It has only been a few weeks since Tom Horne won the attorney general’s race in Arizona, and he has already singled out the auto repair industry for special treatment by his office’s consumer affairs staff. It will come in the form of a sting operation.
The Attorney General Elect described the plan in an article appearing on the Verde News. Horne sees auto repair as an area in which Arizona consumers are vulnerable and need help to keep them from the grips of unscrupulous shop owners.
"If you're not a mechanic yourself, you really don't know what's wrong with your car,” he said.
The sting would be set up in two possible scenarios. Competent auto technicians would pre-screen vehicles to assure that there were no outstanding repair issues and then appointments would be made at shops to see if bogus repairs were recommended. The other method would be to purposely fault vehicles with obvious minor problems which would be hard for a skilled technician to miss. The idea is to test the honesty and sales aggressiveness of shops.
An industry representative contacted for the article said that her members would welcome such an effort and would see it as a way to identify problem shops.
Part of the problem is the public’s insistence on low-cost repairs which, at times, can be costly in the end.
As for Horne he said that in most cases consumers can comparison shop and take care of themselves but in repairs of all kinds their limited knowledge creates the need for additional support. He said that the use of undercover shoppers would not be limited to auto repair shops only.
"If people know that the person walking into the shop might be from the Attorney General's Office, they're going to treat everybody better,' he said.
In this case I agree with the Attorney General as well as the industry representative. Good, honest shops don’t have problems with transparency as would be required in a program like this. However there needs to be a firm set of guidelines that the state needs to follow to prevent mis-communication resulting in a disastrous blemish on an innocent repairer’s reputation.
A well-publicized “mystery shopper” program coupled with sanctions on offenders could be the right combination of carrots and sticks to advance consumer protection.[Verde News]