Going undercover to test auto mechanics

By Jace Larson - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - We've all been there. Something is wrong with our car and we take it to the mechanic. Suddenly there is a long list of repairs.

Some of us have wondered if we really needed all that work, so KPRC 2 put mechanics to the test.

We asked Sybren van der Pol and his wife, Kathryn, who own the AAA approved Adolf Hoepfl & Son Garage on north Shepherd, to give our 2007 Toyota Highlander with roughly 103,000 miles to do a thorough check up before our test.

"The air filter is new. There are no leaks. Everything looks good. The coolant is the only thing that could use servicing," Sybren van der Pol, told Channel 2.

We then created another problem by purposefully disconnecting an air intake hose. Without that properly connected, the engine started running rough and sometimes died. The problem was in plain view.

"You don't have to do anything besides open the hood," Sybren van der Pol said.

A screwdriver is all that was needed to repair the problem.

THE TEST

The first location we tested was Klein Car Care located northwest of Louetta and Kuykendahl Roads.

Our undercover producer said the car was running rough.

"You're lucky you didn't blow a head gasket," said a man who identified his name as Casey, after staff at the shop looked over our car.

He told us we need a solenoid, a tune up, 2 coils and 2 sensors.

He told us the cost would be $1,454.99, but because they are running a no tax special it would cost $1,200.

Remember Sybren van der Pol said our problem had a simple fix.

The shop led us to believe the problem was serious.

"I mean obviously it feels like crap driving it, but how long before it goes out," our producer, who was undercover, asked the employee.

He replied, "Park it or fix it."

Sybren van der Pol said he was surprised.

"I think that's totally incredible," he said.

The company wouldn't talk on camera and stopped returning phone calls from Channel 2.

The next place we visited was Sonic Express west of U.S. 59 on Bissonnet.

"There's a lot of stuff wrong with this vehicle," an employee named Muhammad told us. "The fuel filter must be replaced. The air filter must be replaced as well."

Sybren van der Pol had told us the air filter is new and nothing on our vehicle was leaking.

"You're going to need the radiator because it is leaking," Muhammad also told us. "It's $1,100 to take care of these."

We declined his recommendations and paid $45 for the diagnosis.

When we talked to the manager after the fact, he told investigative reporter Jace Larson that his people did nothing wrong. He claimed the repairs were preventative and the shop didn't have our maintenance records.  The mechanic never found the hose in plain view that we disconnected.

The manager did say that his employee should have walked our producer back to our vehicle and showed her the problem. That did not happen.

Our third stop was the only shop that did find the hose problem. We visited Driver's Auto Repair on Highway 90 in Sugar Land.

There was an issue when we went to pay.

"Let's play a game. What would you be happy walking out of here with your car completely fixed," the Driver's employee asked our producer. The employee laughed.

He told us a diagnostic test cost $129, but said he was giving us a break.

"We aren't charging you for any of the repair," he said.

He did not offer to let us leave for that price though.

"To fix it, is just $259.30," the employee said.

After we called him on the discrepancy, he dropped the price to $129.

The manager told us he would call us back so we could ask for an explanation, but he didn't call.

BE INFORMED

Here are some common car sounds along with the repairs you may need.

A grinding sound could mean bad rotors. Repairs can cost $500 to $1,000, Sybren van der Pol said.

If you start your car and it squeaks, it could be a dry belt. Repairs can be $100 to $150.

A roaring sound going down the road, can indicate a bearing going out. Repairs can be about $500.           

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