Consumer Reports looks into car repair gripes

April 23, 2012 at 7:57 AM ET

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file /
Consumer Reports says it's clear the auto repair industry needs to do a better job.

No one likes to take their car to the repair shop. It’s costly and inconvenient. But a new survey by Consumer Reports finds that many customers have some other serious gripes.

The magazine contacted 5,400 subscribers to learn what upsets them. About three-quarters said they were “completely satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the repair work on their vehicle.

Of those who were not happy, 38 percent cited high prices. This was a more common complaint for dealerships than for independent shops.

Consumer Reports calls it "troubling" that more than a quarter (28 percent) of the unsatisfied group said their car's problem was not properly fixed. And for this one, it didn't matter where the repair was done. The gripe was reported at the same rate for dealers and independent shops.

Jim Travers, an associate editor with Consumer Reports Autos, says it’s important to check the car before you drive away.

“Make an issue of it right there,” he advises. “Don’t leave before you’re comfortable that you’ve been taken care of properly. If you leave, you start to diminish any chance that you’re going to get recourse.”

Other top gripes

Twenty-one percent of those who were less than satisfied said they were not happy that it took longer than expected to complete the work. Eighteen percent said they had to bring the car back because the repair did not “hold up.” For both of these gripes dealers and independents shared the blame almost evenly.

Consumer Reports says it’s clear the auto repair industry needs to do a better job.

“They’ve got some pretty dissatisfied customers out there,” Travers says.

And unhappy customers often take their business elsewhere. Almost a quarter of customers contacted by Consumer Reports said they’d switched shops in the past five years because of service problems. Almost half of that group said the negative experience was at a dealership, a third said it was an independent shop, and a fifth named a franchise chain similar to Midas or Sears.

Repair shops might also want to pay special attention to how they treat their female customers. Thirty percent of the women who switched to another shop said they felt the staff tried to take advantage of them because of their gender.

“If you do find a mechanic that you’re comfortable with hang on to them,” Travers says, “because you’ve got a real find there.”

Consumer Reports tips for getting a repair performed properly:

  • Describe the problem fully. Give the shop as much information as possible. Write down the symptoms and when they occur. If possible, talk directly to the mechanic who will be working on your car.
  • Don’t offer a diagnosis. Avoid saying what you think is causing the problem. You may be on the hook for any repairs the shop makes at your suggestion, even if they don’t solve the problem.
  • Request a test drive. If the problem occurs only when the car is moving, ask the mechanic to accompany you on a test drive.
  • Ask for an estimate. And have them contact you for approval if the repair will cost more than the estimate.
  • Ask for evidence. If you’re not comfortable with the diagnosis, ask the shop to show you the problem parts. Worn brake pads or rusted exhaust pipes are easy to see. Don’t let the mechanic refuse your request by saying that his insurance company doesn’t allow customers into the work area.

More information: High prices and poor repairs lead top car service gripes