DETROIT – All of us would like to be able to trust the auto repair shops we visit when we need to get our cars fixed.
However, Ruth to the Rescue recently showed you how easy it is to visit a repair shop that isn't licensed. We had the story of 82-year-old James Fails who says he brought his car to a repair shop on Detroit's West side.
"I've been stranded for five months," Fails told Ruth to the Rescue in March.
He used the repair shop knows as Domestic And Import Auto at 9900 Greenfield in Detroit. Fails said his car was never the same afterward, and he's suing the facility to get his engine replaced. The Detroit grandfather's family was shocked to learn the shop's license had expired.
"I just shake my head to still see them open," Fails granddaughter told Ruth to the Rescue.
Local 4 Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer visited the garage and the owner admitted in March that he didn't have a valid license. Back then, owner Ali Beydoun told Spencer, he would be getting his license renewed very soon.
Lawmaker trying to make a change
State Representative Harvey Santana saw the Ruth to the Rescue investigation and realized Mr. Fails lived in his district. The lawmaker wasn't happy that one of his constituents was having a problem with an unlicensed facility.
"We have a responsibility to make sure that this senior citizen, 82 years old, who is a grandfather and lives on a fixed income doesn't have to go through the experience he just went through," Santana told Ruth to the Rescue.
The Democrat decided something must be done. He's now working with several interested parties to create legislation that would fine repairs shops that do not have a license. The proposal would call for a $5,000 fine for the first offense and $7,500 for every offense that follows.
"What bothered me is the license ranges from $50 to $500 a year on a sliding scale, so why not just play by the rules and get it?" said State Representative Harvey Santana.
What about the shop on Greenfield road?
As Ruth to the Rescue started working on the story of this legislative proposal, we wondered if Mr. Beydoun had followed through on his promise to get his licensed renewed. The consumer unit checked with the Secretary of State and found the garage at 9900 Greenfield was still not licensed. Local 4's Consumer Expert Ruth Spencer went back to the garage.
The owner, once again, admitted his garage isn't licensed, "That is true. And, I haven't had it cause I'm selling the place," said owner Ali Beydoun.
While he told Spencer he was selling his garage, he admitted that process could take months and there is another reason he doesn't have a license.
"The reason I'm not renewing them is cause I don't have the money to renew anything right now."
License equals consumer protection
The Automatic Service Association says its important for auto repair shops to be licensed. Among other things, licensed facilities are required to have certified mechanics, trained for specific types of repairs. With unlicensed facilities, you don't know what level of expertise you'll receive.
"People who are doing work unlicensed are doing the consumers an injustice," said local garage owner Larry Dragan. He proudly displays his facility's license and the certificates of the mechanics he employs.
Santana's proposed bill has Dragan's support, and the support of the Automotive Service Association. "We need to do this for consumers. It's the right thing to do and it's the time to do it," said Ray Fisher, president of the Automotive Service Association of Michigan.
"I'm just glad that Ruth to the Rescue came out and investigated this. Now we know we have an obligation to do better, now that we know more," said State Representative Harvey Santana.
How To Know If Your Garage Is Licensed
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," she said.
If this story makes you nervous about your next trip to an auto repair shop, keep these guidelines in mind.
1) A licensed shops should have that certification on displace, as well as licenses for the mechanics working at that garage. You should be able to see the paperwork posted in the shop.
2) You can go to the website of the Secretary of State's office to make sure a business is licensed.
3) You can also check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the facility has had previous complaints, and how they were handled.
4) You are always entitled to a written estimate (for repairs that cost more than $20) that will spell out the cost of parts, estimate time of repair, and cost of labor.
5) 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.
6) When in doubt, ask around and visit a garage that has glowing references from more than one person.
7) You are entitled to see parts that are removed and replaced on your car.
If you'd like to do more research on car repair facilities, you can also go to the consumer website affiliated with the Automotive Service Association of Michigan.