Consumer Law

Repair Shop Settlement Puts Brakes on Business

"We've got your number!" When you drop your car off at the repair shop, do you wonder if you're being taken for a fool? Do you drop hints about your friend the mechanic, hoping you won't be scammed for repairs you don't really need?

The California attorney general's office recently reached a settlement with a former owner of a repair shop that shut him out of the industry in that state for good.

Midas Settlement - $1.8 Million

The California attorney general's office recently reached a settlement with a businessman from Modesto, California preventing him from ever owning or operating a car repair shop in California. The man owned 22 Midas franchises in the Central Valley and Bay Area of California.

The investigation began in the 1980's when the attorney general's office received complaints from people saying they were swindled by these shops. They told stories of "bait and switch" tactics: Low-price specials on brakes were advertised to lure customers in, but then customers were charged for having other unnecessary work done for additional money.

Originally, the lawsuit asked for $222 million in penalties, costs, and reimbursements. In the end, the case settled for $1.8 million, which covers damages, investigation costs, and attorney's fees.

Protecting Consumers from Unsavory Practices

The Midas settlement included a high price to the former owner. He's forbidden from ever applying for or holding any auto repair license in California. He's also prohibited from doing any business requiring an auto repair license in California. The owner never admitted any wrongdoing though, which often happens during a settlement case.

In 1989, a court order barred the owner's shops from doing unnecessary repairs, charging for work that wasn't done, or using scare tactics to persuade customers to buy parts and services. This new suit by the attorney general's office was brought after four years of investigations because they kept track of whether the owner was obeying the court order and found he wasn't.

The attorney general's office declared this recent settlement a victory for consumers. Midas International now operates the 22 franchise shops directly.

Attorney Generals Can Act for Consumers

A typical repair customer often feels at the mercy of the repair shop about which repairs really are needed, and what a fair price is. If major work is recommended, it might be worthwhile to get a second opinion.

You might be able to find out the reputation of the repair shop by checking online, or with your local attorney general's office. Many courts have online case information, so you could check to see if the repair shop has been sued for over-charging, unnecessary work, or other problems.

Other ways to protect yourself are:

  • Asking to see or for the old part to make sure a new part was put in
  • Checking that the shop is ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certified
  • Going to a dealer rather than one-stop auto repair place. Dealers are routinely audited to ensure they're not doing too many repairs for the same problem, selling too many unneeded parts, and more. They may often have special deals for good customers. Plus, they're scored by Customer Service Indexes to maintain certain dealer promotions

Most states have specific laws protecting those who have been cheated or scammed about vehicles, including "lemon laws" protect car buyers, and Consumer Fraud Acts, protect you from unfair and fraudulent practices.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I was overcharged by a Midas franchise in California. Can I get any money back?
  • The same thing happened to me in Wisconsin. What steps do I need to take to get my money back?
  • How can I tell if I'm being taken advantage of by my repair shop?
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