Sears Automotive Tries To Charge You For Work They Didn't Do

Here’s a story that illustrates how important it is to ask for documentation. Reader Jarome had already handed over his credit card to pay for an alignment on his car when he learned that the work hadn’t even been done:

I’ve been an avid reader of Consumerist for quite some time. Reading the good/bad experiences other readers had and the shortcomings of some companies is an eye opener. Unfortunately, my recent experience at a nearby Sears Automotive Department is worth mentioning. I’ve noticed my car would pull to the left while driving on a straight road. My initial thought was to get the wheels aligned. I decided to have it done at Sears.

I walked in on Saturday January 19th and explained the problem I was experiencing with my car. The gentleman at the front desk agreed that an alignment should be done. He took my information, as well as the cars information and verified with the mechanic because he said some BMW’s (I drive a ’95 525i) are more difficult to align then others. I drove my car into the garage and parked it from the third space from the far left. It was 10:30AM and I was told it would take approximately an hour to complete.

I ended up walking around the store looking at BBQ sets (by the way they are on sale!), tools, clothes, etc… and by 11:25AM I walked back to the automotive section. There’s a small waiting area with several windows allowing the customers to see their cars and mechanics. I noticed my car was parked in the same place where I originally parked. Thinking it was done I asked the gentleman at the front desk about my car. He said they were still working on it and would call my cell phone when they were ready.

I again walked aimlessly through the store and 15 minutes later I received a call from the automotive department. They stated I needed a new part costing $487 with labor. I asked if they did the alignment (my original request) and was told they did. I declined to have the part replaced and walked back to pay. The work order was filled out by the mechanic and gave them my credit card to pay. I then requested for a print out of my alignment. I was curious to know where and how far my alignment was off.

The front desk gentleman walked back to get the print out, but walked back out with the manager. I was told they did not do the alignment and voided my invoice. They canceled the charge and apologized for the mix up. If I had not requested the print out they would have charged me for a service they did not do and I would still be frustrated with my car. What I learned? I’m never going back to Sears and always ask for documentation detailing the service they performed and if possible the old/broken part.

Regards,
Jarome

Congrats to Jarome for keeping his cool in that situation and learning something from it. It’s important to find a good mechanic that you can trust.

Call your smartest friends and ask if they can recommend someone and then check with the BBB to see whether the shop has any complaints on file.

Do you have any tips for finding a good mechanic?

Comments

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  1. Abusiveelusive says:

    Seems like a simple mix-up. I don’t think they were intentionally trying to scam you.

  2. homerjay says:

    “I decided to have it done at Sears.”

    Apparently haven’t been Consumerist reading long enough. :)

  3. manok says:

    I always go to sears for an alignment. The thing is, I stay and watch while they do it.

    The problem with these companies, besides being greasy unless you watch them like a hawk, is anytime you bring in your car or get service from their washer/dryer mechanics or whatever they act like your car or your washer is the first one they have ever seen with that particular problem. Then the gouging begins.

  4. UpsetPanda says:

    There’s something extremely fish about this story, because the manager and employees seemed really calm and collected about it…I mean, if they treat this as standard practice (to con people out of money for services not completed) then they must have known that anyone who caught them (like Jarome) would report them. I mean, maybe it’s just my cynical nature coming out but I usually expect a lot of protest from people who have just been caught in a criminal or fraudulent situation.

    Or perhaps the employees were the ones to do this to Jarome and the manager caught them.

  5. JustAGuy2 says:

    Maybe I’m still too naive, but I agree with Abusiveelive – smells more like a boneheaded paperwork screwup than a scam to me (guy at desk saw keys in slot, assumed that means they’d been returned once work was done, not that it hadn’t even been taken out yet).

  6. bradanomics says:

    On Cartalk.com they have something called the Mechanic’s Files. It is a service that people put ratings on Mechanics so hopefully you can find someone reliable.

    [www.cartalk.com]

  7. ChrisC1234 says:

    @JustAGuy2: Maybe… but the part about needing a $400 part makes me a little suspicious.

  8. unklegwar says:

    @Abusiveelusive: Think again. I used to work in Sears automotive. They used to offer a 1 hour tire guarantee (or 30 minutes or something). They offered a service called “Tire Matching” where they would grind the tires down of any irregularities (yeah, I know,dumb). You don’t know how many times I saw them skip the service (which cost $5 per tire or something) in order to make their time guarantee, but still charge for it.

    So yeah, they do rip you off….on purpose.

  9. kylere says:

    Sears, Best Buy, Walmart etc

    If you shop there, you get what you deserve, and what you deserve is to be ripped off.

  10. MercuryPDX says:

    I’m never going back to Sears
    Check

    ..and always ask for documentation detailing the service they performed
    Check

    …and if possible the old/broken part.
    Check. :) Be sure you ask for them to save/show the old part right when you drop the car off, and if possible… have a mechanically savvy friend mark the part in your car with a china marker to ensure its yours and not one from the pile out back.

  11. Kos says:

    Wouldn’t he have noticed that it still misaligned the second he left the garage? Sounds like a mistake.

  12. floyderdc says:

    Why would you shop at Sears? Maybe you should read a little more Consumerist.

  13. B says:

    On the Car talk website they have a listing of Mechanics recommended by users. You might be able to find one in your area through them.

  14. UpsetPanda says:

    @kylere: You’ve never shopped at any of these places in your life? Have never wanted to buy a movie and found it to be a good deal at Best Buy? Sounds like you think people should be ripped off just because you think every single Best Buy or Sears is a bad place. they find a good deal or haven’t had a bad experience at Best Buy, Sears or Wal-Mart. I personally have never had a bad experience at Best Buy…I shop there when there’s something there that is a better deal than other stores. And as much as I dislike Wal-Mart, some people can only get by with decent food by shopping at Wal-Mart beause sometimes their prices really are the lowest. I can’t tell those people they deserve to be ripped off because they used Wal-Mart to feed their family.

  15. sleze69 says:

    For every model car, there are car nuts that love them and will start a website about them. Check on the forums that are associated with your specific car website and you will get referrals to reputable mechanics.

    Luckily for me, http://www.tdiclub.com recommended the local VW mechanic (Gene’s) which was the one my mother used 20 years ago. I have nothing but good things to say about that referral.

  16. bohemian says:

    Sears tried something similar about 2-3 years ago. We took our older grocery getter in to get new front tires. I suddenly had an expensive potentially lethal car repair that just had to be done today! The kid who took in my car informed me that I had a broken rear spring and to prove it showed me the broken spring by guiding my hand to the end of said spring where it mounts at the top. Uh Huh.

    I decided I would “think about” this sudden faux repair and left. I vowed to never go back. People like that make me so mad because they assume all women have zero clue about cars.

  17. lightaugust says:

    There’s just something about taking the BMW to Sears for a repair in the first place that makes, I dunno, zero sense. It’s pretty much my understanding that it costs 487$ plus labor to do anything on a BMW. Much less get it to go straight.

  18. howie_in_az says:

    The emailer should always, without fail, take his Bimmer into an independent BMW service center. Google around to find one.

  19. balthisar says:

    @lightaugust: It’s a 13 year old Bimmer, not in any way new. I wouldn’t pay BMW service prices for a friggin’ beater.

    @howie_in_az: I’m assuming you mean a place the services BMW’s, but isn’t the dealer, right? There are lots of these around, even here in MoTown. Good advice.

  20. MBZ321 says:

    Regardless if it is a BMW or not, a tire alignment is a pretty standard thing which can be done anywhere. Anyway, the story just sounds like a mix up as opposed to a scam, but I still wouldn’t trust my beater car at Sears.

  21. howie_in_az says:

    @balthisar: Exactly. There’s one here in Arizona I frequent called Bill’s Bimmers aka Arizona Imports. They’ve never steered (DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) me wrong.

    Fyi I had a 1988 325iX that ran perfectly until some idiot decided to pull a U-turn in rush hour traffic in Pittsburgh, totaling my precious. The old manual transmission Bimmers will run and run and run.

  22. savvy999 says:

    Just an FYI, I do 90% of my own car work myself, and some parts (alternators, starters, etc) are worth big $ to turn back in. The sturdier bits and pieces are used again.

    Just mentioning that, so other consumerists don’t have a conniption when/if a mechanic says you can’t see the part– because they likely don’t have it anymore, it went back with the parts guy back to the store. The price of some parts is dependent upon getting the core of the old one back.

    Dealers and specialty shops (BMW, Jaguar) will carry their own parts inventory (and thus should still have your broken thingamajig somewhere) but chain garages and small shops typically get their non-consumable parts from the same place you do– NAPA, etc.

  23. trujunglist says:

    I definitely say DON’T take your old ass bmw to the dealership. They’ll think that since you have a bmw and took it there that you’re also loaded and a fucking sucker. I nearly learned the hard way.
    I have a ’95 325i with a broken radiator. Well, at the time I wasn’t sure what was wrong with it because my ex was the primary driver, and so AAA towed it to the dealership for an all around diagnostic. They came back and said there were several minor things wrong with it that I already knew about, but that the major problem was the radiator, which made sense when my ex told me that it was leaking radiator fluid (I forgot to mention that, according to her, she ignored the CHECK COOLANT warning in the car for over 3 months? I wonder why the radiator broke, hmmmmmm).
    They wanted to charge me $1300 for the parts and labor. I immediately declined and had it towed back to my apartment. I went online to check the cost of the parts. It comes up to about $300 for the radiator, hoses, fluid, shipping cost, etc. So that’s $1k in labor. I used to not know much about cars, hell, I only recently learned how to change my own air filter and decided to put a cold air intake on it, but then I decided that this would be a perfect opportunity to learn a bit more, so I started hunting around for info on how to fix a radiator. I found out that it’s incredibly fucking easy, and that it’d take no longer than an hour at that. I told my friend about it and he told me oh yeah, it’s really easy, he just changed 2 radiators out a month ago and it takes absolutely no skill whatsoever. In fact, he’s offered to help, the buddy that he is.
    So, I’ve decided to go ahead and do the repair myself, but right now I’m pretty broke and can’t afford to buy the parts. However, I won’t be stupid enough to take it back to that dealership. Clearly, they’re a bunch of assholes. $1k for 1 hour of work… AND it’s easy as hell at that??? Fuck you very much, Kearny Mesa BMW.

  24. NotATool says:

    This is news? I had friends who worked in Sears auto and they used to laugh and joke about how much they ripped people off. Old Die-Hards installed as “new”, that kind of thing.

    Mistake #1 was taking the car to Sears…

  25. vdragonmpc says:

    Oh lord… Sears Mechanics, thats not two words you want to see together.
    I got into a shouting match with one of these ‘experts’ about my battery setup in the rear of the car. Sadly they were the only place I could find before a show that had a red top optima and I NEEDED it immediately…
    He told me it would explode if mounted there, it was impossible to see a difference with multiple batteries and had all kinds of ‘warranty voiding examples’… Mind you I had this system in place for 2 years running flawlessly. I just needed to replace one that was, how shall we say ‘bulging at the seams’ from a seriously hard pull.

    It took the General Store manager at that Tire America to get me my battery but I got it finally.

    Honestly I wouldnt buy tires from them either as the calculator FLIES when you get tires mounted, balanced and whatever else they add on (rubber tax etc) I go online to Tirerack.com and then have em mounted at an alignment shop/suspension shop. They will also do far better work at a specialist shop than the minimum wage untrained monkey at Sears.

  26. sfinkster7 says:

    On NPR, their car talk show has a web site where listeners recommend their mechanics, its not a perfect solution but personal recommendations always help. I found a competent mechanic via their site when I was in an unfamiliar town.

  27. latemodel says:

    Front end alignment is a major scam, especially on new cars with no issues. Your car shold have been test drove, then aligned if possible, then and only then would they know about parts which are worn,bent,etc to the point that an alignment is not possible. When I worked at a new car dealer in high school, the front end guy got paid for alignments on new cars ehich usually got the “toe and go”. That is, pull the car in the bay, check the toe (front tire tracking)and let er go. About five minutes work.

  28. burgeon says:

    In college, my clutch cable broke on my CRX and I brought it to a Merchants Tire & Auto. They told me it would cost over $500 to replace. I told them to gently place all parts they had removed on the floor of the car, put the car back in the parking lot and get the hell away from it. I had it towed to a shop I trusted that was 30 miles away, and it cost hundreds less, even with the towing charge.

    Why did I trust the second shop? They have a big sign over their front desk stating that their mission was to please God with their honesty and quality. Now, I’m an athiest, but I had no problem taking my car to someone who thought that they might feel the wrath of God if they screwed up fixing my clutch.

    I used them for years afterwards – once, they failed to diagnose a problem with my brakes when I had had it in for an unrelated problem, and they gave me a $435 repair for free. Craven Tire & Auto in Arlington VA – look ‘em up.

  29. headon says:

    @JD: You might not be able to tell those people not to shop there but I sure can. DON’T SHOP THERE. see no problem.

  30. MrEvil says:

    Generally speaking, nearly all cars will pull to the right even on straight roads. The DOT crowns the roads so water drains. A perfectly aligned car will always have a tendency to drift right on a crowned roadway.

    The better gauge for anything being out of whack with your suspension is to check the tire wear. If tires are wearing unevenly then something isn’t right.

  31. vastrightwing says:

    I wouldn’t care if Sears installed an old Diehard as new as long as when it dies, they replace with another working battery for the wholr warranty period.

  32. gingerCE says:

    Tip for finding a good mechanic–as another mechanic in town. That’s how I found my mechanic.

  33. forgottenpassword says:

    It took me only one time visiting sears automotive to get me to NEVER EVER think about going to them again.

    Many years ago I went there to buy a single tire (on sale) for my offroad vehicle. It took these guys over 3 hours to change out my old tire, mount it on the rim, balance it & put it on my vehicle. THREE HOURS!

    It wasnt even busy at all. FOr an hour I sat/stood in the waiting area where they had this window for viewing the work area & watched as these guys screwed around, joking, laughing & basically doing everything BUT work on cars. I reitierate… it wasnt busy… there were hardly any other customers.

    NEVER AGAIN!

  34. iMike says:

    @bradanomics:

    +1 on the Mechanics Files at cartalk.com.

  35. Mothman says:

    Hi
    I have experienced the Sears automotive rip-off first hand too.

    In November of 2007 I took our SUV into Sears automotive for one reason – I needed to get it done during a weekend and the local place I like to use is closed on weekends.

    When I got there, I knew which tires I wanted and how much they would cost. The ones I had picked out were Michelin Cross Terrain. The sales guy took me to a computer where he keyed in the information about my vehicle and the service requested. I was specific about the tires I wanted and the service – balance and installation – and was given a price that I agreed with so I signed the form authorizing the service.

    After the work was completed I went back to the same guy and he printed out a bill that came to over $900 – not what I had agreed to.

    I looked the receipt over before paying and noticed several charges for items that I did not specificly request nor was I asked if I wanted them. The most expensive charge was for a tire protection plan where Sears promised to repair punctured tires for free. And I think there was an AAA charge too.

    After pointing out that I didn’t want these items the sales guy went back to the compuer and printed up a new receipt without incident.

    The issue that I have is the addition of services that I didn’t ask for or agree too on the bill. If I hadn’t checked it to see why the charge was higher than we agreed to I would have went home with services that I didn’t need.

    While I agree that I wasn’t getting charged for nothing as the original poster, I felt that getting charged without asking was low and a bad-faith way of gaining a profit.

    You really have to watch everyone these days.

    BTW, I’ve also had a Best Buy sales guy slip an extended warranty into one of my purchases even after I repeatedly declined. I was finalizing the paperwork for a purchase order when I noticed the extra charge. I stopped what I was doing and walked out without finalizing it.

    You really have to pay attention these days!

  36. ideagirl says:

    took my car to sears for a new battery once. They cut the wire to my alternator, then hooked it up to a machine to show me that my alternator was “bad.” They wanted way more than I knew it should be, so I told them no, intending to drive over to Pep Boys for the alternator. The Sears guy flipped out and tried to talk me out of leaving without the new alternator. I finally had to get nasty and demand my keys. I drove straight tod Pep Boys. The mechanic stuck his head under the hood and said, “Who cut the wire to you alternator?” He showed me the cut wire, obviously a new cut (no grime, dirt, etc.). I will NEVER take a car to Sears for anything again.

  37. StevieD says:

    The part plus labor that is needed triggers my thought process.

    A lot of tasks, such as aligning the car, will find related problems…. worn tie rod….. wheel bearings …… struts ….. etc.

    Some of these problems must be fixed before the alignement can be completed. Actually the problem needs to be fixed before the alignment as the car must be re-aligned after the problem is fixed, so why align twice?

    Customer said no repairs. To any decent mechanic that also means no alignment.

    The key was returned to the front desk. The guy at the front desk only schedules tasks. Key was returned. It is very simple to assume the task was completed.

  38. TheNewDecider says:

    I always prefer to build a relationship with a very good local independant shop which is popular with friends/family. The really good ones don’t advertise much at all because they rely on long-time customers and word of mouth.

    Consumer Reports says you’ll get many miles out of a well maintained vehicle and will save a lot of money by being proactive and fixing the little things when they happen.

  39. morsteen says:

    Yeah it wasn’t a very blatant rip off, but it just goes to show you basically have to assume you will be ripped off. Look how closely you have to watch these fucking businesses just to be treated fairly and with respect. It sucks, and I think “good old boy mechanic shops” so to speak or neighborhood shops who have common sense that has not been tainted by corporations are the way to go definitely. Also never pay for small or medium repairs that with a little investigation and a weekend you can do yourself. Alternators, bumper replacement, headlights, radiators, distriburor caps, spark plugs, stuff like that. Roll up your sleeves, work your mind and body and save a little money.

  40. XTC46 says:

    year ago my dad took his truck to sears to get oil changed and the tires balanced (we had the equipment to change the tire but our balancing machine was busted). They take about 45 minutes to do it (it was busy so thats fine) and we pay and leave. We dropped my dad off and my step mom and I take the truck to go pick some stuff up and we hear this clanking sound. Pull over on the freeway to see if anything is hanging out of the truck, nothing pull back on and BOOM! front passenger tire FALLS OFF THE TRUCK. Lug nuts are no where to be found and the tire goes flying down the freeway. Snapped the axle, bent the frame, smashed the front quarter panel. We get my uncle to come tow us (he owns a tow company) and take the truck back to his garage. We go to sears and tell them what happened. They say that it wasn’t them who didn’t put the tire on properly despite having left there not more than an hour before it fell off. The manager “checked the records” and it turns out they didn’t balance that tire and according tot he records the mechanic must have skipped it by mistake. so coincidently, the one tire of 5 (4 on and a spare) they didn’t touch happens to fall off shortly after. Neither my step mom or I were injured, although the truck was totaled. My dad just said screw it since the truck was old and he wanted a new one anyway. I will NEVER take my car, or allow anyone I know to take their car to Sears for anything.

  41. MYarms says:

    Find a mechanic that is factory trained and certified to work on the type of car you own. My mechanic is rather pricey but was trained at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. He always does a superb job and actually recommends ways to avoid having to see him again.

  42. comedian says:

     
    @xtc46: I guess he was sick on lug nut day at tire college.

    (Apologies to Ron White.)

  43. Trick says:

    @vastrightwing:

    I wouldn’t care if Sears installed an old Diehard as new as long as when it dies, they replace with another working battery for the wholr warranty period.

    I guess this is why Sears is in business. Sure you may not “mind” paying for a used battery that should be new so why do the ethical thing by actually selling a new battery?

    A warranty is great… sure they will replace their dead battery for a slightly less dead battery and send you on your way…

    But what about the time you lost getting a that new used battery? What if your car is dead late at night after the movies? Dead in the morning when you need to be at work for a important meeting?

    It is *NOT OK* for a store to sell used crap as new just because they give you a warranty…

  44. Trick says:

    @StevieD:

    The key was returned to the front desk. The guy at the front desk only schedules tasks. Key was returned. It is very simple to assume the task was completed.

    I was ready to agree with that until I thought more about what would have to take place to “assume” the task was completed.

    The front desk guy should know there is paperwork to goes with the alignment… at the very least the mechanic signing off on the paperwork for Sears own internal tracking. Can anyone say that a large corporation like Sears doesn’t track this stuff?

    The front desk guy may have been clueless and stupid at best, downright criminal at worst.

    Which reason do you prefer to justify shopping at Sears? :)

  45. NoWin says:

    Look up a few MINI Cooper owners in your area, as they often know the best local shops for work (being the MC dealerships are often with a BMW dealership and labor is reeeeealy expensive).

  46. KIRZEN2007 says:

    Lets use the following rule.

    Never… ever… on penalty of death, use a department store or big box store for automotive work. I repeat… -never-.

    Why?

    Because they’re usually poorly organized, hire less than optimal employees with substandard qualifications (even if they hire someone highly qualified to manage the underlings so they can say their technicians have X experience… X is the level of experience of the most experienced person in the shop, not the one who’ll be working on ‘your’ car). There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and there’s no such thing as a ‘good’ car repair at 1/2 what the competition is charging, unless you know somebody, who knows somebody, and everyone down the tree can be trusted to know what they’re doing.

    Case in point, a friend of mine took her car to a “female friendly” garage for $1400 worth of repairs (O2 sensor, catalytic, etc), and a single calendar year down the road she flunked air care (by 10X the average maximum, across all tests), $1200 later at a shop where we -know- the man -working- on the car, and she has a car that you couldn’t use to commit suidice in a locked garage.

    Find someone you trust, someone who knows what they’re doing, talk to the person who’s working on your car, not the monkey at the desk, ask what was done, take an intrest in your vehicle, and you won’t get taken for a ride.

  47. GOKOR says:

    My mom’s friend got scammed by Jiffy Lube a few years back. She went in for an oil change and three days later her engine seized, because there was no oil in the tank. Turns out this was an issue for several others as well and this was an ongoing thing that has been reported about them.

  48. Joe S Chmo says:

    This is nothing new for Sears. Do a search of Sears car repair lawsuit. There was one the faced back in 1992. Never go to Sears for car repair.

  49. sakanz says:

    I would say it just seems like a harmless mistake on Sear’s fault, but if they never touched the car, why would they state he needed a new part costing $487? That part, at least, seems like a pretty obvious scam. I wonder if he took that point up with the manager.