April 15, 2003
APA releases results of annual auto repair investigation
Montreal, Quebec – In the latest cross-Canada investigation of repair shops conducted by the Automobile Protection Association (APA), funded by Industry Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs, the APA found that the likelihood of paying for unnecessary repairs was fifty-one percent.
Using a specially prepared vehicle equipped with hidden cameras, the APA visited 51 garages in Canada’s four largest cities for the correction of a simple problem.
For the purpose of this year’s investigation, the APA used a 1999 Dodge Caravan that had formerly belonged to an APA member. Prior to the investigation, the Caravan received a new battery, starter, spark plugs, wires, distributor cap, rotor, and tires. The brakes were in excellent condition and all fluids and filters were replaced. The problem submitted to the repair shops was very simple – a loose battery cable, nothing more. The APA researchers reported that the van occasionally failed to start, and requested a general inspection of the vehicle.
APA president George Iny said the results varied wildly. The cost to check the vehicle and tighten a loose battery cable ranged from zero to $1,240. Among the findings:
- 25 out of 51 shops tightened the battery terminal without charging for unnecessary repairs and earned a Pass rating. Among them were three shops that corrected the problem at no charge, including two Midas shops in Montreal and a Goodyear store in Vancouver.
- 26 shops failed the APA test. Among them were 11 repair shops that failed to correct the problem.
- Fifteen repair shops charged for unnecessary work to replace new parts on the APA’s test van, or performed unnecessary maintenance. These services included a new battery (3 times), spark plug wires (4 sets), distributor cap and rotor (4 each), fresh antifreeze (twice), a replacement starter (3 times), and a rebuilt alternator (1). The brakes were cleaned, serviced and adjusted three times, and a variety of unnecessary minor services were performed once each.
- Canadian Tire and Sears earned the dubious distinctions for presenting the highest repair charges in this year’s probe. The Canadian Tire store on Macloed Trail South in Calgary actually ruined a perfectly good part in front of the APA’s hidden camera, and presented a bill of $620. The Sears Auto store at Chinook Centre in Calgary charged $1,240 to replace several parts that were new or in very good condition. This is the highest charge the APA has ever paid in an undercover probe. The Sears technicians performed shoddy work, returning the minivan in worse condition than when it arrived.
Overall results in Montreal were 8 failures out of 13 visits, vying with Calgary for the poorest performance among the four cities visited. “We were stunned by this year’s results,” said Iny, “the test was so easy, and repair shops in Montreal performed better than the other cities in previous investigations.” Over the last three years, the APA says the worst performers in Montreal have been the Canadian Tire and Alex Pneu et Mécanique chains, with more than half of the shops visited earning failing grades in its probes.
The APA says that the repair chains are so unreliable that they cannot be trusted with a mandatory vehicle exhaust emissions inspection program, currently being considered for Quebec.
More than three quarters of the repair dollars spent on repairs to the APA minivan were used to change parts or fluids that were new, or for an incorrect diagnosis. Iny says that pressure from the Automotive Industries Association (AIA) and other industry lobby groups to obtain the emissions program they want are way out of line. “The auto repair industry has neither the credibility nor the track record to dictate public policy on the environment,” said Iny. “In fact,” he said, “the AIA told WFIVE that a 51% failure rate in an undercover study wasn’t serious.” The APA says the public would be better off if motorists contributed the money they would have to pay for emissions testing to fund activities with a better environmental cost/benefit.
Half the repair shops visited by the APA failed in Toronto. As in previous years, repair shops belonging to the Goodyear and Canadian Tire chains installed parts that were not needed. One Sears Auto Centre could not find the problem, and a second found the loose connector but forgot to tighten it! The largest repair bill in Toronto was for $382, charged by the Goodyear store at 3390 Bathurst. Midas, with two out of three shops passing, presented the smallest bills, ranging from $23 to $35.
Only 4 shops out of ten earned a Pass rating, making Calgary the worst city in this year’s survey, and the most expensive. The Sears Auto Centre at the Chinook Mall slapped the APA shoppers with an outrageous $1,240 bill to replace a variety of parts in perfect working order, including several that were brand new. Worse still, the Sears technicians performed shoddy work, stripping threads and damaging mounting holes during their installation. The APA says that consumers in Calgary have every reason to be concerned about the quality of service they receive at the large chains. On a more positive note, the Midas shop on 17th Avenue SW charged a low $32 to check over the van and fix it, and the two Goodyear stores visited passed with charges of $89 and $101.
For the first time ever in an APA undercover probe, Vancouver outperformed the other cities, and 8 of the 12 repair shops earned a Pass rating. Among those that failed, only two charged for parts and services not required. Two others failed to locate the problem, but did not pad their bills. Fountain Goodyear, on Bridgeport Road in Richmond, did not remove the plastic shrinkwrap on their (unnecessary) replacement battery. According to the APA’s mechanical experts, that plastic should have been removed, as it can become an underhood fire hazard. Regency Chrysler on Marine Drive in North Vancouver performed what appeared to be the most thorough vehicle inspection of the investigation, and voluntarily dropped its bill from $170 to $103 because the problem was so simple.
Canadian Tire stores across the country have earned a 53% failure in simple tests submitted by the APA over the last three years. Former Canadian Tire employees told the Association the incentive system used in many Canadian Tire stores pays counter personnel a commission based on a percentage of your bill, and a premium to mechanics who perform repairs in less time than what is charged to the customer. According to them, this form of compensation can reward repair fraud and promote misdiagnosis.
Although, there was little good news this year, the APA says that consumers may be happy to learn that the small sample of domestic car dealers visited in its last three probes was more reliable and, surprisingly, less expensive than the major chains, despite higher posted rates. Although Midas scored a 38% failure rate over three years, the chain charged significantly less than the competition, and two of the Midas shops in this year’s probe actually repaired the APA’s vehicle free. Sears voluntarily refunded the APA’s bill of $1,240 after repairs were proven unnecessary, and promised changes to procedures at the Chinook Auto Centre.
The APA recommends you avoid the Canadian Tire, Goodyear and Alex Pneu et Mécanique shops that have failed its investigations until those chains can show that they have taken steps to put their houses in order. A complete listing with the results for each repair shop appears on the APA web site, www.apa.ca
Ontario’s DriveClean, BC AirCare and auto club certification were no guarantee of competent or honest work in APA probes. The APA recommends choosing a garage based on a referral from a long-time customer, or a consumer group like the APA that does not charge garages a fee for accreditation. Ask for an estimate before authorizing work, and if it looks high, go somewhere else for a second opinion.
The APA says it is time for governments to get back into the business of policing the repair industry. Provincial and metro auto repair fraud teams were disbanded in the early 1990’s, and the APA says the repair industry is taking advantage of the lack of enforcement to perform incompetent or dishonest work.