May 20, 2002

APA study reveals overcharging in one third of auto repair facilities

A recent investigation by the Automobile Protection Association revealed the chance of overpaying for auto repairs is one in three. Using a specially prepared car, APA researchers visited 39 garages in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver for the correction of a simple problem. A report on the study aired on Sunday May 19 W-5, the CTV current affairs show.

The APA found that a national brand name like Canadian Tire is no guarantee that a repair will be done properly. In fact independent repair shops and dealerships faired better in the study funded by the Office of Consumer Affairs of Industry Canada.

The cost of repairs to reconnect a vacuum hose on the APA’s mystery car ranged from $0 at Canadian Tire at 2220 Kingsway in Vancouver, to $670 at Minit-Tune and Brake on Marine Drive, also in Vancouver. Twenty-four repair shops corrected the problem in one hour or less and earned a pass rating. Twelve repair shops changed parts or assessed additional charges, for an overall failure rate of 33% across Canada. Among the shops that failed, seven replaced a brand new MAP sensor and five charged additional amounts for work not required to correct the problem. Three shops recognised the APA test car and were excluded from the calculations.

The APA’s mystery car was a 1997 Pontiac Grand Am purchased from a used car dealer. Prior to the investigation, the car was fully serviced at a cost of $1,500, including a new intake manifold gasket, new filters and engine fluids, a complete tune up with new spark plugs and wires, a new battery and a thorough cleaning of the intake system.

The vacuum supply to the Manifold Air Pressure, or MAP, sensor on top of the engine was disconnected, causing a warning light to go on the dash, and an audible hissing noise in the engine compartment. According to APA president George Iny the problem was very easy to find, and 100% of the shops were able to correct it. "Unfortunately," he said, "one out of three repair shops also changed parts or charged for additional work that was not necessary."

Among the 39 repair shops covered by the investigation, 5 of 11 Canadian Tire stores visited by the test car failed, while five out of six Goodyear Tire Centres passed, a significant improvement from last year. The APA also visited four Sears Auto Centres; three stores in the Montreal area passed, while the fourth, located in Burnaby B.C, changed parts unnecessarily.

2002 APA/W-5 Auto Repair Probe





Car as Test


% (12/36)

The APA investigated three city-wide chains. In Montreal, one of the three shops in the Alex Pneu et Mécanique chain changed the MAP sensor. In the Toronto area, two out of four Active Green and Ross shops changed the sensor and presented hefty bills of $323 and $267 respectively. The APA says Active Green and Ross offered poor value in the last two APA investigations. In Vancouver, the Minit-Tune shop on East Hastings performed the most expensive repair of the investigation, at a whopping $670 for a new MAP sensor and two oxygen sensors.

The old parts were requested by the APA and reinstalled to continue the investigation. Minit-Tune subsequently voluntarily reimbursed the APA mystery shopper $590.

The investigation caps a two-year probe by the APA of repairs performed at automotive repairs shops in Canada’s three major cities, including some of the country’s largest repair chains. Overall, with over 70 garages visited, the tune-up and tire chains performed much worse than average, with failure rates of 33% to 60%, and many expensive or unnecessary repairs. Independent repair shops, most of which were operated by owner-mechanics performed best overall — only one of eight independent repair shops failed the APA’s simple tests.

The APA says the Tire and Tune-up chains are proving to be an expensive and highly variable source for auto repairs. Compensation practices in the industry are not helping, says George Iny. Service advisors at some shops are paid a commission based on the value of repair invoices they write up, and mechanics sometimes receive extra money for beating clock time. The public would be much better off paying $100 an hour for a real 60 minute hour, says the APA, if the industry could consistently deliver an honest and competent repair.

The APA says the chains must implement tighter controls. According to George Iny, the time for finger pointing at mechanics has passed – "it’s the managers and owners who should be providing the answers, because we’re looking at an industry problem," he stated. Canadian Tire should apply sanctions against store owners whose shops performed unnecessary repairs, including the possibility of closing down repeat offenders or requiring them to lease their Auto Centre to a different operator.

The APA says that cutbacks that decimated provincial and municipal auto repair fraud squads have allowed the industry to avoid putting its house in order. Mandatory emissions inspections appear to have resulted in a backward step in business practices, and higher prices, says the APA. BC AirCare and Ontario’s DriveClean certification in Vancouver and Toronto did not guarantee that only the necessary repairs would be performed on the APA test car. Repair shops in Montreal, where there is no bi-annual emissions inspection requirement, were just as reliable and actually cheaper. The APA says this year’s test was so simple that a shop’s ability to earn a passing grade is no guarantee of competence.

What you can do

  • Choose your garage on the basis of a referral from a long-time customer.

  • Independent repair shops, and the two Ford and General Motors dealers visited by the APA in its most recent investigations, performed better overall than the chain stores.

  • Advertised specials are a risky way to choose a repair facility. Auto repair is so variable and advertising so incomplete that there is no assurance the final bill will be cheaper.

  • Don’t wait until the last minute for service on your vehicle. If a repair is urgent, you lose the flexibility of obtaining a second opinion easily.

Results for individual repair shops are available on the APA’s web site at

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