How Serious is Repair Shop Fraud and How To Stop It

Repair Shop Fraud

In the movie, “The Godfather II”, there was a scene in which Michael Corleone kissed Fredo on the head and told him “I know it was you Fredo. You broke my heart. You broke my heart!” It was a scene showing the betrayal and lack of trust Michael now had for his brother Fredo. While “The Godfather II” was fictional, the trust Michael had and lost is something all of us as human beings can relate to. We trust, some more than others, and sometimes our trust is warranted, and sometimes it does not work out for us.

In 2013, United States auto sales skyrocketed 7.6 percent and reached 15.6 million vehicles sold, the first time the 15 million mark was met since 2007. You can expect that during the life of these vehicles sold, many of the vehicles will encounter some type of trouble and need repairs made. There are nearly 175,000 business in the United States that are classified as mechanical automotive repair shops, and while many are reputable, naturally there are some that will take advantage of the consumer.

You as the consumer can educate yourself because you do not want to be in the position of having your repair shop acting like Fredo Corleone towards you.

How Rampant is Repair Shop Fraud?

Go to Google, and search for “Repair Shop Fraud.” As of this date, there are 2.6 million results that appear on that topic. Now how do we know if that is a big number or not? I went back to Google, searched for “Peyton Manning”, who is very famous, and there are also 2.6 million search results for him.

Once instance happened in Wisconsin. Unsuspecting customers who went to this repair shop to get their vehicles fixed after failing an emissions test allegedly paid hundreds of dollars to the repair shop to have the mechanics not repair the vehicle, but hook up a healthy vehicle to the emissions testing machine and give the consumer a diagnostics report on the healthy vehicle that the consumer did not own.

In another recent instance, a whistleblower came clean about the repair facility they used to work at. The whistleblower stated that he was instructed to not change the oil or the oil filter once the whole day. Hidden cameras during the investigation showed that the repair technician did not replace the oil, and suggested that two items that the investigators had fixed two months prior, were needed to be replaced.

What help can you get if this happens to you?

Many state and local governments have laws in place to protect you in the event you get hurt by a repair shop or a repair technician. Most states lists there laws, rules, and regulations online where you can see them and know for instance, in the State of Washington, for any repair of $100.00, you as the consumer are entitled to a written estimate. Once this estimate is received, the repair shop cannot charge you more than 10 percent more than that written estimate without your consent.

The State Of New York has a 23 page document that is dedicated to regulating automotive repairs. They explicitly state that the repair shop most post their labor rates in a visible area where the customer can see clearly and they must abide by these rates set forth. They also allow the commissioner to accept complaints from consumers in regards to issues related with their repair within 90 days or 3,000 miles from the time and mileage of the repair. In the State of New Jersey, to perform Auto Body work, you must be registered with State and penalties for not adhering to state guidelines can result in fines upwards to $20,000.00.

Can You Completely Rely on the Law to Fight Your Cause if You Have Been Affected?

Of course not! You will need to take some precautions yourself. Congress introduced the Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act of 2011, which gave the consumer the right to pick and choose where they want their vehicle repaired. While it seems the consumer has that right, it is not so easy. The Right to Repair Coalition 2013 states that small town repair shops that are not affiliated with the manufacturers or car dealerships do not have the access to vehicle specifications from manufacturers to perform repair work. As vehicles become more state of the art, computer modules in vehicles are getting more complicated by the year. By not having to share this information, the manufacturer gives their dealerships a competitive advantage when it comes to customers needing their vehicles repaired.

As of this time, this bill has not been passed through Congress for reasons we will let Congress tell us.


So What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?

You as the consumer have many different options to protect yourself because there is loads of information out there. There are many different philosophies consumers may have when it comes to their vehicle. Some rather lease than buy. Some by new, while some only buy used. Some believe in extended warranty protections and vehicle service contracts, while some stockpile money away in anticipation of their car eventually breaking down. Regardless of any of that, you as the consumer should be on the lookout and take precautions against paying more than needed at a repair shop.

First thing, any repair you get, keep a log of it. One day, you sensed your air filter getting clogged up and you got that replaced. A couple months later, while in the shop for an oil change, the repair technician says to you that you need a new air filter. If you had forgot that you had that done recently, you may have just paid for an extra repair that is not necessary.

Another thing is to get everything in writing and make sure that you receive an estimate for the work that is to be done. A lot of times, a repair shop will quote you a price, have you sign the estimate, and your copy when you look later, won’t have a price on it. You would have no proof of your quoted estimate from earlier.

Diagnostic tests are also seem more costly when you think that it is just a standard machine you are car is hooked up to. I had failed my inspection, when to Pep Boys to get my car fixed. I brought the paperwork showing the failed code, yet the Pep Boys repair technician explained to me they must perform the diagnostic test and it would be half price if I decided to continue with my repair. If I decided to bring my business elsewhere, I would be charged the full amount of the diagnostic fee. I was also told once the diagnostic test was completed, I would then be told the amount of the repair.

The power of the internet has brought can also be another useful outlet for consumers to turn to because it allows them to perform valuable research on what might be wrong with your vehicle, as well as checking up on potential repair facilities in your area to choose from. By doing a search in regards to the symptoms your vehicle may be displaying, you can get a feel of what may be wrong with your car by reading comments or posts from other vehicle owners or mechanics. Once you determine what may be wrong, you can attempt to find out the potential cost you can be paying on these repairs. You can even find out the labor costs of potential repair shops before you choose one. Another recommendation is to check out reviews from consumers online in regards to a potential repair shop you may use.

If you are leasing or buying new, for the first few years of the life of your vehicle, you will be covered by the manufacturers extended warranty on the vehicle. That is great an all; however, most repairs are not needed until the vehicle gets older and reaches the mileage limit of the extended warranty. At that point, you can try to protect yourself by purchasing a Vehicle Service Contract, which differs from an extended warranty as defined by federal law. If you purchase a Vehicle Service Contract, you are paying a company an agreed upon amount of money to cover the repairs on your vehicle that are coverable as specified in your contract. There are numerous types of Vehicle Service Contracts, as some policies are exclusionary, meaning all items on the vehicle are covered against mechanical breakdowns except of specific listed items, some offer coverage on just your Powertrain, while some offer coverage on your Powertrain, plus much more.

While Vehicle Service Contracts can be a good option, some of them do not come as promised so you need to do your research. In addition, you may also be the individual that does not believe in purchasing extended coverage on any item. It is all a matter of preference.

“Information is the Most Valuable Commodity.”

The best thing you can do is be educated on what can happen in a repair shop, and educate yourself beforehand on what can be wrong with your vehicle. Educate yourself on the shops you are targeting to fix your car. In the movie “Wall Street”, Gordon Gekko told a young Bud Fox that “information is the most valuable commodity.” He was right, the more you know, the more information you have, the more you are educated, you can greatly mitigate your risk.