APA Auto Repair Investigation - May 2001

Automobile Protection Association
Mystery Car Strikes Again

MAY 2001

The Automobile Protection Association released the results of its latest undercover investigation today. A specially prepared Ford Mustang visited 37 repair shops in three Canadian cities for the correction of a simple problem. According to the APA, the study which was funded by Industry Canada`s Office of Consumer Affairs, is the most extensive consumer investigation of auto repairs in Canada to date. An in-depth report will be featured on WFIVE, the CTV investigative television show on Sunday May 13 at 10:00 p.m.

APA President George Iny said the results show that consumers have ample reason to be worried when they take their cars in for service. In one out of five visits, the APA`s researchers were sold unnecessary parts to repair their vehicle. "In most cases, the parts changed were brand new," said Iny

The cost of repairs to reconnect a vacuum hose ranged from zero at Car Craft in North Vancouver to $613 at Minit-Tune in downtown Vancouver. Eighteen out of 37 shops performed the repair in 90 minutes or less and earned a pass rating. The time required to return the car to APA`s customers ranged from less than half an hour to three days at shops that made the APA wait while they ordered unnecessary parts or fumbled with the repair.

Using an in-car camera, WFIVE was able to compare the real hourly labour rate at some garages to the amount billed and turned up rates as high as $188 and $240 hour. "Clearly," says Iny, "there`s a perception in the repair trade that when it comes to the customer, what you don`t know won`t hurt you."

The APA Test Vehicle
The APA`s test vehicle was a 1994 Mustang V8 chosen from a used car dealer`s lot in Toronto. "We like the Mustang," said Iny, "because it`s a hairy-chested performance car unlikely to be driven by the serious types undertaking a government supported study." The Mustang shares its engine and computer system with the large F-Series Ford pickups and Crown Victoria/Grand Marquis, so it`s familiar territory in the repair trade.

Prior to beginning the investigation, the APA Mustang received a thorough going over at two APA recommended repair shops in Toronto. New parts installed included the spark plugs and cables, ignition coil, distributor cap, rotor, battery, starter, accessory drive belt, exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) valve and position sensor, oil pan gasket and more. The oil, air, and fuel filters were replaced.

A vacuum hose to the EGR valve was disconnected, causing the Check Engine warning to light up on the dash. The solution was to interrogate the car`s on-board computer which would flash a trouble code indicating a problem with the EGR circuit. The APA chose this sort of test because it seemed foolproof: "Assuming the mechanic is having a bad hair day and fixes the wrong thing," said Iny, "that warning light will continue to show him the problem hasn`t been corrected." The APA`s experts figured a competent facility would complete the repair easily in 45 minutes, including time for a short road test of the car. The APA doubled the allowable time to 90 minutes for a pass.

The Results


Cities Visited

Dealers Visited




Report Details

Vancouver 8 3 3 2 Click Here
Toronto 16 7 6 3 Click Here
Montreal 13 8 2 3 Click Here
Total : 37 18(49%) 11 8  
  • 18 garages completed the work within the allotted 90 minutes and earned a pass. The cost of repairs ranged from $0 to $123 including taxes, and included one Ford dealer that fixed the car for $69.
  • 7 garages installed parts on the APA`s car to replace brand new parts that were working perfectly, resulting in a fail rating. In all cases, the replaced parts were working perfectly and reinstalled. Repair charges ranged from $227 to $613, with most shops charging over $400.
  • 11 garages earned an unsatisfactory rating for a variety of reasons. Some charged up to two hours` labour to complete the repair. Five shops that were unable to complete this simple repair but either did not bill or charged a small amount fell into this category. The APA says that shops rated unsatisfactory appear to offer poor value to consumers with a tune up problem.


Chain Stores No Guarantee
The APA visited 9 Goodyear Auto Centres in the three cities. The Goodyear stores in Toronto and Vancouver turned out to be an expensive and highly variable choice for the consumer. Irving Tire in Vancouver and Matharu Auto Center in Toronto replaced parts needlessly and presented bills for $488.41 and $551.77 respectively. In Montreal, the two Goodyear stores visited both passed easily and charged less.

Canadian Tire stores, with 10 visits across Canada earned a chequered rating. Two of three shops visited in Toronto passed, while a third charged $419 to replace brand new parts. Only one of four shops in Montreal passed. One Canadian Tire store in Vancouver passed, a second suggested that the APA take the vehicle to a Ford dealer, the third found that there may have been a possible intermittent problem since all readings looked good (they weren`t).

Two smaller chains visited appeared to perform worst of all. The Minit-Tune shop on East Hastings in Vancouver charged $613, the highest amount for the worst work of the investigation, and returned the car with its cruise control system disconnected. In Montreal, the two shops belonging to the Alex chain replaced perfectly good parts and presented hefty bills of $426 and $415.

Government Emissions Testing Certification No Guarantee
In Vancouver, repair shops that replaced parts needlessly were AirCare certified. The APA says two Vancouver repair facilities that could not even diagnose the problem were AirCare certified, which begs the question: what does AirCare actually provide?

In Toronto, several shops that were deemed unsatisfactory were DriveClean certified. Curiously, in Montreal where there is no emissions certification program, the garages performed better than in the other cities, and the average cost of repairs was lower.

The Good News
The APA says there is some encouraging news. All garages provided estimates or obtained the customer`s approval before beginning repairs. In every case when they were requested, the old parts were returned and not tampered with. Some of the shops that failed immediately issued refunds or an apology when they learned the repairs were part of an investigation.

Who Can You Trust?
The APA says its test was so easy that the ability of a garage to pass is no guarantee of good service on a more complicated job. Clearly the national sign on the door was no guarantee, nor were government emissions or auto club certification. Here`s what you can do:

Do not rely on advertised specials or national brands to choose your shop. Try for a word of mouth referral from a long-time customer with a vehicle similar to yours - that`s precisely how the APA found the repair shop that performed best in the investigation.


  • Independent shops operated by a hands-on owner mechanic usually provide the best value, although they don`t have the convenient locations and hassle-free no-appointment policies of the large chains. However, the APA has found good and bad repair shops in all categories.
  • Try not to wait until the last minute for a repair. If your vehicle will barely run, you lose a lot of the freedom to pick the best facility.
  • If you get hit with a major estimate that seems unusual, get a second opinion before you authorise the work. The APA would have saved hundreds of dollars in some cases by seeking a second opinion before authorising repairs to its mystery car.


The APA says the investigation is a wake-up call to the auto repair industry. Cutbacks that decimated provincial consumer ministries and municipal fraud squads have left the field wide open for abuses. The large chains should be doing more to ensure uniform quality. Low base salaries and flat rate pay systems that allow mechanics extra money if they beat the clock, as well as the bonuses paid for selling parts encourage abuses says APA. The public would be better off paying a higher hourly rate for a real 60-minute hour, and competent work says the APA.