Toronto, Ontario – The majority of repair shops tested in Toronto and Calgary by the Automobile Protection Agency (APA) failed to find a simple problem in a “bugged” car, with repair estimates reaching as high as $2,400.

Only thirty per cent of the 31 shops tested were able to correctly diagnose the problem. The report on the investigation was aired in W5 and is available at CTV.

The APA used a 2006 Chevrolet Malibu and two Honda CR-Vs for the investigation. The Malibu received a new battery, brake fluid, pads, discs and shoes, new tires, spark plugs, accessory drive belt, and oil change and coolant flush prior to the test, while the CR-Vs were fully inspected and up to date on their service.

On each vehicle, the positive battery terminal was loosened. The APA mystery shopper reported to each shop that the vehicle failed to start on occasion, and also requested a general inspection of the vehicle, saying that it had been recently purchased and the service history was unknown.

APA president George Iny said that the results varied wildly, with the cost of checking the vehicle and tightening the loose battery cable ranging from no charge to $2,400 for unnecessary repairs. Only eight of 30 shops tightened the battery terminal without charging for unnecessary repairs to earn a “Pass” rating, including two shops that checked the car and corrected the problem for less than $50. One shop was excluded when it recognized the vehicle as an investigation model.

Twenty-two repair shops failed the APA’s test. Among then, ten charged for unnecessary work to replace parts or recommended unnecessary parks, including a new battery (seven times), a new starter, suspension struts, an unnecessary brake service and replacing the spark plugs.

A variety of unnecessary minor services were recommended, including power steering fluid on the Malibu, which has electric power steering, and fluid in the transmission, which is sealed. The APA did not consider the fluid recommendations in its tally of unnecessary repairs.

The highest repair charges in this year’s investigation were from Active Green and Ross in Toronto, and Canadian Tire. The APA reported that the Canadian Tire store on 8th Avenue NE in Calgary replaced the battery and returned spark plugs from a different vehicle, for a bill of $507. The Active Green and Ross store at Jane and Wilson in Mississauga charged a total of $2,400 on two repair invoices to correct the loose terminal, and to replace the starter, spark plugs, suspension struts and an air filter. The APA said that this is the highest charge it has ever paid in an undercover repair probe, and that only the $22 air filter was an acceptable repair.

No shop recommended unnecessary oil treatments, fuel injection flushes or gas treatments, which the APA said was a welcome improvement from its investigations in 2001-2003. No repair or inspection appeared to have affected the safety of the test vehicles, although the APA said that some repairs left the vehicles in worse condition than before the work had been performed.

The APA said that this year’s small Toronto sample achieved the lowest percentage of successful outcomes ever recorded, with only one shop out of eleven, Active Green and Ross at 1964 Victoria Park Avenue, correcting the loose cable without performing additional unnecessary repairs.

In Calgary, seven out of 19 shops identified the loose terminal and performed an inspection without performing an unnecessary repair. Services generally cost more in Calgary than Toronto, with inspection charges ranging from no-charge to $199.99. The least expensive repair was at Delta Auto Care and Repair, a small independent shop, which corrected the loose terminal and determined the CR-V to be in good condition overall for $30.

The one dealer visited, CMP Classic Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC, found the loose terminal but recommended replacing the new brake fluid on the Malibu. The under-hood camera revealed that the fluid had not been checked.

Among the chain stores, Active Green and Ross had one pass, two fail and one inconclusive; Canadian Tire had one pass and five fail; Fountain Tire had two pass and one fail; and Midas had one pass and four fail.

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