit, realistic time/cost/quality expectations? A good sidebar would be a discussion of how the declining number of smaller quality service shops squeeze out experienced guys and lead to the cheap labor approaching the customer with "We can't seem to find the problem however you are due for several service operations and we recommend a complete wallet flush." 
November 07, 2011 - Anonymous says:
 I am all for doing the job right for a fair price, but I'm not a big fan of "Big Brother" watching me all of the time...I think the legal term is "entrapment". I'll continue to do the best I can, and if I mess up, I'll make good for it, no questions asked, just don't make my shortcomings my ultimate downfall. I'm human, I'm fallible, and I have the integrity to take a loss and make recompence when I screw up, but don't make me a national or even international pariah when I do make the inevitable odd mistake. I'm pretty excellent at what I do, and I want the chance to become the best! 
November 03, 2011 - Relic says:
 Goes to show that much has changed, It has been like this in the past, seems to only have gotten worse and will remain so, unless we form a group to protect the trade and customers who depend on us. 
November 02, 2011 - marks says:
 This will always be a problem due to profit share and incentive commissions built into national chain compensation plans. The other major issue is lack of training or tech upgrading due to the cost to the business. The third factor is when you combine incompetence with dishonesty, the customer is getting shafted every time (not just in the auto repair industry). 
November 02, 2011 - HERMANFEHR says:
 hello I am also an independant and live in tillsonburg ontario and would like to see someone come to this town and clean out all the incompetants as well as the swindlers and yes even in a small town of 15000 the swindlers are still thriving. I have been in business for 5 years and am still amazed at the number of incompetant techs and swindlers that are still employed and running thriving businesses. I have built my business on purely word of mouth ads and have be sucessful and i like to think that it was the right way to do it. that being said i think that just like there are bad techs, there are also bad customers and you know the ones i am talkiing about, the dont pay, the vehicle abusers,and the just plain rude that make this trade so hard to stay straight. but keep your head up techs this trade is I believe anyway the hardest i have seen and that makes us noble as long as we keep out integrity intact. thanks herman fehr geartrain specialists tillsonburg on 
November 01, 2011 - Anonymous says:
 hi allan, this is a response to this article, and JWEISLER's response. i have been an independant for over 15 yrs. we are booked over a week behind. i employee 8 people, and my wife and I. I welcome any one of these programs to set me up, and see how they fare. But what i would like the most is to have them set up some of the local competition. it would clean up alot of the subpar repairs, and gouging of unknowing customers. it is easy for us to be busy....we arent perfect, but i will never charge anyone for something, or some service they did not recieve or require. simple business ethics. ms 
November 01, 2011 - carfixr says:
 Hi Allan, A failed A/C relay is not a common would tend to be caused by excessive draw from a compressor clutch or heavy cycling of the compressor due to low charge.The shops could have explained this after diagnosing the relay as a recommended "further checking" to avoid a repeat failure. My son just had his wisdom teeth out...$3421 flat rate. He was on the "table" for just under one hour. Hmmm no W5 cameras there. 
November 01, 2011 - Anonymous says:
 I used to work for a chain that used bad practices of overselling parts & services because employees were comisione paid & I'am so glad to be out of that because they create a bad name for our industry .unfortunately I do believe some of these shops overcharged { eg trying to sell a cabin air filter without checking it}but in the case of the leaks because so many shops pressure tested the systems there was likely dye on the valves that confused the techs to thinking there was a leak in system but they should have caught that the pressures were sufficient for the compressor to run. my hat off to the guys that properly diagnosed the problem 
November 01, 2011 - JWEISLER says:
 Well Allan I run a respectable Transmission repair shop. And I am always up against the "other" guys. The tales of outright rip off are never ending but after 15 years of this they still are open for business and thriving. I would LOVE for some one to come to my town and clean it up!! 
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