Honest Auto Repair. Is It An Oxymoron?


I think one thing that I can find wide support for across this country is that a large percentage of people have real concerns about the honesty and integrity of many car repair shops whether they’re at dealers, chains or independent (like at a local gas station).

I’ve been driving (and owning) cars since 1982. That’s 27 years and that means I’ve had to pay for a lot of repairs using a lot of different shops. My experience is that it’s very hard to find a reputable repair shop. Time and again mystery repairs pop up out of nowhere.

Of late I’ve been dealing with problems concerning a Chrysler Town & Country van that I own (and, surprisingly, like). I initially took it to where I bought it but they just weren’t very convenient. I then took it to a local dealer called, Mall Chrysler Plymouth in Maple Shade, NJ. Immediately problems mounted. The first issue we had was that we were told we needed major transmission work. Magically what needed to be done skirted the warranty. $1,200 later the van felt exactly the same to me and after pointing this out they claimed to make adjustments that provided no discernible difference.

Then the van had no air conditioning. Oh, it just ran out of coolant. I paid for that and made it through the season. The next year it had no air conditioning again. Oh, it ran out of coolant again. What? So they re-filled it and it got through the season again. The following year it had no air again. This time they said the compressor went. We paid over a thousand dollars and had air for the rest of the year. The following year we again had no air. It ran out of coolant again so they filled it (again) and I paid (again). They told me it had such a small leak that they couldn’t find it, but that a stop-leak fluid would likely fix it. So, a week later I’m back and it’s failed again.

When I took it in they told me the compressor went. Awesome! It’s under warranty—except that, upon further analysis, I’m told it wasn’t the compressor but the condenser which isn’t under warranty. In fact, it has a huge gaping hole in it. Really? And they missed this before how?

So I take back the car and take it to a new place (a local gas station) and they do the repair for half what the dealer wanted and it works fine now. It turns out that we know someone whose husband is a mechanic at this dealer and he tells us that it’s common practice at these places to put extreme pressure on the mechanics to “up-sell” repairs. In other words they’re expected to find things wrong with the cars that come in beyond what they’re there for, especially if what they’re there for is minimal. He informs me that if mechanic’s numbers are down on this practice they get fired.

When he tells me this I recall a prior incident when I took the van in for something minor and they told me I needed new brakes. The interesting part is that I do my own brakes and had just replaced them.

So about a week ago the steering wheel just gives out. It’s no longer holding into place like it should. It gets to the new shop and I get the word that he can’t fix it for a few days and it’s needed immediately. Thankfully Mall Chrysler is no more as Chrysler shut them down during their mass clearing out of dealers. My guess is that even though they seemed to sell a lot of cars that maybe this issue is part of the equation. I remember that there’s a popular Dodge dealership in town. Maybe they’re better.

I take it there and the atmosphere is dramatically improved over the previous dealer. It doesn’t hurt that it’s in a new building. Everything is bright white and clean. The people seem nice. I’m talking with the rep and explaining things. He seems genuinely concerned and gives me an estimate of $90 on the spot. I can live with that. Plus it’d be the smallest bill ever for this vehicle.

The dealer has a shuttle service and I decide to use it to go home, so I wait in the waiting room for them to call me. When the driver shows up I have to walk by customer service again. As I do I notice a blond-haired woman I’ve seen many times working at Mall Chrysler. Now she’s working for this dealership. Uh oh.

When I get in the car I ask about the woman and the drive tells me she worked for both dealers. I ask if they’re owned by the same person and he tells me they are. Oh boy. I then mention my experience and he tells me that he’s a mechanic, but that his up-sells were off so he was given the option of being demoted to shuttle driver or getting fired.

When Dodge calls I expect the inevitable, “Well, we’re sorry to inform you that while we were working on your steering wheel we found this other problem that will cost a billion dollars to repair.” I’m amazed that when he calls back this doesn’t happen. The final bill, with tax, is just over $100. Can it be that maybe I got lucky?

So it’s now been a few days since the van came back and I’m driving it not far from the dealership when the check engine like goes on. What now? We take it to the local repair place and he looks it over and his response is classic. There’s a line that magically became loose and fell off causing the light to go on. He can’t imagine how it got loose.

Let’s just say I can totally imagine how it became loose, and it wasn’t magic.

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