Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Watch Out For Crooked Mechanics!

Two of my uncles are mechanics and I know a little bit about cars myself. Ashburn Service & Tire Center opened near us a couple of years ago. It looks like a Merchants Tire Center. It has five bays and a smooth-talking staff.

Last year, my friend Irene needed to have some work done on her car. She brought it in and they told her it would cost about $800. She told them to proceed. Later in the day, they called her to say that the cost would actually be about $1,800! She told them not to do the work and got the car back. She then had the work done at another garage. The bill? $800. She hasn't had a problem with it since.

Despite this suspicious event, last January I brought both my car and my son's to this place to get our state inspections done. They told me I would have to leave the cars. This raised my suspicions but I was in a bit of a bind, due to travel the next day and wanting to get it done without waiting in a long line. Well...when I went back to get my cars, they had failed both cars! On mine, they said my rear brakes were only 1/32" thick and that by law they had to be at least 2/32" thick. Now, I had had the brakes replaced less than a year before so I knew they were either lying or I had been given bad brakes before. They failed my son's car, saying that there was a hole in the muffler. Not that we could hear any noise associated with a muffler hole, mind you!

Of course, they wanted to "fix" our cars themselves but I would have none of it. Instead, I brought the cars to my tried-and-true mechanic, farther away, long line and all. I paid to have the cars reinspected. Because the suspicious mechanics had, by the rules, written the reasons for having failed the cars on the windshield rejection sticker, this mechanic had to check those things specifically, but also did a whole inspection.

The verdict? On my car, they found that my rear brakes were not 1/32" thick, not even 2/32" thick...they were 4/32" thick! That's twice what the law required! Needless to say, my car passed inspection.

On my son's car, they looked and looked and looked and looked and eventually they did find a tiny pin hole in his muffler. By law, they had to reject the muffler and I had them replace it.

The mechanic told me that in the case of my car, it was clearly fraud and I should alert the police. In the case of my son's car, they suspected that the first shop had put the hole in there themselves but said it would be very difficult to prove.

I did call the police and explained the situation. They agreed that it would be too hard to prove the muffler damage had been caused by the first mechanics - besides, I had already had that fixed - but that they would send an "undercover" police car to get it inspected there.

Well, it's been nine months and the shop is still there so I suppose that 1) the police didn't do an investigation, 2) they did the investigation and the shop didn't try to cheat them, or 3) they were given a "talking-to" and have been walking the straight-and-narrow since (unlikely), or 4) I was totally mistaken about them. The last option is unlikely because I do have the paperwork that shows that they determined the brakes were only 1/32" thick. That means they either lied or they were incompetent, but it's hard to believe that a mechanic could be that incompetent! Either way, you can bet your bottom dollar I'll never take my car back there again and will warn others to do the same, as I've done here. This is the problem with doing the client wrong - bad news travels twice around the world in the time that it takes good news to reach the front door. A bad reputation, once achieved, is very hard to overcome!


Joe said...

Always go to your trusted mechanic that you have a relationship with. My family always uses the same mechanics. They know what they are doing, they have never cheated us, and have in fact kept me from being cheated.
Our mechanics know that I am on a limited income, and allow my wife and I to pay in installments. Not everyone is allowed to do this at their shop.
As well, they have been known to push back some less important work to get my car running again.
It's all about a relationship with someone who you can trust, and who can trust you in return.

Joe Ganci said...

Thanks, Joe. It's a shame that we can't trust everyone, but there will always be those who think they can get ahead by cheating others. Sometimes they get away with it for a long time (most don't) but come time for their funeral and you don't find too many weepy eyes in the assembled mourners.