Unless you are a mechanic or know one personally, car repairs can get messy. Even simple things like an alternator replacement could cost you over $700. And as a vehicle ages, maintenance gets more expensive. You also have to worry about the honesty of mechanics, especially if you’re new in town or just got your first car.
Over the years, quick-stop auto repair chains have earned a reputation for taking people’s money while delivering subpar service. In the case of Jiffy Lube, routine deception and price-gouging by employees led to criminal charges in California back in 2016.
Knowing what a culture of lying and cheating did to Jiffy Lube, we turned our attention to another high-volume auto service brand: Meineke. From the reports and complaints on the record against this brand’s franchises, the picture isn’t much prettier. Here are all the ways Meineke ripped off unsuspecting customers over the years.
1. A $20 oil change that actually cost $54
You will find coupons for Meineke in Sunday newspapers, in the mail, and online. However, you cannot really believe you will get the service anywhere near the quoted price. Take the example of a New York customer who clipped a coupon for a $19.95 oil change and tire rotation. According to a report in Consumerist, the Meineke clerk refused the coupon before running up a service bill that cost him $53.94.
This move is a classic bait-and-switch tactic. First, the company gets you in the door with a great deal. Then, once you arrive, they see an opportunity to make more and claim the coupon is no longer valid. So you have to pay more or leave emptyhanded. Reading over complaints on Consumer Affairs, Meineke shops pull this bait-and-switch with regularity.
Next: Paying thousands for awful repairs didn’t win Meineke any fans.
2. ‘Pay me in cash for repairs I’ll never make.’
While charging double what a coupon says is offensive, that sort of ripoff doesn’t compare with how one Meineke treated a customer in Tucson, Arizona. According to a report from an NBC affiliate there, the Meineke franchise owner told a customer named Jill Boaz she would get a discount on the cost of major engine work if she paid in cash. Desperate to get her car running, Boaz handed over $1,000.
Then, Meineke said the price would be much higher, and Boaz ended up paying $2,500 altogether. However, the technicians never did the work. After months passed, Boaz finally got her car back, only to see the engine smoking within a block of the repair shop. When she confronted the Meineke owner about it, he said he’d call the police and file a restraining order if she ever contacted him again.
Later, a mechanic who finally fixed Boaz’s car (at the cost of an additional $4,000) said the vehicle “looked like a 15-year-old put it together.” Under the hood, one hose led from the oil pan to nowhere. Meineke didn’t have its best man on the job, it seems.
Next: A Georgia Meineke customer spent $1,300 on work that never went anywhere.
3. ‘Maybe it’s the spark plugs or the oxygen sensor.”
When a Georgia woman pulled into a Meineke in October 2017, she believed her car was going to stall. The mechanic said she needed new spark plugs, plus an oxygen sensor and “fuel injection cleaning.” All that added up to $1,300, and her original fears came true when the car stalled the following week. When she returned to the Meineke, the mechanic proceeded to disassemble her entire car and said he found new problems. For another $800, he said he’d take care of it.
Next: One Nevada Meineke suggested an oil change every 300 miles.
4. ‘We recommend your next oil change in 300 miles.’
Some Meineke tactics are simply offensive. In April 2017, a Las Vegas woman took her one-year-old Hyundai into a Meineke for an oil change and tire rotation. Within minutes, the repair team was suggesting cleanings for brakes and other repairs they never made, according to a Consumer Affairs complaint. However, the kicker came in the Meineke’s recommendation for the next oil change: They said it should come within 300 miles. No matter who you ask, that’s several thousand miles too soon.
Next: This Georgia Meineke tried to scare customers into expensive brake jobs.
5. ‘You need new brake calipers, a brake fluid flush, and new shocks.’
CBS Atlanta did an investigation into area repair shops and found local Meinekes inventing car trouble with regularity. After taking a fully functioning car into the Meineke, Souvorin, a CBS producer was told she needed new brake calipers as well as a “fluid flush” and new shocks.
“It’s not stable,” the Meineke technician cautioned. “And if you go around a curb too fast, the car is going to tip over.” Since it was a sting operation, the car certainly was stable. Yet that Atlanta-area Meineke tried to charge her for $1,000 worth of unnecessary repairs.
Next: Rats had their way with a customer’s car at this Florida Meineke.
6. ‘We admit it: Rats ate parts of your car.’
Even for a ripoff operation like some Meinekes have proven to be, there should be some standard of decency. No such standard existed at the shop in Boynton Beach, Florida. A local woman, whose purchase at there was verified by Consumer Affairs, spent six weeks trying to get a minor repair finished at the Meineke.
When she arrived the first time to get her car, she noticed a bunch of holes in the driver’s seat and other parts of the car. No one said anything to her until she complained, and then the Meineke employees admitted they left the windows open and a rat did this damage to her car. After all that, they never fixed the vehicle, never offered a refund, and left the woman to complain to Meineke’s corporate offices.
Next: A North Carolina Meineke’s scam on a cancer patient
7. ‘The parts we told you to buy are defective.’
This case might actually make you sick to your stomach. In March 2017, a man undergoing treatment for nasopharynx cancer brought his car for brake repairs at a Meineke in Hendersonville, North Carolina. According to his Consumer Affairs complaint, Meineke’s mechanics told him he needed new calipers, rotors, and discs. Altogether, it would cost $1,000.
As the man struggled to pay his medical bills, he asked if there was a way to lower the price. Meineke’s technicians told him he could buy the parts elsewhere, but they would not be guaranteed if he did. Well, he bought them and brought them to the Meineke for installation, but — you guessed it — the car’s brakes didn’t work. In fact, the emergency brake stopped working altogether. (This was not one of the original problems.)
When he complained, the owner of the Meineke shop told him the parts he bought were “probably defective.” So, the scam here is telling someone to get parts they won’t guarantee then doing shoddy work with a built-in excuse. The man beat cancer, but he believes Meineke did this intentionally because he was old and sick. He’s not alone.
Last: A Meineke warranty isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.
8. ‘The vehicle diagnostic is wrong and we won’t honor the warranty.’
When you get a “check engine” alert on your car, the vehicle’s diagnostic equipment supplies a code so mechanics can address the problem. In the case of a Massachusetts man’s car, that code said to replace the catalytic converter, which he had done at a Meineke in Enfield, Connecticut. The purchase came with a warranty, and it turned out he’d need it because the car needed the same repair shortly thereafter, he wrote in a 2017 Consumer Affairs complaint.
A few years later, he had more problems with the catalytic converter. (When he took it to another shop, the mechanic received the same diagnostic code.) So he took it back to Meineke, where they said he needed a new muffler and refused the warranty service. Apparently, a Meineke warranty is a lot like Monopoly money — it only works as a plaything for games.
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