DETROIT - The family of an 82-year-old Detroit grandfather says it's been living through a car repair nightmare that's gone from bad to worse.
The family's experience lea to an unexpected discovery that could affect your next trip to an auto repair shop.
James Fails, of Detroit, brought his 2003 Lincoln Town Car to the repair shop at 9900 Greenfield Road in Detroit a few days before Thanksgiving.
He had had his car serviced there before, but this time things did not go as expected.
"We trusted them like we usually do in the past, and they let us down," his granddaughter told Ruth to the Rescue.
The family's now filed suit against the repair shop, trying to force the owner to pay to replace the engine.
A lapsed license
The Fails family also filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's Office. That investigation found the facility known as Domestic & Import Auto is operating without a license -- something the owner admitted to Ruth to the Rescue when we confronted him at the repair shop.
"I have 14 more days to get my license," owner Ali Beydoun said.
He told Ruth to the Rescue he would be heading to the Secretary of State's office himself to get his license.
Protecting your car
Going to an unlicensed mechanic is something that could happen to anyone. Melanie Duquesnel, the CEO of the Better Business Bureau, said it's easy to spot an unlicensed mechanic if you know where to look.
"Should be licenses on the wall with the names of the people that are going to be touching your car," Duquesnel said.
However, many people don't check to see if their mechanic has those licenses. The Secretary of State's Office told Ruth to the Rescue Domestic & Import Auto had a license, but it was allowed to expire in April 2013.
A customer in the parking lot of Domestic & Import Auto had no idea the facility was unlicensed. But he said knowing they didn't have one may not make a difference to him.
"I don't know. I just know that they do a very good job on my cars, so I've been coming here for years," said Dr. Stanley Ngeyi.
Not having a license hasn't stopped this garage from doing business. The Secretary of State's Office told Ruth to the Rescue it can only suspend or revoke a facility's license. It does not have the power to raid a garage or make arrests, which means customers have to make sure the mechanic they choose is licensed.
"I just shake my head to still see them open," said Fails' granddaughter. "He's my granddad, and he's a senior and should no senior citizen get done this way."
Fails' vehicle remains at a dealership and in need of repairs, prompting this response from the owner he's suing.
"What I'm saying is -- if the dealership says that the engine went out because of me, I'm willing to put an engine in it. I don't have any problem with that," said Beydoun.
Beydoun made that offer a few times during his conversation with Ruth to the Rescue. However, the Fails family said they don't trust him to make the repairs and they're taking him to court.
The Secretary of State's Office is monitoring the situation and said that facilities that continue to operate without a license will be referred to the county Prosecutor's Office.
Further, the agency said customers who have had work done at an unlicensed garage are entitled to have the cost of the work refunded.
Other auto repair guidelines
If this story makes you nervous about your next trip to an auto repair shop, keep these guidelines in mind:
- A licensed shop should have that certification on display, as well as licenses for the mechanics working at that garage. You should be able to see the paperwork posted in the shop.
- You can go to the website of the Secretary of State's Office to make sure a business is licensed.
- You can also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the facility has had previous complaints and how they were handled.
- For repairs that cost more than $20, you are always entitled to a written estimate that will spell out the cost of parts and estimate the time of repair and cost of labor.
- Once given a target time for completion, you should check on the status of your car before that time arrives. Most reputable garages will call you, but you should check the progress, and the repairs can take unexpected turns and you may need to authorize further expenses.
- When in doubt, ask around and visit a garage that has glowing references from more than one person.
- You are entitled to see parts that are removed and replaced on your car.
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