When Jiffy’s Not So Spiffy

What to do when your car needs maintenance

The strange noise coming from Richard White’s 1993 Audi led him to the Bloomfield, New Jersey, AAMCO. “They said they could do the work in a day. I ended up getting it a week later because they were searching for parts,” White says.

Several parts needed to be replaced including the clutch, ball bearing housing, tire rod, axle, boots, and a broken transmission mount. Originally quoted $700, White paid $1,560 for repairs. “Four days later the clutch would not come up off of the floor,” he adds. White had to lift the clutch manually with his foot in order to drive. He took the car back to AAMCO and it became worse.

“I’ve been totally inconvenienced. And have no idea how long it’s going to take to get the car back, but now they’re asking me for another $275 to fix the master cylinder. “Maybe if I had taken it to a dealer I would have been better off,” White says exasperated.

Boasting fast and economical service, franchised stations such as Jiffy Lube, Midas, and AAMCO chains have become household names. In 1999, AAMCO spent $25 million on advertising alone and presently enjoys 95% brand awareness.

Nevertheless, many of these automotive repair shops have come under fire by angry consumers. A laundry list of complaints can be found on Internet sites started by irate car owners (such as the “AAMCO Sucks” site at www.ripoff report.com) or at Consumer Affairs.com, an independent Web-based consumer news and resource center edited by a former deputy director for the Associated Press and a former assistant district attorney from New York City. Complaints include wrong parts, wrong information, being charged for new parts when rebuilt parts were used, and warranties that are not honored.

Even though White’s unfortunate experience mirrors that of many other dissatisfied AAMCO customers, AAMCO corporate representatives maintain the company’s preeminence. “I know that less than 1% of AAMCO customers have problems with the service,” says Michael Pekula, AAMCO director of consumer affairs. “Every AAMCO franchise is advised to keep the customer informed of what needs to be done to fix his or her car at all times. They are told to do everything in their power to address any customer service issues fairly,” he adds. The 706 independently owned and operated centers, however, are only as good as their owners.

While the AAMCO Transmissions Center in Pasadena, Texas had only two complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau in a 36-month period, the Santa Monica, California, AAMCO owner had been charged with 14 criminal counts including grand theft, conspiracy, and false advertising.

“That shop has since changed hands,” Pekula says. AAMCO also claims to send mystery shoppers to the franchises regularly to make certain the shops are following procedure.

The following advice given by the BBB and NADA may help keep your car out of repair shop hell:

  • The BBB can offer a company’s complaint history, what it has done to resolve complaints, and whether the company complies with the Bureau’s advertising standards.
  • Contact your local
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