PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA -- Manager Bob needs to read this
10 Things Your Mechanic Won't Tell You
Work under factory warranty should go to the dealer, says Mark Eskeldson, founder of CarInfo.com, which provides consumer-protection advice to car buyers and owners. That's where you'll find some of the best-trained mechanics who are trained to fix problems that pop up with new car models, he says.
But because dealer overhead is high, expect to pay top dollar for repairs not covered under your warranty.
Before leaving your car at an independent mechanic's shop, find out if the mechanics are certified and if they're getting training ( i.e. at a community college) for repairs on new car models. Because most owners of new car models take them to the dealer for repair, it's likely that an independent car shop will be more experienced in repairing older cars, he says. Because independents don't have the high volume of a chain shop, they may be easier to establish a relationship with.
Chain and department-store shops often advertise free services for routine services like oil changes or tune-ups, but beware if their mechanic insists that your car needs major repairs after he inspects it. Get a second opinion to confirm it isn't a ploy to get you to spend more money, he says.
Most repair shops hire both certified and uncertified mechanics. And only 33% of ASE mechanics are certified in all eight specialties and earn "master technician" status. Be sure to ask who is going to do the work on your car and what areas that person is certified in. Also check to see when the certification expires. ASE-certified mechanics are supposed to recertify every five years.
In addition, look for repair shops that are endorsed by AAA with work being guaranteed for a minimum of 12 months or 12,000 miles. These facilities must meet rigorous standards and guarantee their work for all customers, says Robert Sinclair, a spokesman for AAA New York. Also, AAA agrees to arbitrate disputes between its members and approved repair shops.
Recommendations for unnecessary maintenance are a common complaint among consumers, says Sherry Mehl, the chief of the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) in California. (The bureau works to protect consumers within the automotive repair marketplace.) For instance, shops can suggest flushing a radiator or fluids, which can harm some cars, she says. (Car owners' manuals specify if flushing will help.)
Consumer complaints about auto parts and repairs are on the rise, according to the Federal Trade Commission. For 2009, the FTC has 2,689 complaints, up from 2,438 in 2008 and 1,698 in 2007. It was dishonest practices that cost Santa Ana-based EZ Lube $5 million in a civil settlement for unfair business practices in December 2007. An investigation by the Orange County district attorney's office "uncovered a pattern of unfair and deceptive business practices at several EZ Lube locations where consumers were being sold unneeded parts and services," according to the DA's statement. As part of the settlement, EZ Lube agreed to pay restitution to anyone with a legitimate claim over the past five years. (When reached for comment, a spokesperson for EZ Lube referred us to a company's press release on the matter, which reads: "It is our goal to make sure all of our customers are protected by the highest safeguards in the industry when they bring their vehicle to one of our stores.")
"Most unnecessary repairs are because that cars are so incredibly complex that often a shop ends up trying a few things in order to solve the problem," says Jack Gillis, author of "The Car Book" and director of public affairs for the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer-advocacy organization. When a repair baffles a mediocre mechanic, he or she will probably keep replacing suspect parts until the problem is finally solved. Many of the parts replaced may have nothing to do with the problem, but you'll probably end up paying for them anyway, he says.
A good way to avoid the problem of work that was supposed to have been done but wasn't: Ask to see the old parts. In some cases, mechanics can give you the parts they've removed from your car. (One exception is if the warranty requires they be sent back to the manufacturer.) "If you have a concern that a part was replaced when it shouldn't have been, you should ask for it back," says Mehl. (Rules vary by state; in California, for example, mechanics can give parts to customers.) California residents can contact BAR, and it'll send a representative to examine the customer's invoice and the part. "If it's not faulty, we can take disciplinary action," she says.
In addition, Gillis suggests taping to your steering wheel an itemized list of all the repairs you want made. That way the mechanic who works on it â in most cases not the person you talked to when you drove in â will have direct instructions from you.
When exactly is it time to seek out a second opinion? A general rule of thumb is that you should get more than one mechanic's take on a repair if you expect to pay more than $200 for it, says Gillis. If your mechanic calls in the middle of a job with a laundry list of additional repairs, that's also a good time to seek another opinion of the problem and an estimate for the cost of fixing it. Beware of the mechanic who tries to stop you by saying that he's already taken apart the engine or the transmission. If you were able to drive the car into the shop, you should be able to drive it back out for a second opinion.
However, recycled parts aren't right for every replacement. "Customers may save some money, but buying a recycled part isn't so simple," says Chuck Sulkala, executive director of the National Auto Body Council and owner of a Boston-based car body shop. "You need to make sure it provides exactly what you're looking for and what you need." For example, a customer who needs to replace a car's fender and gets a salvaged one could find that its moldings or side lights are different, he says, even if the fender comes from the same car model that's just two or three years older. Sulkala says: "You can use it, but what good is the molding going to do if it's in the wrong location?"
Still, not all mechanics are properly trained in the computerized systems found in most cars today, says Gillis. That could be because independent car mechanics have to bear most of the costs when upgrading their technology. Independent car technicians must make the same investment in sophisticated diagnostic equipment if they expect to be able to diagnose and repair these complex cars, says Molla.
If you drive an expensive European car, consider checking out specialty shops that focus on one or two foreign makes. Mechanics at these outfits are often as well or better trained than those at the dealer and they usually charge less. Meanwhile, most Japanese and Korean models are serviceable by independent repair shops, says Molla.
"If I have to carry all of the equipment in order to fix everything on a vehicle, it would make no sense," says Sulkala, especially if he doesn't do that type of work on a daily basis. For example, he's not asked to upholster cars often, so when a customer requests that he says, "I'll bring it someone I know and trust who has that expertise." As a result, the customer might incur additional costs. But, he adds, the price charged is at a discounted wholesale rate and not at a retail door rate.
When you take your car in for repairs, ask if all the work will be done on-site before you agree to anything. If your mechanic tells you he needs to subcontract some of it, tell him not to do those repairs and take the car yourself to a shop that can handle the rest of the job.
The way dealership warranties often work is that if you get the car repaired somewhere else and something goes wrong as a result of that repair, the cost of fixing the problem will no longer be covered by the warranty. So say you get an oil change at a quick-service franchise shop and the mechanic does something wrong that eventually damages your engine; the dealer doesn't have to honor your warranty when your engine is finally repaired, says Gillis. But some dealers like to take it a step further by making it seem as if you have to bring your car to them for all repairs or risk losing your warranty protection.
Don't fall for it. Taking routine work such as oil changes, tire rotations, and even your 10,000-mile checkups to the less-expensive chains won't jeopardize your warranty in most cases. Nor will emergency repairs that would normally be covered under the warranty. Just be sure to keep all your receipts, says Gillis. That way, if the dealer tries to claim you have an engine problem because you failed to get an oil change, for example, you can prove otherwise.
In some states, you have even more recourse; in California, BAR will attempt to resolve each complaint it receives. To check if your state has a similar agency, contact your state highway department. Finally, if your auto-repair garage is endorsed by the AAA, contact the organization. If your complaint is egregious enough, or joined by others, the outfit may lose the AAA's seal of approval. "This is an exceedingly rare event," says Sinclair. "Shops work hard to obtain and retain their AAA certification and would bend over backwards to correct any problems that may lead to a loss of AAA's 'seal of approval'."
VERNON, CT -- About 2 months ago, the brakes on my car started to squeal. I went into Monroe Muffler and asked for a quote. They told me it would be about $130 for parts and labor. The price sounded good so I decided to go ahead and get them changed. I informed the manager/ mechanic that I knew the muffler needed to be replaced, but at this point, I only could afford the brakes. After about 15-20 minutes the mechanic came out and got me. He told me that the struts were going bad as well, he brought me to my car and showed me how they were (in his words) cracking. I asked how much I was looking at to have those replaced. He told me about $900.
My car is a 1993 Ford with (at the time) 500K miles on it. I told him I wasn't sure what I wanted to do and to let me think for a minute. The mechanic told me to go back into the waiting area, that he'd finish his work up and quote and get back to me. After about an hour, the mechanic came back to me and handed me a quote for over $3,200... WAY more than my car is worth. I looked at the mechanic in horror and told him that unless they were taking off the gas cap and switching it for a whole new car, there is no way I'd be paying that much.
Then he spent the next half an hour taking off parts that "should be replaced" and left me with what "had to be replaced" the original $130 quote was now at $650. I told him that there was no way that would fit in my budget, he then took a look at the parts and started trying to apply discounts which brought it down to $550. Angered I asked him why he wasn't able to give me the discounts from the start and that there was still no way I could pay that much. I told him I was upset the price increased by over $400. I had even factored in an additional $200 for extra parts and labor.
The manager then came over and told me that I could have an additional 10% off the final quoted price if I signed up for their credit card. I laughed and told them no way would I ever sign up for a credit card, especially through a repair shop. The manager then told the mechanic to button up my car. When they finished, the mechanic came to me and said, "Do not drive this car anywhere but home. You're in great danger." A few hours later I had a friend's friend (a BMW Mechanic) take a look at my car. Basically he said: I needed new brakes and a new muffler and a part for my oil sensor.
The part that Monroe Muffler said was cracked- the strut- it was the outer coating peeling off, not a dangerous thing either. Needless to say, I was more than upset that my quote at Monroe Muffler and brake went from $130, to $3,200 to $550. And they wanted me to sign up for their credit card. I ended up having my friends friend fix my brakes, total cost to me $175 parts and labor.
I in to Monroe Muffler and Brakes in Amherst, NY to get a price on breaks for my husbands car. I am actually knowledgeable about cars so I was aware that the vehicle would also be needing rotors so when I asked the guy who was the manager behind the desk for a price for a full set of brakes and rotors I was quoted $372.00. I made the appt for the next day. I brought the car in and told him to please call me and let me know if there was anything else needed once he pulled the tires and while he was at it do an oil change. I received a call about an hour later and was told the car only needed from brakes and rotars.
I asked what the price would be and I was told the same price as the day before for all 4. I asked why it would be the same price if they are only doing the front brakes when I was quoted that amount for all 4. He said that I was quoted the wrong prices. Well if his boss would have gotten off his personal phone call while speaking with me then he would not have made the mistake of quoting me the wrong price as I was really clear as to what I was asking for.
Unfortunately the vehicle needed them so I told him to put them on but also informed him that I would be called the attorney general's office, the BBB and all of the local TV stations concerning their shop as I was tired of service centers thinking that just because I am a woman that I don't know anything about cars and they are going to rip me off because I am just going to shake my head and say "OK if that's the price it's OK".
He asked me what he had to do to make it right and when I stated that it should be half of the original price I was quoted he said he could not do that and I would have to do what I needed to so I did. I even contacted their corporate office and did not get any response. BEWARE NOT ONLY WOMEN BUT AFTER SPEAKING WITH A FEW OF MY FRIENDS WHO ARE MALES THE SAME THING HAPPENED TO THEM.
Monro charged me a rate for fixing my brake that was disproportionately higher than its competitors and other local repair shops for fixing my brakes and rotors. When I complained on their website, the customer rep, Mr. Christopher Johnson, offered to resolve the issue using their price match policy, for which I was no longer eligible (given the timing of my discovery) and noted to him. Nevertheless, I complied with his instructions, after his encouragement.
Subsequently, he agreed to refund me the $100 excess charge, however it was in store credit, which was unacceptable to as a result of my sense of mistrust for the company and my lack of interest in returning to the company for any further care of my car. I was reasonably questioning the integrity of the company and their business practices as I had experienced them as having taken advantage of me. Mr. ** insisted on a store credit refund so I asked to be directed to his supervisor, Mr. Terry **, the director of customer service who provided the worst model of customer service I have ever experienced.
I am truly appalled that he holds such a position, given my previous experiences in the retail and hospitality industries. Mr. ** lacked basic skills of demonstrating courtesy or empathy and cannot imagine that the CEO or board of directors are aware of the way he is representing the company. He truly seemed to require a basic training in customer service. I am interested in contacting either the CEO, Mr. Robert Gross or the V. P. to report my experiences with their company and request my refund back in the cash value that I paid to them, given that the excessive charge was an error on the institution's part and not mine.
My loyalty to the company has quickly disappeared and has been replaced by a strong distaste for the company. I have not only stopped providing them with my business, I have also been discouraging all my family, friend, colleagues and acquaintances to avoid doing business with them, especially females, because they fail to fulfill their mission of providing fair, service that is of optimal quality. Even worse, the do not maintain their doctrine of "reasonable pricing", or excellent customer service.
Please let me know if you can provide me with the contact information for the V. P or CEO of the company as I do not intend to relent on this issue due to my worry that they will continue to behave in such a manner and continue to take advantage of disempowered consumers.
MANCHESTER, CONNECTICUT -- I brought my vehicle in for a balancing to the Monro in Manchester, CT. When I went to pick up vehicle, the key broke off in the ignition because the repairman forced it out when he parked the car. When I told them of the problem, the repairman came out and started shoving a screwdriver in the ignition and completely killed it by forcing it back and forth. The vehicle had to sit all weekend in the shop and then on Monday they realized what they had done and tried denying it! The store manager was a weasel and tried offering free labor, but not parts. I had to go over his head to get the whole repair covered.
Now I have been getting the run-around while they keep the car. They promise me every day that the work will be done and then nothing happens. I checked on my car one evening and found it outside and unlocked. I can't get a response from anybody at customer service and I still don't have my car back almost a week after I brought it in! By the way, if you ever visit this shop, don't fall for the "front brakes need replacing" scam. I have been stuck in the store long enough now to watch the store manager give everybody the exact same speech, including me.