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High prices & poor repairs lead top service gripes

Consumer Reports' survey reveals car maintenance and repair satisfaction

Published: April 2012

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Prices that are too high and an inability to perform repairs properly are the main reasons that car owners become dissatisfied with auto repair shops. That’s the findings of recent subscriber surveys conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Other common reasons are that a shop took longer than expected to complete the work or owners had to bring the car back because the repair didn’t “hold up.”

Every year in our Annual Auto Survey, we ask car owners how satisfied they were with auto repairs performed by dealerships and independent shops in the previous 12 months. This year, we got responses on 168,000 vehicles. As in past years, most car owners prefer taking their vehicles to independent shops rather than dealerships for repair work. Those who prefer independents the most are owners of Chrysler, Dodge, Jaguar, Jeep, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo vehicles, who, as a group, tended to be less satisfied with dealership repairs than owners of most other brands.

Common complaints

For the first time, we also recontacted 5,400 of the respondents and asked about their specific repair gripes. Of that group, about three-quarters were either completely or very satisfied with their repair shop. But of the 27 percent who weren’t, 38 percent cited high prices as a reason. This is a more common complaint for dealerships (42 percent) than for independent shops (32 percent).

The second most-common complaint is even more troubling: Over a quarter of the unsatisfied group said their car’s problem wasn’t fixed properly. That criticism was reported at the same rate at dealers and independent shops.

Other complaints: Twenty-one percent of those respondents said it took longer than expected to complete the work, and 18 percent said they had to bring the car back because the repair did not “hold up.” Again, dealers and independents shared the blame for those complaints almost evenly. There was a slight difference between the two types of repair shops in owners who said they felt the staff had treated them poorly, with 8 percent citing dealerships and four percent citing independents.

Reasons for being less than 'very' or 'completely satisfied' with a repair %
Price was too high 38
Did not fix problem properly 28
Took longer than expected to complete the work 21
Had to bring car back because repair did not 'hold up' 18
Price was more than originally estimated 11
Car was not clean when I picked it up 8
Sold me unnecessary parts or service 7
Treated poorly by staff 6
Had to wait more than 30 minutes after being told car was ready for pickup 4
Did not honor warranty 4
Staff tried to take advantage of me because of my gender 3
Did not honor a coupon or advertised special 2
Other 21
Base: Those not highly satisfied with a repair in the last 12 months

Why people dismiss their mechanic

Sometimes, this dissatisfaction led owners to switch shops. Of the recontacted subscribers, almost a quarter revealed that in the last five years, they’d had a vehicle repaired at a shop they no longer use. Almost half of that group cited a dealership, a third said it was an independent shop, and a fifth cited a franchise chain similar to Midas or Sears.

The top reasons for switching shops were similar to those above. Half of the group said the shop didn’t fix the problem properly. About a third said the price was too high. Almost a quarter reported they had to bring the car back or that the shop sold them unnecessary parts or service. And one fifth said the staff treated them poorly, the shop took longer than expected to complete the work, or the price was more than originally estimated.

One other red flag for repair shops: 30 percent of female respondents who stopped using a shop said they felt that the staff tried to take advantage of them because of their sex.

Reasons for no longer using a repair shop %
Did not fix problem properly 50
Price was too high 34
Had to bring car back because repair did not 'hold up' 23
Sold me unnecessary parts or service 23
Treated poorly by staff 19
Took longer than expected to complete the work 19
Price was more than originally estimated 19
Staff tried to take advantage of me because of my gender 8
Car was not clean when I picked it up 7
Did not honor warranty 7
Had to wait more than 30 minutes after being told car was ready for pickup 6
Did not honor coupon or advertised special 2
Other 23

Tips for getting a repair performed right

  • Describe the problem fully. Give the shop as much information as possible. Write down the symptoms and when they occur. If possible, talk directly to the mechanic who will be working on your car.
  • Don’t offer a diagnosis. Avoid saying what you think is causing the problem. You may be on the hook for any repairs the shop makes at your suggestion, even if they don’t solve the problem.
  • Request a test drive. If the problem occurs only when the car is moving, ask the mechanic to accompany you on a test drive.
  • Ask for an estimate. And have them contact you for approval if the repair will cost more than the estimate.
  • Ask for evidence. If you’re not comfortable with the diagnosis, ask the shop to show you the problem parts. Worn brake pads or rusted exhaust pipes are easy to see. Don’t let the mechanic refuse your request by saying that his insurance company doesn’t allow customers into the work area.

ConsumerReports.org offers a car repair information service that can help drivers understand common problems, learn how components work, and receive a service estimate that reflects local prices. This special section for online subscribers includes a Car Repair Estimator and a Car Repair Encyclopedia, which can answer many common questions.

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