Beware of Repair Scams

This is a re-posting of a blog from November or 2008


Posted on November 21st, 2008 by marshallfrank in General, Edit


Buyers, Beware!

We all know the horror stories about car-owners who are taken to the cleaners by unsavory auto service centers, out to make big bucks off the ignorance of neophytes. Most of us know that getting a simple oil change may result in garage managers trying to sell their customers unneeded parts such as air filters, brakes, shocks, serpentine belts, and such. Young women, in particular, are an easy target.

But I never thought a garage would stoop to the bottom of the sleaze scale by staging a problem in order to make a big sale. Such is the case with a 22 year-old woman who recently took her Jeep Liberty to a local, all-service tire service dealer in Melbourne for an oil change. When she returned to pick up her car, the message was dire. “You have a major oil leak, Miss. You need to have this fixed right away.”

Fortunately, her grandfather had forewarned her about auto service predators. Her response was simple. “Thank you. I’ll have it checked by my mechanic.”

And so she did. The vehicle was brought to a certified master mechanic in Rockledge with a long-standing reputation of honest service. Sure enough, the alleged “major oil leak” was fictitious. This incident was especially egregious because the tire center personnel had loosely inserted the oil filter and poured oil over the engine to give the bogus appearance of a serious leak.

While most licensed auto service dealers are reputable, auto repair fraud is still a common problem all over the nation. Too often, estimates are inflated, unneeded parts are sold to unknowing customers, and the most unsavory of all — like in the case mentioned above — will produce a bogus problem.

Here’s a few important tips:

* Always ask for written estimates for repairs.

* Do a background check on the garage/mechanic. Contact the Better Business Bureau.

* Be sure. Do not approve of a repair job unless you’re sure it is legitimate.

* Get a second, or a third opinion from a certified, licensed auto mechanic.

* Ask that they provide you with the used parts that are replaced, such as brake pads.

* Do not accept, at face value, everything that an auto service center will claim is wrong.  Be suspicious.

* Watch out for discount specials. Crooked repair shops will advertise oil changes, lube jobs and tire rotation specials as hooks to lure customers into the web of deceit.

* Try to establish a trusted relationship with a regular, certified mechanic for all your auto service needs.

It’s good to bear in mind that many tire and muffler auto centers do not make their profits off oil changes and selling tires. Franchise stores are under pressure to make extra sales in order to pay the rent.

The 22 year-old woman was lucky enough to have a caring grandfather, otherwise she may have been raked for a thousand dollars, when all she needed was a $25 change of oil.

Don’t let that happen to you.

p.s. The young woman’s grandfather writes books and blogs and struggles with the violin.  Hmm.


  1. Your correct about the auto repair fraud on-going. Wonder why the police and SA’s don’t attak something like this that would mean so much to so many people..fraud is fraud, or is it..guess it is too tough of a subject to tackle?!?!?!

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  2. This type of scam has been going on since Henry Ford. I have caught dealers using a trial and error repair method and guess who picks up the tab for the ‘trial’ parts?

    Your last tip is the most effective method for minimizing the problem. If you’re not sure who might be a reliable mechanic chances are that someone you know can give you a name. You know, “I’ve used this person for years”, etc. I can give you the name of one I’ve used for almost 14 years in Davie, FL. Same holds true for motorcycles and never trust a motorcycle Dealer or you will be replacing brake pads every other oil change.

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  3. This is why I stopped buying Buicks and now go with Lexus. The American car companies have become disconnected with their dealers. From experience I cannot trust any GM dealer to provide honest and reliable service. Detroit needs to fix this problem above all else..

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  4. Thanks, Marshall, for this good message. I’ve never been the victim of auto repair fraud, but it pays to be wary because it could happen any time.

    Regards, Bill

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  5. I guy came to the door selling $11 oil changes at Meineke. I bought a card worth 6 oil changes. When I took my car in for an oil change I had to pay another 5 bucks to recycle the old oil. Now the oil change cost $16. When they were finished they tell me my van needs new shocks & struts. I took the van to my neighbor’s shop & he said they were fine. The following week I took my wife’s Lexus in for an oil change and they said her car needs shocks & struts. It seems like the Meineke computer is programed to print out a report that says that all cars in for an oil change need new shocks & struts since they really don’t make any money on a 16 buck oil change. Beware if some door-to-door salesman trys to sell you an $11 oil change.

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  6. I have a Honda, needs servicing once a year by the Honda dealer where I have been going for twelve years. No problem.


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  7. Very timely Blog M.F.,

    Economic hard times are going to see more of us driving the old family bus longer. That means more auto repairs & more attemps at fraud. Car repair crooks come large & small but sometimes even the big sleaze bags get caught. Not often, but sometimes!

    I can’t think of auto repair fraud without
    thinking Sears, 1992 and a CA BCIS Sting
    catching Sears Auto Shops scamming customers
    as SOP. Sear’s coughed up $20 Million to
    keep their Auto Repair Shops open. See >

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  8. After so many years of doing my own service, I finally gave it up and now use a reputable Toyota dealer. Since they are very such reliable vehicles, I only have the oil changes done every 5000 miles, and they check all the operating systems and make recommendations on repairs or replacement. They do not do anything to the vehicle without my permission. They have taken me back to the garage and shown me the parts that they are recommending for replacement so I can make an informed decision. They also send me coupons for special deals. This dealership is in St. Augustine and I can truly recommend it to anyone needing service.

    After every service, I recieve a letter from the GM asking me to provide feedback on how I was treated and how the vehicle was serviced, asking me for any recommenations that I may have to improve their service. Now that’s the way to run a dealership and a repair facility and to keep your customers coming back. On my last visit, I had the opportunity to meet the GM and I was able to tell him in person about his facility and what a pleasure it was to come to. He introduced me to his service manager and all of his other managers and thanked me for my comments.
    Try meeting the General Manager at any of the big three…

    Take heed GM, Ford and Chrysler, maybe if you had done what the foreign car makers have been doing, you wouldn’t need billions of tax dollars to bail you out. Poor management and overzealous unions ruined the American car industry and they still don’t get the big picture. Too little, too late, I’m afraid.

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  9. How I wish I had a granddad like you! My story: We own a 2004 Honda which we purchased from Space Coast Honda. We’ve had it serviced every time at Space Coast following the suggested frequency as outlined in the owner’s manual, plus following the notice they put on the top of the windshield. I took the car in for regular service and left it for additional service as recommended by Ron, my “service adviser”. The phone call I received from Ron assured me that my tires were in serious condition. “Sure,” I said, “if they need replacing go ahead and do it.” Big Mistake.

    Ron wasn’t in when I came for the car so I asked the Service Manager how my tires got in such a deplorable condition when I brought it in regularly for service. He then turned to his trusty computer and asked me if I checked the tire pressure regularly. I said NO, I bring it into you for the maintenance! Another Big Mistake. He then asked me if I read my owner’s manual. No, That book is ¾ inches thick and I only open it if I need to check on how to operate the sliding doors.

    He then relied on his trusty computer to print out for me page 204 of my Owner’s Manual otherwise know as his “CYA” (Cover Your Ass) book!. There it was, how stupid I was not to have known! It plainly says:
    “Owner’s Maintenance Checks, You should check the following items at the specified intervals. If you are unsure of how to perform any check, turn to the appropriate page listed.
    *Engine oil level – Check every time you fill the fuel tank. See page 171
    *Engine coolant level – Check the radiator reserve tank every time you fill the .
    fuel tank. See page 172.
    *Automatic transmission – Check the fluid level monthly. See page 216
    *Brakes – Check the fluid level monthly. See page 218
    Tires – Check the tire pressure monthly. Examine the tread for wear and foreign objects. See page 230
    *Lights – Check the operation of the headlights, parking lights, tail lights, high mounted brake lights, and license plate lights monthly. See page 220.

    I realize how wordy my comments are but I think everyone should be aware, Your service advisor is not your friend. He works for a dealer who is more interested in Covering His Ass than in doing what you expected him to do when he was selling you the car. I guarantee you NO ONE CHECKS HIS OIL EVERY TIME HE FILLS HIS FUEL TANK!

    My bill was $473.47. Shame on me for not checking my tire pressure monthly!

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  10. I wish it were only auto repair techs! Probably the worst in Florida are the AIR CONDITIONER tech scams! There are so many crooks in the A/C business in Brevard that you would have a hard time believing it. One of many scams tried on me was that my system needed a $2,300.00 replacement – but I fixed it myself after I snooped around and found a bad relay which I replaced by myself for less than $25.00. When I told them I fixed it myself, the owner came by (Mickey Kabran) and terrorized my young daughter by pounding on the door demanding to speak with me (I was at work and my teenage daughter was just home from school). Was he drunk? Who knows. Yes, I definitely straightened him out. I don’t trust any A/C guys in Brevard except for Dan Rhode. I grew up with Dan and he is stone-cold honest and fair.

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  11. went to a local Chevy dealer in Pembroke Pines I had some warning lites appear on 04 Tahoe with 44000 miles on it indicating service stability, traction & indicated speed sensor in left front wheel is bad so I got it repaired little did I know it was attached to the wheel hub and everything else in there final bill for this “wheel sensor” $598.00 but I am a good customer (sucker) got a 10% good customer discount!! Oh ! out of warranty of course !!

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  12. For Lyle McGuire, I have been getting my service done at a Buick dealer since 2003 and have had no problem. They may mention that the tires need rotation (n/c) or even other minor items. As I looked through my owners manuals ( 3 sperate buicks) everything they have offered is at my descretion, I even take my Ford truck into them for service since the local Ford dealer charged me an arm and leg for work that didn’t work (no guarantee).If anyone in North Florida would like to find out who this GM dealer is e-mail me. Some GM dealers may be bad news but not this one.

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  13. I learned my lesson about 23 years ago, when I moved to Florida. Had a brand new
    car. Bought gas and whatever small service was needed at the same CHEVRON STATION, which was near the office I worked in. One morning, I stopped and asked to have my tires rotated. Left the car and was called sometime later at my office, to let me know I needed shocks. As a bookkeeper, and being a single woman, what did I know about shock absorbers. I said, if I need them, then replace them. After work, I picked up my car and a $5oo.oo bill. My son, when told of this, almost handed me my head. Needless to say, I learned the hard way. Never, ever again have I patronized a CHEVRON STATION. I also learned more about what to do when my car is not feeling well.

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  14. Well, Marshall, we do have to be very careful, not trusting dealers any more than we can see them–even the Asian car dealers on occasion.

    Word of mouth is the best way, I think. My cars have been serviced thru the years by Foreign Car Clinic in Eau Gallie. I have one “dinosaur”, a 1987 Buick LeSabre Estate Wagon with over 200,000 miles clocked on it. I had to pay $60 for a tank full of gas one day, and on impulse (and in desperation) found a 2004 Hyundai 2-door coupe. I was told by the Mitsubishi salesman that it would get 35 mpg, but I’m lucky to break 28. A helluva lot better than 17 mpg for the Buick,which I need for my business, but I do wish they could have been honest about mileage.

    It, and several cars before it, have been well cared for by Foreign Car.
    This week I filled the tank for $20, and the Buick for $30. (I don’t drive it much.)

    The little Hyundai hasn’t been there yet. I’ve had it for 5 months, and had the oil changed (by Tire Kingdom in Eau Gallie), plus a tire rotation. The brakes also needed new shoes at that time. That’s all. No dealer prices either. I don’t trust ‘em.

    Just a note of interest: Bill Scott taught classes on car care at the Shepherd’s Center awhile back, and did stress the importance of regular checkups of our cars, as well as collecting names of car care places trusted by the students. Many had not ever looked under their hoods.

    Cathy Stanton

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  15. This is a very good matter to get distributed as widely as posible. I might let my wife read it, but I am not too concerned about her and her car. We have spent a few years extablishing a very good relationship with our service center, and have not been subjected to questionable offers or suggestions. I have always tinkered with cars, and in my high school days worked in a state owned garage, so I am inclined to be suspiciaous of any unlikely sounding suggestion. But it happens, and I have had to turn down a few from other establishments in other cities.

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  16. Well, Marshall I have to say that I agree with you and most other people on many issues mentioned regading this subject…except for the person who went out to buy a “Lexus” and won’t buy American any longer. Some of us do not have that luxury! Which brings us to MY point..It is times like these where I thank God I don’t have any money, and live only paycheck to paycheck,LOL. If I have work done on my car…in more cases than not, I have only budgeted for THAT work. They can tell me all they want about what is in DIRE NEED as far as any other work needing to be done, but it all falls on deaf ears..AND…empty pockets!! If I have to PUSH my car out of their garage…they STILL get nothing more out of me, LOL. Therefore…no mechanic has ever “bullied” me or “cohersed” me…or just plain “scammed” ME because I never had the money anyway. Anyone who just says “go ahead” because it just seems easier, or doesn’t get a second opinion is just plain silly. I believe, in some ways..having little money (yet keeping my car safely on the road at the same time)has made me smarter in that respect. It just takes common sense, and personally, I have never just “believed” someone simply because they “said so” just ask my mom, LOL!

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  17. For once, I can’t comment. My dad owned a garage, he was honest and taught that to me. People came to us because of it but like many of the “honest” folks dad disliked being questioned and his first reaction to questioning was simply, “I have plenty of business without yours so if you don’t trust me, take it somewhere else!”
    Unfortunately that stuck with me and when questioned as to my honesty I get upset quickly, and for the most part without reason.

    Go a bit easy on some of those guys, they are, for the most part, pretty honest.

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  18. I drive an older Benz and I have a garage in town that I use that always gives me the final total before they start. If anything is discovered they call and give me time to check it out before agreeing to any more work. I always use genuine Mercedes parts and I question the boss and mechanic closely when any work needs to be done. They know that my business depends on my being satisfied every time…there are too many gaages out there to settle for a bad one. Drivers beware!!

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  19. How well I can identify with this! In two stances, I luckily said the right thing, and DIDN’T get stuck with a huge bill! I lived in Las Vegas many years ago, and we needed a second car. My husband got a used car several years old for me, and when I shut the engine off after several miles of driving, I could not not turn it on again until it cooled off. I took it to a repair garage to find out what was wrong. The owner said he had the latest equipment to check the car thoroughly. The basic price for this service was $75, plus the cost for the repair. I wisely said I had to talk to my husband about it. When I told my husband about this, he asked a friend, who was a mechanic for one of the big showplaces, The Mint, if he could check the car. The man opened the hood, took out the old thermostat, and that was the end of the problem!

    The second experience was here in Florida. A friend recommended a new “great” garage that was about a mile from where I lived, better than the 12 or so miles I drove to a Goodyear garage in Leesburg. The second time I went to the new place, they told me I needed a new condenser in my AC. I mistakenly thought that Goodyear had replaced that a year before, and I told the new place I would go back to Goodyear and demand that they explain what they did. Goodyer told me they had replaced the compressor, and I did not need a condenser! That condenser would have cost me $984! So twice in my life I said the right thing–luckily!

    Pat Wilson

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  20. I visited the Ford dealership for a noticicable problem. They kept the truck four days after repeated phone calls as to what was the problem. They finally told me that I had to purchase a “chip” that they use to analyze the automobile to point out the problem, cost $400.00;

    Drove away half angry that someone has been had by this and will be again.

    Drove to a private reccommended mechanic who had the “chip” as all legitimate servicers should have.

    Repair cost…………$187.00.

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  21. At the risk of being labeled a jerk, which I am used to already, I have to say that, some of the lowest forms of human degradation include lawyers, car salespeople, child molesters and auto mechanics.
    We bought a brand new Jeep and had to take it 8 times to Tamiami Dodge where each time, and found “nothing wrong.”

    After the warranty ran out, the same problem continued, the engine light coming on, and we took it back to Tamiami Dodge where then they found that, it was a transmission problem and tried to stick me for over $2000.00.
    That is when I found a friend who recommended me Nunez Tires on Flagler and SW 74th Ave and took it there only to find out that, it was a defective gas cap. I replaced the factory issued one with a cap that had a key and that brought the light on.
    So, from that day on, I used these people’s services and have had no more problems.
    Like Marcy Simms used to say, ” An educated consumer is our best customer.” Take time to learn a bit of the product you have, do some research and you may never get stuck.

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