You Can't Trust Canadian Car-Repair Shops, Either

April 14, 2011

If you own an auto repair facility in Canada, a visit from the Automobile Protection Association's (APA) mystery shopper can make for a very bad day. The APA has been teaming up with CTV and visiting repair shops recently to "test the integrity of the repair system."

The APA checked out a 2006 Chevy Malibu from stem to stern, including the brakes, where they checked for proper brake spring connections and the depth of the remaining brake shoe material. Fluids were changed and the lights were checked.

Once they were satisfied with the integrity of the vehicle, they bugged it by loosening a battery cable. The Malibu was equipped with a hidden camera under its hood, and handed over to a mystery shopper for presentation to various repair shops with instructions to report an intermittent starting problem and to request an inspection. The shopper had a hidden camera of her own.

The testing was done in Toronto and Calgary where a total of 31 shops were visited. In Toronto, 12 shops looked at the Malibu; only one shop earned a passing grade from the APA, and it charged $40.44. Three shops didn't charge the shopper anything, but two of those didn't identify the problem, either. At the third shop it was determined that the service writer was aware of the mystery vehicle since it showed up in its database as having visited another shop within the franchise.

One shop handed over a bill to the mystery shopper for $2,427 for the replacement of four struts, spark plugs and a starter as well as other items. All the replaced parts were checked by the APA and judged not to need replacement except for an air filter costing $22. The transaction set a record for the APA for the most ever paid during a repair investigation.      

In Calgary, a 2004 Honda CR-V was also shopped to 19 facilities. The charges for checking out and repairing problems they deemed in need of repair ranged from $30 to $507.48. Of the 19 shops, the APA gave only 7 shops a passing grade.

The point made repeatedly by the on-camera APA official is that you can't blindly believe the experts. What is evident is that the language used by some of the repair shop personnel is evasive as the shopper probes the urgency of the repair. These salesmen leverage their position of power to upsell the customer, but are sure to secure the permission to pile on repairs in the end.

Resistance to high-pressure sales tactics and an awareness of an escalating repair bill may be the takeaways from this disturbing investigation.

[CTV News, APA
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