Undercover investigations over the years have shown that auto repair shops can sometimes be less than honest about the services they provide and the services that consumers actually need. A new class action lawsuit says that this old trope is still true today, and a popular chain store called Big O Tires has been ripping off consumers with their so-called “free inspections.” Ring of Fire’s Farron Cousins discusses this with Scott Hardy from Top Class Actions.

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*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Farron Cousins: For quite some time now in the United States, there’s been this trope of the deceitful auto mechanic, you know, going in there and either doing work that’s not necessary or lying to the customer about work that was actually performed. Now over the years, that trope is kinda died off. But according to a new class action lawsuit, those shady practices among auto mechanics in certain areas are still going on today. Joining me now to explain what’s happening is Scott Hardy from top class actions. Scott, I remember being a kid, very young, but I was watching 60 minutes because it’s I guess what kids do, and it was this massive undercover sting operation of auto mechanics. And they uncovered that there was just astronomical numbers of them in the United States that we’re lying about the work they were doing and upcharging the customers for it. Now, I had thought that those days were gone. You know, we had uncovered it, we exposed it, we put to rest most of it, but Big O Tires a massive, you know, repair chain throughout the United States. It appears that they’re still doing this same kind of shady mechanic work, aren’t they?

Scott Hardy: Yeah. It’s interesting that this lawsuit came out because you know, we’ve got a couple of Big O Tires near my house here in Phoenix, Arizona and I use them to repair some of my vehicles in the past. I never expected or suspected there might be any kind of issues, but the class action lawsuit against Big O Tires alleges that the plaintiff for this class action when are there Big O Tires just to get a tire fixed. And as they’re getting their tire fixed, they noticed that the hood was up on their vehicle and they said, hey, what are you doing to my car? You’re fixing my tire. You’re not trying to go ahead and fix my engine. And they said, oh no, don’t worry. This is just our very free. It’s complimentary our inspection to make sure your car is just peachy. And unfortunately as the guy got his tire fixed, cruised out of there, he started having a problem very quickly. Car wouldn’t start. Went to the dealer and the dealer said, oh yeah, there’s a air hose that was disconnected, making your car not start. And that was right near the air filter, we’re magically, the guys who’d done the inspection said, oh, you need a new air filter after fixing his bad tire.

So he said, hey, I wonder what kind of things are happening out there? Is Big O Tires truly at fault? Are they actually trying to do these inspections and early prospecting to find problems? Are they possibly manufacturing problems of their own creation? And that’s what this class action digs into. It just like you remember seeing those undercover reports as a kid and thinking that for the most part that’s not happening anymore. But based on this class action we’re seeing that that might actually not be the case. And that’s, that’s scary.

Farron Cousins: And you know, there’s been reports recently that the average American could not afford an emergency bill of $400 or $500, whether it’s for health care or in a lot of cases, something like automotive repair. So when these, you know, companies, whatever chain it may be, Big O Tires I know is named in the suit here, but when they come out and tell somebody, hey, uh, I know you came in for a tire, but look, you need this piece, you need this piece, you need that piece. And suddenly it turns into a multi, you know, $400 or $500 repair. Most people cannot afford that, but they’ll put it on a credit card. They’ll take out a chain store credit card, you know, often is the case here. So the repair shop gets to make money selling their own little credit card. Selling you services that you may not need, because nobody wants to hear that their car could possibly break down two miles down the road after they leave the auto repair shop. So we get this sense of fear and buy into this. I mean, you know, most of us do not know everything about our vehicles. We don’t know how to fix an engine ourselves. So we trust these people. And that’s what’s at the heart of this. The betrayal of the public’s trust. They are scamming us. They are ripping us off and it’s not all of them by any means, but when we see stories like this come out, it really makes us question what we’re being told at any mechanic across the country.

Scott Hardy: Right. It’s, it’s scary and I remember my dad when I was a kid, we had our own mechanic growing up and that was our trusted mechanic. Anything happened to my car when I was 16, 17 years old went to our mechanic because we trusted the guy. And nowadays the days of an individual mechanic that is just down the street are gone. You know, you can’t just go ahead and fix your car. You can’t go out and tinker on your car anymore. It’s all computerized. If there’s a problem with your car not starting, the first thing and mechanics going to do is plug into the computer and see what’s going on and the average joe is not going to be able to do that. The other thing that was pretty scary about the Big O Tires situation, as you mentioned, they’re a huge corporation. There are a lot of franchises out there, I know there are a lot of honest franchisors out there that are just doing their best to help the customer, but California Big O Tires just paid out a settlement where you know, they always go ahead and push road hazard protection whenever you buy tires.

And it turns out that getting your tires fixed might be complimentary based on the set of tires that you have and so a lot of people were buying road hazard protection, fire protection insurance when in fact they didn’t actually need it and so even if they didn’t need it, they were still being sold it, and we’re seeing people getting paid from that settlement from Big O Tires for buying something they didn’t need. And as you mentioned, they shouldn’t have to go ahead and go in there for a simple tire repair. Be told there’s a mechanical issue. Get a thousand dollar line of credit to pay for it. Since they can’t afford it and have Big O Tires make money that way as well. It’s. It’s really disheartening, but the average person has no choice but to trust their mechanic and hope that what they’re doing is being honest and going to fix them without gouging them for things they don’t need.

Farron Cousins: Well, and you know, part of the reason a lot of these big chain stores have become so popular is because a lot of people assume that if I’m going to this place, if I’m going to this, this chain outlet, this is a big corporation. They have accountability. They have a headquarters. They’re going to do me right. Whereas this guy who still owns the auto shop down the street, I don’t know so much. There is nobody looking over his shoulder is the thing people think, but it’s not always the case. You know, you’re not always better off going to the chain store to the people who advertise, you know, courtesy check for your vehicle, you know, is your check engine light on, pull in. We’ll check it for free for you and tell you everything that’s wrong with your vehicle. It seems like a scam because a lot of times it is a scam. They want to tell you every little problem that you have with your car. You know your alternator. It’s only running about 80 percent. Do you really want to be doing 90 miles on the highway when your electrical system shuts off that that, hey, that’s your choice. You don’t have to fix it. These are things that I am not kidding. I have been told at these chain auto repair shops. They use the fear. They are salespeople. They know how to manipulate you and again, I want to hammer this. They’re not all bad. Most of them are not, but you do have those bad apples who make it seem like all of them are just as bad.

Scott Hardy: Exactly. You’re going to have the outliers that are just trying to make an extra buck off you. Well, you know, if you go across any mechanic shop and there’s a whole bunch of cars there, that could actually be a good sign because people know that they’re honest and doing good work. The opposite problem is if you go somewhere to a shop and they’re empty and they’re not doing anything, well, guess we need some work and you’re the guy who’s going to pull in there and offer that amount of work from them to do and as you mentioned, you don’t want to get pitched a lot of things that don’t actually need to be done right now or they’re not repairs that are required under your user’s manual for your car. And that’s something you should actually check out. Everybody’s got a user’s manual for their car. Take a look at the actual maintenance, take a look and see what’s required and when. Because you know, I just found out from my car, I don’t need an oil change every 15,000 miles. Gone are the days when you need to get your oil changed every 3000 miles. I had no idea and I was actually surprised and said, hey, great. I guess I don’t need to bring it in so often, but it’s up to the users and the consumers to go ahead and do some research themselves to give them the data necessary. So when someone says, hey, your car needs this maintenance done, you have the wherewithal and the knowledge to say, actually that might not be necessary. I’m going to save some money and watch my own butt.

Farron Cousins: Exactly and speaking of, you know, watching out for yourself, if you are going in for something like a simple flat repair, getting a nail pulled from a tire or an oil change, it’s worth it to set time aside in your schedule and stay there, you know, keep an eye on things that you know, like this class action. The man was there so he was able to see that they had popped his hood and we’re messing around in there when he only came in for a flat repair. Stay there if you can, if it’s a simple, you know, 20, 30 minute service, keep an eye on it. I hate to tell people to always be suspicious because that’s not how we should be, but be vigilant. Be Vigilant, know where you’re going, know what’s happening with your vehicle. Because at the end of the day, that vehicle can easily become an 80 mile an hour, four ton missile barreling down the highway, and if they’ve done something in there that you didn’t know about or that they were trying to get you to fix so they broke it, that could become a death trap for you, your family, and anybody else on the highway. So, so again, be vigilant. You don’t have to distrust everybody, but just make sure you’re aware of what’s happening with your own vehicle. And in terms of this Big O Tires class action, there’s a lot more information available that in the link of this video description here. So, Scott, is there anything that, that people need to really know about, like who will qualify for this specific, a class action against Big O Tires here?

Scott Hardy: So for this Big O Tires class action, that remains to be seen, this was just original, just recently filed. So we have to make sure that, see if the class asked, gets certified and then we’ll have a better idea of exactly who’s going to qualify, whether it’s gonna be nationwide, whether we limited to one state, but we’ll keep you updated on topclassactions.com. Make sure you sign up for our free newsletter. That way once we file an update to this class action, you’ll be notified and we can keep in the loop to hopefully get you paid if you were affected by this type of issue.

Farron Cousins: Absolutely and as always, you know, if, if this is successful, hopefully it’s going to put other, you know, of these chain stores and even just your down the street mechanic. Hopefully it puts them on notice that people have not stopped paying attention. The investigations have not ended, you know, like we thought they had in the nineties, people are taking notice and we just want the work done that we came in there for. We don’t need the up sales, we don’t need anybody rooting around in our engines if we didn’t give them permission to do so. So hopefully this is successful and it sends a message across the industry that we’re not going to take it anymore. Scott Hardy from top class actions. Thank you very much for telling us this story today.

New Speaker: Thanks for your time. Farron.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine and a contributing writer at DeSmogBlog.com. He is the co-host / guest host for Ring of Fire Radio. His writings have appeared on Alternet, Truthout, and The Huffington Post. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced