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The Abrasive Edge

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The Abrasive Edge

Florida Automotive Journal
December 1970

The Consumer Protection Division of Metropolitan Dade County government reports more than a thousand complaints in file, recorded against those who repair automobiles.  That's more than registered against TV repairmen, upholsterers or sewing machine vendors.  This is the organization that achieved the first conviction in Federal Court under the truth in lending law.  Though over worked and understaffed, this unit of government has proven quite effective.

We had an opportunity to look at some of these complaints that have been registered against some of the biggest as well as small shops.  One thread that is obviously woven into every misunderstanding that created a complaint, is a failure of the garage to set forth in understandable terms to the customer, WHAT HE INTENDS TO DO, FOR HOW MUCH!

One typical complaint from a stack more than a foot high was one where a customer thought that $20.00 was a fair price for cleaning out a radiator, but was charged $38.50.  When the garage answered the complaint, they talked about replacing a condensor, recharging an air conditioner, repair to a compressor and a minor amount for removal and replacement of the radiator . . . a clear case of the Garage and Customer not understanding what the other was trying to do.  The customer agreed that whatever was wrong with the car had been corrected, just "those thieves over charged him $18.00."  Here the garage was dead wrong in not fully informing the customer what should be done, then what had been done.

There were several complaints concerning problems created after parts had been replaced; then a dispute would arise concerning other parts not worked on.  One case went to small claims court where a customer refused to buy a new air filter but was unhappy with a carburetor overhaul.  In more than 90% of the cases we reviewed, the problem seemed to emerge from service writers failing to set forth in writing what was wrong and the anticipated cost.  Further, a complete failure to notify customer in writing that other things may be wrong with the car, not covered by this one repair order.  We have not had time to fully review the proposed Dade County Ordinance requiring a written estimate.  We have printed a copy of this ordinance for those to study who may be affected by this legislation.  However, Dade County is not the only area of Florida plagued by customer complaints against our industry.  Those outside of Dade should learn from Dade's experience . . . WRITE IT DOWN FOR THE CUSTOMER . . . EXPLAIN IT TO THE CUSTOMER ON BOTH MECHANICAL ANALYSIS AND FINANCIAL DIAGNOSIS!!

We had a dead battery on a leased car.  We were told to go to Douglas and Bird for a replacement.  On arriving at the address given, there was no one to greet us.  After seeking out the manager, we were told to wait 45 minutes for receipt of a purchase order number.  We Andes why we would have to wait 45 minutes . . . "Well, they don't open til 9 . . ."  I asked to be allowed to use the phone, called the leasing company and got the number.

"Well, you'll have to wait till the boys get back from coffee . . ."

At the appointed time a service man came out to install the battery.  He told me that one of the cable terminals might not give too good a connection because a part of it was broken in removing the old battery.  I requested a new cable.  "Well, you'll have to wait about two hours for one to come over from the parts house." We couldn't wait.  The following day, the battery gave trouble.  On investigation, the battery was found to be too small for the car . . . that's the reason it shifted against the fan and made all that noise.  In securing the right battery from a competitor, 5.63 oz. of corosion was removed from the battery well of the car . . . and the competitor had the cable terminal in stock, too.  So if you hear a guy near Bird and Douglas say that competition is getting tougher, AGREE WITH HIM!

We listened to a catchy tune about trusting your car to the man who wears the company emblem . . . so we did.  After being told by two stations of this company that they would not repair flat tires, we began to wonder who wrote the radio jingle or if the local service stations listen to the radio.  Later, after spending $19.00 on the greasy rack, we asked if the transmission was checked.  "Yes, OK."  The next day we asked for the transmission to be checked . . . "Everything OK."  A week later, "Please check my transmission," . . . "Everything OK."

We went through this four times and finally, at a competitive station we were told the dip stick could not reach the fluid.  On adding three quarts of transmission fluid (on which the dealer made a profit) the car's performance is much better.  We thought that after the tire episode and the little transmission affair that we would protest by writing the company and telling them were not going to pay this month's bill till someone reassured us we could trust our car to the man who wears the company emblem.  When they called on the WATS line from Houston, we told the collector the same tale of woe.  We've now talked to their attorney . . . not about their service . . . about paying the bill.  We've had their full treatment and we're still unhappy that we trusted our car to the man . . . .

As a service to the automotive industry, we have initiated a SERVICE AWARD program in which we will select a station each month for recognition of their outstanding service to the public and as a representative of the industry that services the automobile.  A sure sign of our success in this industry will be the day that the "man wearing the company emblem" wins this award.

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