By on July 28, 2011

Auto dealers are often said to be the face of the industry… and if that’s the case, the Consumer Federation of America may have shed some insight into why so many Americans opposed a bailout of the industry. In a survey of 31 state, county and municipal consumer protection agencies from 18 states in 2010 [PDF here], the CFA found that auto dealers, suppliers and service garages were the number one source of consumer complaints for problems such as

Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes

As if car dealers didn’t have reputation problems already…

According to the report,

Auto repair problems were the fastest growing complaints at the California Department of Consumer Affairs. Its Bureau of Auto Repair shut down five Purrfect Auto Service shops after finding evidence of repeated fraud. In addition to information from complaints, the consumer agency obtained declarations from several former employees about the company’s practices and used undercover vehicles to gather evidence. Among other violations, the company allegedly charged for parts and services that were not needed, and that in some cases were not provided.

Other auto-related issues include a spike of complaints in Massachusetts about Toyota Tundra frame rust, “car buying companies,” unexpected towings, car title loans, online car sale fraud and defective tire sales. Here are a few anecdotes:

When a Virginia woman had her car towed to a repair shop because it was vibrating violently, she was informed that it was probably the transmission. She agreed to pay $3,000 for the work, and two weeks later the car was ready. But when she drove it from the shop, it shook worse than before. She brought it back, and after keeping the car for a month, the shop said that it could not find the problem and suggested that one way to stop the vibration would be to remove some of the bolts that attach the engine to the frame. But another shop that the woman consulted advised her that removing the bolts could allow the engine to fall off. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services tried but failed to convince the first shop to take the car back for further repairs or return the woman’s money. Now she is looking into other options such as small claims court – and a new mechanic. 
A Massachusetts woman placed a $1,000 deposit on a used car, but when she returned to complete the purchase, the dealer talked her into buying a different car on condition that a problem with the brakes would be repaired. But when she took the car through the required safety inspection it failed because of the brakes and an exhaust problem. Apparently the mechanic at the dealership had removed a fuse so that the brake warning light would not come on rather than actually repairing the brakes. After the Consumer Assistance Office – Metro West got involved the car was repaired correctly. 

The moral of the story: even those in the most basic customer service positions need to understand that their behavior reflects not just on them and their business, but on the larger auto industry as well. And no matter how much things improve on the OEM side, if the servie isn’t there, the entire industry continues to suffer from a bad reputation.

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15 Comments on “Auto Dealers and Mechanics Top Consumer Concerns Of 2010...”

  • avatar

    Would people buy more new cars if the experience weren’t so uniformly unpleasant? Maybe, but so long as car dealers remain so adept at manipulating state government, the process isn’t going to change.

  • avatar

    I so wish i could have bought my Acura online and just picked it up somewhere. I would have paid full price to get what I wanted, when wanted it, without the headaches.

  • avatar

    In a recent Consumer Reports poll, respondents were most satisfied with independent shops for their automotive repairs. It strikes me that a huge opportunity exists for dealers to raise the overall level of satisfaction if they really wanted to. Stop up-selling services and maintenance items that aren’t in the manufacturer’s recommended interval list. Stop gouging people on parts. Stop refusing to work with customers on warranty claims.

    So many people leave dealership repair centers the minute their cars are out of warranty. When they find that an independent charges almost half as much for routine stuff than a dealer does, is there any wonder why people resent the entire process?

    • 0 avatar

      +1 But it won’t change because dealers feel they have to soak everyone who comes through the door – can’t leave any money on the table. Of course, everyone leaves the dealer as soon as the warranty has expired, thus leaving money on the table.

    • 0 avatar

      There are still a lot of people who go to stealerships, though. Like busy female execs, for one.

  • avatar

    I’ve never had a positive experience with the service department of a dealership. The last time I came in for two recalls and a warranteed repair they denied the warrantee (unscrewing an antenna to go through a carwash is “abuse”) and tried to make me replace two parts I didn’t need to in the process. One recall they managed to perform in twice the time they told me it would take. The second they realized they had to special order a bolt and I got to come back a week later and take another two hours off of work.

    Doing something as basic as checking inventories before scheduling a service is the sort of thing I expect as a basic level of professionalism. I get the impression they don’t prioritize warranteed repairs and recall repairs because the customer isn’t paying- but it’s the endless bad experiences with those repairs that means I never come back when they’re done.

  • avatar

    Indeed. Last time I took my Porsche into the dealer (Stevinson Imports, Denver) for an oil change and a new tail-light assembly (thanks to a discount coupon in the mail I should have ignored) the following occured:

    The work took two hours (because I had the audacity to come during lunchtime); the oil level was a quart low after refilling; the tail-light assembly fell out on the drive back.

    This is all relatively minor stuff in the great scheme of life, but it speaks to incredible incompotence and lack of professionalism.

    Independent garages are the only way to go… its been proven to me over and over again.

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    hope you got Steve Lang’s permission for using his sales manager’s photo in this article. However, tell him to mark that Panther(Diplomat?, Cutlass?) sold for $495, delivery details to be arranged later.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      That’s not me. I don’t have that much hair.

      • 0 avatar
        dvp cars

        sorry, my mistake, but he is wearing the Lang Motors compulsory lot uniform (very spiffy, by the way). Do you allow your staff to wear them home?….
        Where’s MY Diplomat? Hope you’re not going to try and “bump” me, or worse yet,subject me to the old bait and switch routine (although I kind of like that Custom Cruiser wagon in the background. Clever the way you’ve masked it’s lack of the all-important imitation woodgrain panelling, but I’m still a player if the price is right).

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    People think that luxury dealers hire only the best techs around, BS I know of a slacker of a kid who works as the oil change guy at a local MB dealer and I would not trust him to do my 98 Corolla, yet he’s doing these expensive cars and SUV’s whose owners are paying a premium thinking they’re getting an excellent oil change.

    • 0 avatar

      The way I see it, with the average dealership with anything from 6 to perhaps 20 technicians it comes down to luck of the draw. Some of them are extremely competent AND care, some are competent but DON’T care, some care but are NOT competent and some make you wonder how they even get TO work each day without hurting themselves.

      For a few years I had a good relationship with the shop foreman at a Chrysler dealership and he made sure only one of two mechanics worked on my van because they were the only ones he really trusted.

      Ergo, I never had a problem there until he left then it was business as usual.

  • avatar

    My experience with any car, even a Lexus, is to avoid the dealer if possible. The techs at a Lex dealer are the same ones that were working at a quick oil change place or a Suzuki dealer.

    Your repairs will vary widely.

  • avatar

    I’ve heard all of the horror stories about dealer service, also.

    However, my own experiences have been quite the opposite.

    Erhardt BMW has provided excellent service to me with my BMW 335i, at reasonable, for BMW, cost. I’ve shopped at other well respected independant BMW shops, and their was little or no difference in prices. Plus, they have gone the extra mile for me in a persistant warranty problem with the fuel system. Actually 2 problems intertwined.

    My wife’s Ford has also had excellent service at Palmer Ford, where we bought it. Again, excellent service at competitive prices. Not that the Ford has needed much service. 1 real repair in 85,000 miles isn’t bad. Unfortunately the dealer went out of business. Fortunately, the service department took over the facility and continues to provide service. I guess that makes them an independant shop, now.

    Your experiences may vary.


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