Let’s say you were Pennzoil, the leading motor oil company in America. You’d want to get your products out to as many people as possible. So you merge with Quaker State and buy Jiffy Lube, the company specializing in oil changes and basic car maintenance. Now, you have the materials, the place to deliver your service, and the brand names everyone recognizes.
All of the above happened in the late 1980s. In 2002, seeing an opportunity to expand its own mammoth business, Royal Dutch Shell acquired the whole package. Motor oil and auto service empire, meet your new boss: the No. 2 oil company in the world.
We’re not saying this situation could lead to corruption — or the appearance of a total racket — but you can see how it’s possible. Since Shell took over Jiffy Lube, customers have filed countless complaints against the company for ripping them off in one way or another. In recent years, Jiffy Lubes in California were shut down, fined, and forced to serve probation.
So car owners who need an oil change or basic repairs might want to think twice about pulling into their local quick-lube franchise and asking for a few quarts of Pennzoil. Here are 10 scams and lies pulled on customers and investigators at Jiffy Lube over the years.
1. ‘Your engine oil is low’
In 2016, dozens of California Jiffy Lubes received a $220,000 fine and three years of probation for various scams they pulled on customers. The state’s Bureau of Auto Repair had launched a sting operation at these centers following customers complaints. Prior to pulling in, they made sure their vehicles were in tip-top shape with all fluids full, so the shops had no reason to make repairs.
After five months and 38 undercover visits, investigators found 37 causes for discipline. In the first example, a Jiffy Lube employee told the undercover investigator the car needed another quart of engine oil even though all fluids were full. When someone at a station tells you your oil and/or fluids are low, ask them to show you. Better yet, check yourself before going into the shop.
2. ‘You need a new air filter’
While California’s official investigation had the power and resources to succeed, an NBC affiliate did some impressive work on its own in 2013. Using an elaborate system of hidden cameras and actors posing as car owners, NBC4 News nailed several Jiffy Lubes scamming customers. One flagrant case followed a recommendation for a new air filter.
Though the technician insisted the woman needed a new filter and charged her for it, they never replaced it. NBC4 has written on the various parts in invisible ink. When the team brought the car back for inspection, they found the original filter inside. All told, Jiffy Lube bilked them for $649, yet no repairs were needed.
3. ‘Time for a transmission flush’
California Jiffy Lubes, most of them controlled by the Fanticola family, also had a habit of offering unnecessary transmission flushes. In the lengthy 2016 settlement, investigators recounted the story of a Honda Civic they brought to a San Jose location. Prior to showing up, the maintenance team made sure all fluids were full and clean. They also changed the oil and replaced the filter.
When the Jiffy Lube looked at it, the technician recommended a transmission flush, fuel system cleaning, and engine flush. (Honda directs owners never to perform engine flushes in the vehicle manual.) By the time the repair shop was done, they charged the undercover agent $279.14 for work that never needed to be done. As a bonus, California’s investigators drove away from the Jiffy Lube with “check engine” lit that wasn’t there before the visit.
4. ‘We can only accept cash right now’
What’s worse than getting ripped off for fake repairs? Maybe it’s equally offensive, but one Jiffy Lube scam recounted by a former employee involved demanding customers pay in cash. According to a Consumerist report, the employees went through their usual routine of offering repairs the customer didn’t need. When it came time to pay, they had the nerve of asking for the money in cash, claiming the computer system was down.
That way, there was no digital trail for anyone to follow and no receipt for the customer to use as evidence. If any mechanic refuses to stand by his work and won’t give you a receipt, take your car elsewhere and alert the authorities.
5. ‘I’m about to improve your mpg’
In the 2016 California case against Jiffy Lube, investigators encountered some dubious claims they categorized as “fraud.” One repair technicians said the fuel system cleaning he recommended would remove the carbon found in the vehicle’s intake manifold, increasing the car’s economy by 2 to 3 mpg. These claims were bogus, so you can file them under “lies.” Naturally, no cleaning was necessary to begin with, and the manual recommended against flushes.
6. ‘You need a new belt’
Time after time, California investigators who asked for oil changes heard they needed other repairs ASAP. In one documented scam, a Jiffy Lube employee said a 2000 Chevy needed a new belt. On top of the oil change, the service center charged $89.99 for the belt. You know where this is going, right? State vehicle inspectors examined every inch of the car beforehand. The belt was in perfect shape prior to its arrival at Jiffy Lube.
7. ‘You need a new battery’
When the NBC4 team took its car to a Jiffy Lube on La Brea in Hollywood, a technician said it was time for a new battery. Prior to the visit, a former California state inspector declared it in perfect shape. This shop had more devious methods than most others found cheating customers. Rather than blatantly lying about the reading, the service center employee actually manipulated the test results. Showing it to the customer, he confidently stated the battery needed replacing.
8. ‘The air conditioner Freon is low’
This line was a direct quote from the same Los Angeles Jiffy Lube that sold NBC4 News a battery for no reason. California state law dictates technicians must test an air-conditioner system before making recommendations. The Jiffy Lube in question did not perform those tests, then lied about the Freon levels being low. A former manager from the company told NBC4 team these scams are normal. “That happens at every location,” he said.
9. ‘We need to flush your cooling system’
Car owners who want to avoid most unnecessary repairs should start by noting the automaker’s recommendations in the manual. In the California state investigation of service center scams, inspectors used one vehicle that recommended cooling flushes “only after catastrophic failures or extreme corrosion in the radiator.”
Nonetheless, the investigators decided to flush it anyway prior to visiting a repair center. A Jiffy Lube technician in San Jose looked at the vehicle and recommended a cooling system flush in addition to a oil change and transmission flush.
10. ‘The transmission fluid is the wrong color’
Jiffy Lube employees may not be alone in this type of flagrant lie, but they are the most brazen we have on record. In its “31st Cause for Discipline” prior to the 2016 California settlement, a Jiffy Lube employee in Castro Valley told undercover investigators “the Chevrolet’s transmission fluid should be bright red, but [it] is dirty and should be changed.”
You can file that one away in the book of lies, as well. In fact, the color of transmission fluid does not determine its usefulness. By the way, state vehicle inspectors changed the fluids right before the visit in case someone from Jiffy Lube tried to pull that scam. The trap worked.
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