A TV reporter.

john_gNovember 20, 2007

This is a letter I wrote to this TV station reporter. Here is a copy of here story in this link.


My,my.... Where do I start?

As you may have guessed your "story" has made it to a professional automotive technicians website. That's how I found out about it. I do appreciate you trying to return my call, but you'll have to call a little earlier. I just happened to come back to the shop to do some online studying, and saw that the answering machine had a message.

I don't have any "waiters" tomorrow, so call anytime between 8am and 2pm. After 2pm, if everything is done, I'm planning on taking off early for the Holiday,,, Bosses prerogative :)

Let me tell you a little about myself. I am an ASE certified master technician with over 30 years experience. I own my own shop in western Pa. I have no employee's. It's just me and the wife helps with the paper work. I teach auto technicians all across the eastern half of the country through the Carquest Technical Institute. I also am part of "Car Radio", a Pittsburgh talk show that has been on CBS affiliates KDKA AM1020, and 93.7fm the Zone, for the last three years. Sadly, The Zone changed it's format, and currently we are not on the air, but expect to move back to KDKA sometime in the next six months.

Rule #1 when trying to do an automotive sting story. We don't fix rigged cars for a living we fix broken cars.

If the roles were changed, and I rigged a car and you took it around to do your "story". What you would actually be able to prove isn't the competence or honesty of the shops you visit, it would be my ability to trick them.

For any study to work, there HAS TO BE a correct result. Case in point, if we played the game as you did on a reporter, and made up a situation on which he/she was to do a story how would you feel about it if we played around and edited the results to simply suit the story we wanted to tell? Which to be "news" would have to be that the person is a bad reporter.

The first problem with your "story" that I see is the editing of the dealer technician as he was talking about the wheel bearing issue. It appears he is saying there is no play in the bearings, and then it get's cut off as if to assert that play is the only measure of their serviceability. Were they or were they not noisy? Bearing noise on these style hubs is a sign that dirt has gotten past the seals. This can happen quite easily just by driving through a deep puddle. That is a bearing failure and they should be replaced when that happens. So lets set rule #2. In the automotive repair world, sometimes we can be perfect in our performance, and the uneducated consumer can still find fault. Worse yet, any failure to completely explain all of the details, or a miss-statement of any degree and we get to be called thieves, ect.

Rule #2, when doing a story about our world, you need to live up to the same standards that the consumers place on us. If any editing or reporting was done that colored any details in any fashion, then it's not the whole truth, and anything but the whole truth is a falsehood. I already have an opinion on how your story rates in regards to this rule, let me hear how you grade yourself, and your team. Had I of been "tested" by your team, I would have easily have found the disconnected connector. My next step would have been to ask how it got that way, anything other than the exact truth of the situation at that moment would be a direct lie. Now you may think it's cute to try and report like this, but as far as I am concerned it shows exactly how much you should be trusted to be fair.

You would probably argue that divulging the story at that point would ruin it. That in fact would only be possible if it was a real story to begin with. Here's why, a little role playing is in order.

You are the technician, and I am the customer with my misfiring Explorer. You find the disconnected injector, and don't see anything else wrong. Charged or not (Not is wrong too but let's leave that for another paragraph) I leave with my Explorer. Two weeks later I come back to you and your shop. The check engine light is back on, the engine is again misfiring. I was just here in the last two weeks and now "it's doing the same thing". You look under the hood and all of the injectors are plugged in, yet the engine is misfiring. As far as I am concerned YOU messed up, and I want if fixed for free. This time it does need plugs and wires. "If you knew what you were doing you would have found it the first time!" Don't fix it for free, and I'll be reporting this to the BBB.

What I did here is let the other shoe drop. The technician simply cannot be wrong both ways, yet stories like yours don't allow for the real world. In your story no matter what the tech or shop did they were wrong. If you truly knew how an automotive shop runs and how a technician must perform, combined with how many possible things can go wrong with any simple service then you would have realized that your "sting" does not have any one correct answer. That's why it's so easy to make all of the answers that you got look wrong!

Oh, but not the dealer tech, right?

Dealerships FYI lead the charge on up-selling preventive maintenance services. When it get's overdone we call it "wallet flushing". I've written a number of articles about using only time or mileage to suggest service intervals. I have stated it's just a matter of time before someone ends up staring at a camera because they were simply doing what some business management training person told them to do. The service intervals are in fact listed by the manufacturer, and strange as it seems you will see two distinct camps. One camp is following the guides and will recommend change all the fluids when specified. Dealerships are largely in that group. The other group try and only recommend services when the condition of the fluid dictates. Logic dictates that while neither is 100% correct, neither is 100% wrong either. But how does that stack up to what you attempted to report?

I can't help but compare your "story" to one that was in the Wall Street Journal a couple years ago. The author was trying to advise the readers about how to find a good mechanic. The author did not even own a car. I plan on posting a copy of this letter on a website that I monitor and answer automotive questions. I'll include a link to your video so that the other people that frequent the site can actually see what I am referring too. Feel free to sign into the website and debate it there as well if you like. It's an open forum. Keep in mind that I'm not defending any individual shop your spy visited. I also cannot defend you and your assumed right to produce video garbage. The old we are holding the camera, so we are the only ones that know what we are talking about routine almost makes me sick to think I'm associated with CBS. Then again, I suppose that's part of why they need me. To speak out about things like this.

You'll find the forum here.

But unlike what you did to the shops, I won't edit any response of yours or anyone elses to suit my needs.

Here is a link that might be useful: News, well almost

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The closest thing I have seen to a response is this line on the TV stations page.

"Auto mechanics sure do get testy when you call them out."

Do you know whats worse? Getting called out and having your nose too high in the air to answer direct, fair questions. I have direct information from the shop that advised servicing the hub bearings because of the noise. The TV station has another letter directly from the shop. I'll make a public offer with this letter, and again it will be on the afor mentioned website. I will come to Cleveland on my own expense, and drive this vehicle and inspect these hub bearings, as well as any other services that were recommended as a third party. I also wish to see all available raw footage, unedited. We need to do this on a Sunday, to limit the interruption to my shop schedule, as well as my teaching schedule. I am quite sure that I can find several shops in the area that would be willing to provide us with a service bay.

So are you game? Are you willing to put your "story" on the line in front of a third party, especially when this person is comfortable in front of a camera, or live mike?

I make this reserve. NO EDITING can take place without my approval. Final editing is also totally my call. The recap can only be aired with my written approval after my viewing, and only with the exact content that I authorize.

Are you game? Will your story hold up, or are there more holes in it than you'd really like the viewers to see?

BTW, is it true that the dealership where the technician works advertises heavily on your station? Could there be a conflict of interest occuring if that is the case?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 7:49AM
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Danielle e-mailed me. She is forwarding my request to her managers.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 8:39AM
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Hello Danielle.
It's been several days now, I kind of expected to have heard something from you by now.
Points to ponder......

How would your story look today if we checked today and found that since the time your "story" aired services have been performed on the car such as replacing the transmission pan gasket, and maybe even the front hub bearings have been replaced, exactly as was recommended by the shops?

How about a little more role playing. You are yourself, I am a customer that bought that car.
Take the transmission pan gasket issue. I see that it is wet and say that it is leaking. The dealership say's that it is OK, but I want it replaced so I call you.

What would you do?

Take another angle same problem.
You are the owner of the car. "I" am the shop and I fail to mention the gasket is seeping/leaking. You have a warranty policy on the car for major repairs, but of course they won't pay for a gasket replacement, but that's a totally different issue. Anyway, you are using your car, and the tranny fluid starts leaking worse and eventually you suffer an otherwise preventable breakdown. Now the warranty company sends out an investigator and he/she takes photos of the underside of the car and they deny the claim because they say the tranny was leaking and therefore neglected and operated low on fluid. Your task this time is to make the case that this is "MY" fault because I didn't tell you what I saw. Pretty easy to do isn't it? Except your TV "story" makes me wrong IF I tell you, and for what it's worth history proves I'm wrong if I don't. Now do you see the problem with how you reported? In reality, I cannot be wrong both ways one of them has to be right, but you don't take into account real world obligations. They don't fit the story that you wanted to tell.

BTW I have several other people from around the country interested in possibly coming and reviewing all of the material with me.

    Bookmark   November 27, 2007 at 9:23AM
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I enjoy watching mechanic sting operations since I used to work in that industry and witnessed a lot of corruption. Auto sales and service rank very low in overall customer trust. I still own a 4 bay auto service garage that I lease out.

The best sting operations are the ones where they actually pay for the work to be performed. While estimates are given for unnecessary repairs and service, you won't see mechanics charging for parts never replaced or services never performed unless you actually have the work completed. Once work has begun, some mechanics will also pad the bill with extras not listed in the estimate. A good corrupt mechanic is also a good judge of customer's lack of knowledge and their willingness to part with a buck. If they spot a sucker, some will push the envelope of unnecessary repairs or use scare tactics to relieve customers of their money.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2007 at 12:09PM
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"Auto sales and service rank very low in overall customer trust."

Really? That's actually not the case nationally according to the BBB. There are quite a number of occupations that score much worse than ours. I'll challange anyone to take a hard look at what they do for a living, and then across the board imagine only a 2.4% occurance of an issue that requires the work to be done over. Granted less experienced and trained techs have a higher ratio of comebacks than the better trained, and seasoned technicians, so if your seeing a lot of cars have to go back it's most likely a training/experience problem, not one measured in honesty or lack thereof. That's the problem with most of these "sting" operations. The people attempting to do the story themselves don't have the knowledge and skill required to properlly access what the actual outcome of their own "study" was.

"I used to work in that industry and witnessed a lot of corruption. .... I still own a 4 bay auto service garage that I lease out."

I never said there aren't things that are wrong, I am talking about going about fixing them the right way, not the trash this reporter put out there. Why did you get out of this business? With the kind of money that you must of had (or have) that you can own a building like that you had a leg up on many that try to run a shop, anyone can fix cars, right?

Would you have fallen victim to this reporter if they had shown up at the shop you were working at? Remember, or if you need to go look at the video's as linked too. The transmission pan gasket is "not sealing". The wetness is indeed evidence of a leak, the dealer tech admits that it is leaking with his "re-check". "BUT", they still attack the tech and the shop for discovering the leak and treat it as if observing it was wrong. Never mind the fact that missing it is wrong for quite a number of reasons. One thing overall stands out and needs to be recognized, I called them, and her out on this. They are NOT willing to have me re-evaluate their story, even if it cannot be aired which means they don't have to apologize to anyone if it is found, and I'm willing to bet lunch on this that repairs have since been performed to the car after the "sting" that would exhonerate a number of the shops from the "alledged attrocities".

Your last paragraph. If these are things you "witnessed" in places where you worked, I only would have needed to see something like that one time, and I would have walked out. It is my hope that places that run like that fail, and yesterday isn't soon enough. Unfortunately IMO the places that do things like that, are where we see the cheapest labor rates, and "discount" prices on telephone quotes.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 9:06AM
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"Why did you get out of this business? With the kind of money that you must of had (or have) that you can own a building like that you had a leg up on many that try to run a shop, anyone can fix cars, right?"

It was more than myself, my wife and our help could manage. I was buying and developing land, building spec homes and half owner of a heating fuels, equipment sales service and installation business. Good mechanics were hard to find, and harder to keep. Since overhead was high, employee turnover was high and the running the garage consumed too much of our time, the business became more of a liability than an asset. When my manager and two mechanics wanted substantially more money, I called it quits and decided it was easier to lease out the business to an outfit that sold used cars. There was more money in real estate, fuel sales, heating sales, service and installations, so I put my money and efforts in those businesses.

"Would you have fallen victim to this reporter if they had shown up at the shop you were working at?"

Myself, my manager or mechanics would have likely found the disconnected injector in minutes. With newer low mileage vehicles we would generally check for recalls, TSBs or call the dealership to see if anything is covered under warranty as well. I sent my very last customer to the Honda dealership since they didn't realize their car was covered under an extended emissions warranty.

The various garages in the video footage stated the pre-certified 2006 vehicle with 38,000 miles needed a catalytic converter, radiator hose, struts, brake rotors, front end work, wheel bearings, tune-up, spark plugs, spark plug wires, fuel rail cleaning, new fuel injector, fuel injector wiring, wheel bearings, transmission gasket. I might have missed a few things.

"Unfortunately IMO the places that do things like that, are where we see the cheapest labor rates, and "discount" prices on telephone quotes."

Very few shops have cheap rates these days, but some pull the ole' bait and switch. There are few loss leaders in the auto service business, so free inspections and discount services are used to get customers vehicles into the shop or on the lift where the real sales are made.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2007 at 3:59PM
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You touched quite nicely on several of the biggest problems we face today in the auto service industry.

"There are few loss leaders in the auto service business"

I've always considered a "loss leader" as something used by a "LOST LEADER" in this field.

"I was buying and developing land, building spec homes and half owner of a heating fuels, equipment sales service and installation business."

All evidence of good business skills.

"Good mechanics were hard to find, and harder to keep."

Keep that thought and combine it with this one.

"When my manager and two mechanics wanted substantially more money"

Those two lines belong together, because one explains the other.

" Since overhead was high, employee turnover was high and the running the garage consumed too much of our time, the business became more of a liability than an asset."

Align that one with this one

"It was more than myself, my wife and our help could manage."

We talk a lot inside of the industry about the percieved techncian shortage. Many argue that the problem isn't a shortage of bodies, but too many shops willing to give jobs to people who are not fully trained.

How long ago did you quit the shop?
As far as the Honda and the extended warranty, are you referring to the settlement Honda reached with the EPA to perform "tune-up" style repairs on certain models through 150,000 miles? The settlement was essentially because they were supposed to support missfire monitoring and failed to incorporate it.

You should see what overhead is like today with the only way to really be effective on any particualar make vehicle is to have the O.E. scanner for that vehicle. At 5-10K per manufacturer, and over a grand a year for updates, that alone is a daunting investment, with no end in sight, only more expense.

California is pushing for extended warranties, 10 yr 150,000 mile on everything. That would just about sink the aftermarket, good shops and bad ones alike.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2007 at 7:44AM
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I have worked in the hvac field for the last 55 years and am semi retired. Stings are routinely conducted in this industry by consumer advocates and zealous tv reporters. My shop has been checked several time. We don,t mind we only do honest work and use comptent techs. As a result we have never had a problem. sad to say there are hustlers and down right dishonest shops in every field, these give the rest of the industry a bad name, many time incomptence is mis judged as dishonesty. I have been a member of our area hvac review board for many years. We try to resolve disputes between dealers and dissatisfied customers. I must say in about 75% of the cases the cumstomer has legitmate complaint, the tech either was repairing a defect by simply replacing parts until he hit the trouble, or was being downright dishonest. In the other cases the complaint was completely unjustified and the consumer was being completly unreasonable. I am glad to be almost out of the industry, I have great empathy for anyone operating any type repair business. things have grown so complicated as the result of electronic and mechanical matchups, that few consumers realize the investment required to operate and maintain a proper repair facility. The products today require specialized test equipment, this costs money. Techs must be constantlt trained on new developments. Gone are the old setups where diagnosis could be made with a voltohmmeter and a test light.Many of the products require special analyizers and such, these all cost money and if a buisness is to remain operating, higher rates must be charged. I like to dabble with cars as a hobby, so I know the same is also true in this field. Many are getting out because of the contant changes and need for costly equipment a good friend, Marcel who used to ocassionally post here, told me the other day he was glad to be retired, he sold his shop and still drops around once in awhile. He says the required money outlay and time needed for training to stay abreast is unbeievable. He says in a few years finding a repair facility dealer or otherwise will be a problem. He has the utmost respect for John G. Just my two cents worth, hats off to all you honest techs out there.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 12:04PM
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There are no doubt honest shops and then dishonest ones. I have never been taken by a dishonest shop. I use a local independent shop for things that are too involved for me to handle on my own. They have never let me down. I believe this is due to the philosophy of the owner/head mechanic, he is a good guy. As far as tabloid TV reporting goes, they have little insentive to be accountable unless someone holds their feet to the fire. They are in it for the quick unchallenged victory, then to move on. I think you are doing a good thing john g by attempting to hold them accountable.

To Markjames, I get the feeling you were more of a manager, and not capable of actually performing the work (ie mechanic) you used to oversee. Is there any truth to that?

    Bookmark   December 23, 2007 at 11:21PM
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I recently sent the reporter a final e-mail. While I did not post it, nor the one prior to that here one thing was very clear. They had no interest in a "fair fight", and they didn't want me to have access to the vehicle, nor to their recordings on a fact finding mission. I feel I easily would have turned up solid proof that could have landed them in court, and they wanted no parts of that. In my closing letter to the reporter I stressed that what they did was the journalistic equivalent of rape. These shop owners/mechanics have no experience in front of a camera and or microphone, and the TV station only wanted to flex their power over them. Sadly without hard evidence, the kind that I would have very likely have documented for the shops that have been unfairly hurt by this, the shops have little legal recourse because they lack the proof, or should I say the physical evidence. In a cute little twist however I did come up with one idea, but do not know if any of them acted on it. The reporter started her story with a visit to the BBB to try and find "bad" shops. I suggested that the shops file complaints against the dealership, and the TV station with the BBB. Short of sueing the station and the dealership, and the dealer technician it's the only way they could have any recourse that I could think of.

The final thought I gave the reporter is many shop owners simply allow these kinds of things to go away and be forgotten on their own. One used the phrase, "It's like wrestling a pig, you both get covered with s#$^ but the pig enjoy's it". So to close with the reporter I told her that after this her story and she get's exactly what they do deserve, to be forgotten. I am about improving things which is why I was willing to get involved. Nothing in her story was about improving anything, so that makes it essentially worthless and forgetting her and it are the right way to go.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2007 at 10:21AM
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"To Markjames, I get the feeling you were more of a manager, and not capable of actually performing the work (ie mechanic) you used to oversee. Is there any truth to that?"

No, you would be wrong.

I've rarely asked any employee to do a job that I haven't done many times or couldn't and wouldn't do myself. If we had a complex job that employees were uncomfortable with, or a job that required machine shop work or custom fabrication, I'd either turn down the job, do the job myself or sub out the work to my uncle's shop. My business and investment strategy is simple, I only run businesses and invest most of my money in things I fully understand. If I didn't fully understand my businesses, I'd have no way of knowing if my employees were qualified, doing a proper job or if their overall performance level was acceptable. For example, if I didn't know how long a custom job should take, I'd have no idea how to bid the job, or no idea if my employees were milking it. Since pay, incentives and bonuses in the skilled trades are based on performance, I also have to know how much to pay individual employees based on their knowledge, skill, speed level and quality of their work. This would be nearly impossible to do without knowing the business inside out.

    Bookmark   December 24, 2007 at 10:42AM
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