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Consumer Reports: High Prices, Shoddy Repairs Among Car Owners’ Biggest Repair-Shop Gripes

Prices that are too high and the inability to perform repairs properly are the main reasons that car owners become dissatisfied with auto repair shops, according to a Consumer Reports (CR) subscriber survey.

Every year, the Consumer Reports Annual Auto Survey asks car owners how satisfied they were with repairs performed by dealerships and independent shops in the previous 12 months. This year, the findings on repair service are based on 67,000-plus reports on service visits to independent repair shops and 101,000 service visits to new car dealerships by CR subscribers.

As in past years, most car owners said they prefer taking their vehicles to independent shops rather than dealerships for repair work. However, for the first time, CR re-contacted 5,400 of the respondents and asked about their specific repair gripes. Of that group, about three-quarters were either completely or very satisfied with their repair shop. Of the 27 percent who weren’t, 38 percent cited high prices as a reason. This is a more common complaint for dealerships (42 percent) than for independent shops.

The second most-common complaint among the re-contacted respondents — more than a quarter of the unsatisfied group — was that their cars’ problems weren’t fixed properly. This gripe was reported at the same rate at dealers and independent shops.

Among their other complaints, 21 percent of the re-contacted subscribers said it took longer than expected to complete the work, and 18 percent said they had to bring the car back because the repair did not “hold up.” Again, dealers and independents shared the blame for these complaints almost evenly.

There was a slight difference between the two types of repair shops among owners who felt the staff had treated them poorly, with 8 percent citing dealerships and 4 percent citing independents. Sometimes, this dissatisfaction prompted owners to switch shops. Of the re-contacted subscribers, almost a quarter revealed that, in the past five years, they’d had a vehicle repaired at a shop they no longer use because of problems with their service experience. Almost half of that group said that negative experience was at a dealership, a third said it was an independent shop, and a fifth cited a franchise/chain such as Midas or Sears.

One other red flag for repair shops: A sizeable 30 percent of female respondents who stopped using a shop said they felt the staff tried to take advantage of them because of their gender.