Sgt. Clutch Vandalizes Customers Car After Complaints

Fraudlent charges and shoddy work from auto shops are almost de regiuer, but outright vandalism? That’s what Hector experienced from SGT Clutch Discount Transmission & Automotive in San Antonio, TX after getting his non-working Saturn towed for repairs.

See, the retired Army First Sergeant had the unmitigated gall to question a $150 markup on parts over what Saturn would have charged for the repair. That’s when things got really nasty. The desk clerk refused to take Hector’s credit card for payment because, “You are a dissatisfied customer and I can.”

Hector complied and withdrew money from the ATM. He proceeded to retrieve his car where he found

• Filthy seats
• Oil splashed on the side up to the windows
• Missing stereo face plate
• but worst of all, ” dirty footprint tread mark where the body was kicked in to the point it cracked and broke off a piece of the fiberglass body.”

When Hector called to complain, the desk clerk was silent and hung up.

Hector promptly filed a police report and is ready to sue for damages and repairs. His complete story, and more pictures, inside…

But first, a word of caution: If you want quality service, avoid anything with “Discount” in the name.


This is the email Hector sent Sgt. Clutch, with no response so far.

Treadmark.

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2006/09/treadmark-thumb.jpg?w=522&h=349

    “This whole process started Wednesday, Sept. 6th. After night-school at SAC (San Antonio College) my 1999 Saturn (standard) could not shift into the gears and was stuck in Reverse. I lived out by Sea World; so I decided to call a local repair shop not far from SAC. That was mistake number 1 , I called SGT Clutch Discount Transmission & Automotive at 823 S.E. Military Drive. (210)924-0047.I selected this one because of the free towing with their repair; military discount; member of the BBB and also one of the Shops that was on the W0AI website as a regularly used repair place. Unfortunately; the tow truck delivered my car to the one at S.E Military and not the one on your site.

    My car was towed the next morning at 0900 from SAC to SGT Clutch Trans. I called around lunch to see if they received my car. They said it just arrived an hour ago – wow; that must have been a long and slow drive! The Clutch place said they hadn’t looked at it yet. I proceeded to call later. This went back and forth; me calling and trying to find out what the car needed and how long it would take. At one point I was told the car needed over $600 repair. Apparently , that would be for “shifter cable”; 4 HOURS OF LABOR; and some adjustment/tightening in the gear box. I told them I would call them back. I thought 4 hours of labor was excessive; as well as the price. So I began calling around for prices. Within minutes of having this conversation with SGT Clutch; I was called back and informed that they could reduce the labor charges to 2.5 hours . I still thought $ 522.00 was exorbitant for the service being performed and said okay , and he asked me for my driver’s license number so he could go ahead and order the part and start working on the car. I then called the SATURN parts store to get a dollar figure for the part – (retail mind you, not wholesale). I was quoted a price $150 less than what SGT Clutch was charging. By Friday; lunch-time we are not much further and still without the car so I called the shop at about 4:45pm and they told me that they could have the car ready by 5:30pm and that they were still doing a road test. I told them there was no way that I could pick up the car by 5:30 so I would go by in the morning.

    So, I decided I would take this information back with me to the repair shop personally and ask why they charge so much more than the dealer. It was Saturday around 1030 am when I went to SGT Clutch. The young man at the desk; (who claimed to be the manager later on) asked if I was going to pay cash or credit card. I told him I needed to see the invoice first. When I observed the $351.07 price for the Shifter Cable; I asked him why. He told me “well, we have to make money too”. “If you wanted a cheaper price for the part you could have picked it (the shifter cable) up yourself and brought it to me; but then I couldn’t guarantee the part”. I told him that I wasn’t aware that I had that option. So I proceeded to pull out my wallet to pay; because at that point he stood by the charges and wasn’t budging. While attempting to pay; my wife (to the side) commented “you know, I can understand you wanting to make money: $50-$60 would have been reasonable. But, $150 markup is price gouging and exuberant to say the least!” At this point; the young man at the desk changed his attitude abruptly. He looked at me and at my credit card and said; “It’s cash or certified check! No credit card”! I was shocked; since he advertised all over the front door; on the website and on his coupons All the Major credit cards. I asked him why. He said: “Because you are a dissatisfied customer and I can; it says so on the disclaimer on the wall; see for yourself (pointing to the waiting area)”! My wife also questioned it; that there was no reason to not accept it; and that was fraudulent advertising. Especially coming from a business that utilizes BBB business practices. He repeated with “Hey; you are a dissatisfied customer , therefore, it’s cash or certified check” . He said if I didn’t like it I could call the Cust. Svc. Number on the plaque. I did so; but with no results and no answers.”

Oily door.

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2006/09/oilydoor-thumb.jpg?w=522&h=349

    “At this point the young man; claimed to be the manager when I asked to see the manager. He was giving me the attitude; that he’s doing this because he can and I realized if I was to get my car back I had no choice but to pay. I told him in that case I have a coupon for a 15% discount so I need the right amount (he wrote $444.43 after the discount in the back of his business card) so I can go to an ATM and return with the cash. I wasn’t down the road one minute; when he called me on my cell phone and said “I forgot to add in the towing charge; therefore you now owe more ($504.00). I again, questioned the charge since the coupons and advertising say towing would be included in the transmission repairs. He told me it wasn’t considered a “major” repair and not a “transmission repair”.

    I proceeded to get $500 out of the ATM: that’s all I could take out in one day. SGT Clutch wouldn’t take Checks or Credit cards and that was all I had. I presented this to him when I returned from the ATM; he agreed to $500 instead of $ 504.00. During this time the Car was still in the garage/shop area. They pulled it out; the car was filthy on my light grey seats. The car looked as if they splashed oil on the side body up to the windows. But. I didn’t want to stick around any more. As it was I had to ask for my faceplate to my stereo that was missing. The bill was never explained; the old shifter cable was never showed to me or even offered. I just figured I would fight this later and get out of there before they charged me more for something else.

    On the way home; my wife followed me home in our other vehicle. This was when she brought to my attention the damaged area on the passenger side. There was a dirty footprint tread mark where the body was kicked in to the point it cracked and broke off a piece of the fiberglass body. It was obviously vandalized and I took photos. I called the young man back right after I had discovered the damage. I told him that someone put a shoe into the side of my car and asked what he had to say about it: he went silent and said nothing. At that point; I just hung up. All because we wanted the break down of our bill and questioned the charges. Which he could not respond to with other than “because I can” and “you are a dissatisfied customer” like it was rehearsed many times before.”

Filthy Seats.

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2006/09/filthyseat-thumb.jpg?w=522&h=349

http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2006/09/filthy222seat-thumb.jpg?w=522&h=349

    “I want the body work on my car repaired and the interior and exterior cleaned. I want the price adjusted to reflect the free towing and a correct charge for the part. I don’t find this at all unreasonable. I went through this mess from Wednesday night to Saturday afternoon without my car. I had to tolerate unprofessional behavior and above all: Vandalism as a repercussion to my rights to question the charges. Is this how this company treats its disabled vets. senior citizens and students they claim to serve so well?

    While I was there my wife discovered other customers in the waiting room that also experienced this “dissatisfied Customer” routine. One was an elderly man that was denied his credit card for the same reason! I know he didn’t have the cash either! This young man needs to be fired and reprimanded. Unfortunately, the business card reflects the name Robert Torralva as the manager. But; I don’t know whether or not to believe that this was the individual with whom we dealt. There may be other lies there too. So I don’t know the actual owner of the shop and who to sue for the damages; if it requires me to do so.”

Comments

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  1. ahmusch says:

    I’m virtually certain that if you accept Visa or MasterCard, you cannot conditionally accept them — you must accept them as if they were cash. Unfortunately, I don’t have the Visa/MasterCard merchant rules in front of me to verify it.

  2. Grasshopper says:

    I suspect the business demanded cash payment so that the customer wouldn’t be able to contest the charges through the credit card company.

  3. Yaotl says:

    Is that a violation of the card member aggreement or something? Has he gone to the BBB yet?

  4. doublej says:

    I would say I was certain that you cannot selectively accept…..but I see many signs now that stipulate a minimum fee for card use that I can’t be sure.

  5. Yaotl says:

    I think that’s against their agreement too. It’s the businesses way of reducing the loss due to fees they incur for the small dollar transaction or something to that effect.

  6. AppTechie says:

    The minimum fee is also against most, if not all agreements. If you accept it at all, you are required to accept it regardless. I would call my credit card company and explain that I was refused the request to use my credit card at this shop, on top of getting the Attorney General involved as vandalism is a crime and everyone that works at that shop should be in jail after something like this.

  7. Triteon says:

    The BBB has a separate section just for military personnel (www.military.bbb.org/). You’ve hit them on this blog, Sarge, hit them there too!
    Price markups on parts is usually in the 10-15% range, and generally comes with a shop guarantee. But properly installed parts usually have a manufacturer’s warranty as well. Hell, the spark plug wires I bought over the weekend have a 5-year warranty (more than the anticipated remaining life of my truck.)

  8. Pelagius says:

    I don’t think “exuberant” means what you think it means.

    On a more constructive note, dob these guys in to “Car Talk”.

  9. Yep says:

    I see by the animated logo at the base of their homepage that Sgt. Clutch also accepts the Jesus Card. Or maybe it signifies they’re Jesus Approved. So they’ve got that going for them…which is nice.

  10. Spooty says:

    He didn’t mention what brand of credit card he used.

    For Mastercard, the basic no-no’s are:
    1) can’t ask for ID (reasoning being that the signature you do on the spot is supposed to be compared to the one on the back of the card; if the merchant thinks it doesn’t match, Mastercard suggests you then show ID in that case)
    2) can’t ask for a fee (e.g., “.25 fee for credit cards”)
    3) no minimum purchase
    4) no maximum purchase

    Here’s a handy complaint form to turn in merchants who weasel on these standard rules. I use it a lot – I wish more people did.

    http://www.mastercard.com/us/personal/en/contactus/merchan

  11. There is a simple reason for the oil on the side of the body– this is typical when a car is towed when it is locked in gear.

    Since the car was locked in reverse, the tow truck guy has to slick up the wheels with grease to cause them to slide when he loads them on the back of the flat bed. That’s more than likely what you’re seeing on the side of the body and has probably very little to do with SGT. Clutch.

    As for the dirty seats, it’s not implausible that the tow truck guy would have caused that damage as well, as well as some of the footprint stuff. The guy is already swimming in grease from his little bucket slicking down your wheels. To be honest it would be near to impossible to prove that SGT. Clutch was firmly at fault in this case.

    Some of the points above about the credit card are spot on though, so fight this one through. I’m not sure if you have a firm case in court, however, regarding damages.

  12. mfergel says:

    http://www.centraltx.bbb.org/commonreport.html?bid=32465

    The Bureau processed a total of 23 complaints about this company in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period. Of the total of 23 complaints closed in 36 months, 10 were closed in the last year. Too be honest, they’ve only been a member since 2/2006. That means they’ve received 23 complaints in the last 7 months or so (depending on when they signed up in February).

    Based on some fo the feedback, I’d suggest at the least he contact the BBB.

  13. AppTechie says:

    something_amazing:

    SGT. Clutch most likely is at fault for the mess as they are likely the people that affected the towing. They probably have their own truck. They also should have disclosed the damage to the vehicle immediately upon receiving it. The oil I can understand…somewhat, the fender I can’t as that is just ludicrous. If they didn’t cause the damage, they should have taken pictures upon arrival at their shop and then reported the incident to the customer, the towing business, and the police so that there were official records of their non-involvement. As it stands, the shop was responsible for the car from the time he called and they agreed to tow it in, for free which is also part of the issue. By not reporting the problem, they are immediately at fault and he can take them to task for their vandalism as well as their extremely poor business habits.

    As for the oil? Well, getting it all over both the front and back doors seems excessive as the only wheels that would have required greasing are the front tires as Saturns are front-wheel drive cars. A person that tows cars for a living should have known that. If nothing else, the shop should be responsible for the repairs on his car, a refund of his money that was above and beyond “profit”, and a full detailing of both the inside and outside of his car to remove any and all problems. Barring that, I am sure he wouldn’t mind a settlement that included a new car. (I’m sure we all would if we had a Saturn. That is what worked for me! :) )

  14. SecureLocation says:

    I guess offering the little weasel a beating was out of the question, huh? Too bad, though, as he was holding you, your wife and your car hostage. Doubt you’ll get much relief from MasterCard but good luck.

  15. AppTechie:

    the fender I can’t as that is just ludicrous. If they didn’t cause the damage, they should have taken pictures upon arrival at their shop and then reported the incident to the customer

    I was under the impresion that the tipster has made it clear that the towing company had no relation to SGT. Clutch whatsoever. Upon receipt of the car, SGT. Clutch has no obligation to note the condition of the car when it arrives because how are they supposed to know and document the conditions when it has zero to do with them? It’s certainly not standard practice to do a 30 point inspection of the car when a tow truck dumps it in their lot.

    I’m not defending the guys at Clutch, because they sound like supreme assholes, but I’m bringing up the kind of arguments that you are going to find in court. My speculation is that a case brought to small claims court is going to have a hard time proving damages. With that in mind, we’re now looking at the allegations that Clutch deliberately wouldn’t honor their cardholder agreement, and possible price gouging.

    Price gouging will be hard to prove, because many times these mechanic shops are locked into the prices that they have with parts distributors. It’s impossible to know whether this was gouging or marked up or simply the price they paid for the part from a parts warehouse. I suspect a case is still worth it, given their previous history with the BBB, and not honoring the cardholder agreement for a credit card is serious stuff in my book.

    Don’t even need an attorney on this one, just do the paper work at the small claims court, the most he can lose is a day of work but there is plenty to be gained here.

  16. DeeJayQueue says:

    I don’t know what kind of back country tow truck driver greases people’s wheels to slide them onto a flatbed, but around here they use 2 things:
    1. Shift Lock. All modern automatic cars will shift from R or D to N without effort. there’s nothing there to keep the shifter in place other than a retent. Manual trans cars can easily be taken out of gear.
    2. Wheel dollies. Just in case the trans is totally upgefukd and the wheels just won’t budge, or if the car has a flat or has been in an accident, tow truck drivers have wheel dollies to put under the wheels in order to get it onto the flatbed.

    We don’t know whether the car was put on a flatbed truck or if it was towed by the front wheels by a smaller truck. In this case, even if the whole transmission was seized and welded completely immobile, the back wheels would still roll.

    Transmission work is some of the most difficult work to do to a car, often times youhave to pull the whole thing to replace a small fitting or a cable or something. There is a lot of labor involved. They tried to gouge for the part though which makes them dirtbags, and then they got called out for it. I agree that they should be held responsible.

  17. I don’t think that any true refund is due for the service performed. He agreed to it before finishing his research (calling the dealer).

    Now, the rest of this is BS. My recollection is in line with the posts above — CCs have to be accpeted and a ‘conditional accpetance’ is against the merchant agreement. The damage done to his car is definately the shop’s responsibility to make right. Questioning a bill doesn’t mean he doesn’t plan on paying it…

    Get the cops, BBB, local news, local bulletin boards (sports teams have Misc boards too) all on your side on this. More exposure the better.

  18. Deejay:

    I don’t know what kind of back country tow truck driver greases people’s wheels to slide them onto a flatbed

    1. Shift Lock. All modern automatic cars will shift from R or D to N without effort. there’s nothing there to keep the shifter in place other than a retent. Manual trans cars can easily be taken out of gear.
    2. Wheel dollies. Just in case the trans is totally upgefukd and the wheels just won’t budge, or if the car has a flat or has been in an accident, tow truck drivers have wheel dollies to put under the wheels in order to get it onto the flatbed.

    You’re forgetting that the car was locked in reverse– so answer 1 is out. With the transmission completely seized it’s quite likely #2 is out. Using grease to load a seized transmission onto a flatbad is quite common, I assure you, as it’s happened to me twice when I’ve had my truck towed but locked my door with the transmission in gear.

    I speak completely from personal experience ;) I had a nice chat with a tow truck driver about it once as I caught him loading up my truck on one of those street cleaning days… They all kept buckets of the stuff just for occasions like mine where they had to tow a truck but the doors were locked and the transmission was left in gear.

  19. Mr. Gunn says:

    Report him to the BBB, mastercard, visa, and the attorney general for price gouging. Write nasty reviews to local search places like citysearch.com and so on.

    Get a lawyer and sue him in small claims court. Buy a billboard near his shop saying “SGT. Clutch vandalized my car” and be sure to include this link.

    Date his daughter.

  20. tedonion says:

    I might have missed it, but no one mentioned why he refused to take the credit card… so the customer could not refuse to pay via the card.

  21. FLConsumer says:

    When in doubt, call up a TV station…they love this type of stuff.

  22. madderhatter says:

    OK, how is it that that these tow truck drivers and their buckets of “mystery crap” can get the crap on the bottom of a tire that won’t move ? You know, the patch of the tire that’s touching the road ? Makes absolutely no sense to put it anywhere else on the tire. Sure, you can counter that they put it on the ramp itself but if that was the case how did it end up all over the side of this guy’s car ? If he did grease the ramp he would have did it before the car was even towed onto it.

    Maybe he pulled it up the ramp so fast the car hydroplaned and that’s how it got there. I ain’t buying that excuse.

  23. kicka says:

    See, I feel here that people are not getting the key point. This story seems reflective of the majority of contentious customer/business incidents: employees and/or business owners becoming indignant after being challenged, and worse turning vindictive. How many stories have we heard from customers about telemarketers calling back and harrassing and threatening after they’ve been hung up on? No one wants to be accused of unfair business practices or rude behavior (whether it’s true, or not), but individuals employed by a company have the responsibility to act responsibly. Not accepting a credit card is vindictive. Charging for towing after stating that it is rolled into the price of repairs is vindictive (this wasn’t just about increasing the profits after the price had been knocked down). Certainly lashing out and damaging the customer’s property is vindictive. But this is what we are up against. After several phone calls to Chase Bank (over a 4 month period) in an attempt to receive a credit I was promised for a fraudulent charge, I asked a service rep for his supervisor. After arguing with me about not understanding what my complaint was, he HUNG UP on me. It took me another half an hour to get through to his supervisor who said what he had done was wrong. Wrong? What types of individuals are employed by these businesses? Bottom line, this type of behavior is rampant. Employees take it as a personal affront to be questioned or challenged by customers and their demeanors change very quickly. It’s the root of almost all that is wrong with businesses today.

  24. TexasScout says:

    Most people don’t know that it is aganst the law in Texas NOT to pay for repairs EVEN IF THEY DO NOT FIX THE PROBLEM. If you don’t pay or do a “charge back” on your CC, they can slap a “mechanics lien” on your car and have it towed off just like a re po.

  25. Anonymous says:

    We made the mistake of taking our car in to Sgt Clutch Discount Transmission. Horrible, crappy service. Bob Torralva should not be allowed to work with customers at all. He is rude, and basically took us hostage once they had our car. After 3 months of them giving us the runaround, they said it was ready. Well, it is still not fixed. On top of that, A missing doorpiece was pointed out to us as they asked “now was it like that when you brought it in???” Rather than have them jerk us around, we are taking it to the dealer. I would recommend everyone stay away from ALL Sgt Clutch.