Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Curry Automotive

Curry Tire in Greensboro, NC
 Let me preface this post by saying, I know the statistics. Over the years, I've paid attention to many automotive repair scams in the news, and they're common after all because of the fancy jargon, and the expectation of expertise that tends to persuade most of us who have never changed the oil in our cars, or performed even simpler maintenance items to trust our mechanics. Of course there are exceptions, but finding a good mechanic (and doctor) is something almost impossible, when, in a recent journalist investigation by Dateline (NBC) they found five out of eight garages either up-sold (increasing the overall amount of items sold), or recommended items unnecessarily. It's also been a huge problem in North Carolina, especially as part of the inspection process which has led many in our state government to come to the conclusion that corruption is so rampant, that doing away with the inspection process all together might be the answer.In fact according to the Charlotte Observer, the trend here in N.C. is inspection failures are up 15% in 2012 from 2011, because garages are failing vehicles for unnecessary repairs. Let me also clarify, "despite" being a woman, I'm fortunate to have my share of shade-tree mechanic knowledge under my belt. I've rebuilt small-block Chevys, worked on after-market suspension systems, and was one of the first to bring import racing to the Piedmont. Now that you know where I stand, let me tell you what happened.

Have you ever seen a more inviting customer waiting lounge in your life?
On Monday, 11th of March I had an appointment with the International Program Center about my re-entry into the U.S. at UNCG, and to discuss my grades while I was in Brussels. I also wanted to get my car inspected, a 1993 Ford Taurus with 80,000 miles on it, which has been meticulously maintained, and driven less than 1500 miles since the previous inspection a year ago where it passed with flying colors.  This vehicle is driven so little mainly because of gas mileage, and the fact we own a Geo Metro which receives nearly double the gas mileage (also I was gone half the year). So this vehicle only comes out on special occasions. Not that any of this really matters because, after-all the process of auto inspections should be uniform and fair, but in the real world, I think we can all admit fairness is in short-supply. In North Carolina there's even less with rampant racism, xenophobia, and sexism, the last of these three I believe Shannon and me were a victim of.

I'm pretty sure the decorating style is: POST EVERYTHING TO THE WALL!
Having never been to Curry Automotive, I didn't know what to expect. I had been eyeing them as a possible candidate for suspension work on the Metro which I knew was coming up, but wanted to find out a bit more about them before handing them "my baby". This seemed like a perfect opportunity  I had already pre-checked the car, making sure lights and signals were good, and necessary depth on the treads of the tires was sufficient to pass the state test. It was an in-and-out process of a non-emissions vehicle (meaning they just do the safety checks). All they had to do was pop the vehicle identification number in the computer, do a quick visual inspection, and we pay them the $12 odd dollars. So I left Shannon and the kids with the car as I walked over to my meeting at UNCG assuming she'd be picking me up in a half-hour.

As I walked out of my meeting in tears realizing my study abroad experience had finally come to an end, I found no one to pick me up. So I started walking back over to Curry, and I called Shannon. Shannon then informed me, they failed the car on account of a belt and wiper blades. They then said they'd be glad to fix it for about $150 dollars. When she refused, she was informed the car didn't run anymore.

This of course sort of confirmed my suspicions  My Spidey-senses went off the moment I walked into the place, and now I was getting mad.  But I calmed myself and casually walked into the what can only be called as a time-warp waiting room for mustaches, and hair-club for men members left over from 1973. I asked the gentleman, "what's up?" hoping to get clarification on the matter. "It doesn't go" he mumbled. He then continued to try to sell to me the parts that "failed" his inspection by showing me, not mine, but some random broken parts on the table as evidence to why they needed to be replaced. I'm sure for a lot of people fall for this staging of props and are more than enough convinced to quickly shell out $150 on a $12 inspection. He must assume that since I have blond hair and breasts that  I have absolutely no knowledge of what a belt does, because before I knew it, he advises me that the drive-belt is part of the suspension system.

Okay, you had me till there.

I took a brief microsecond to recall automotive engineering 101 from the deep corridors of my brain. Some distant seed of information left over from the half dozen or so German suspensions I've installed in my cars over the years. Suspensions = springs, struts, control arms, sway bars, etc. What the hell does a drive-belt have to do with it? I confirmed this to my mechanic who either has a poor knowledge of automobiles or a firm hatred of female intelligence by telling him he was wrong. This of course infuriated him and he ran off behind closed doors before returning trying to prove his case. He then popped out, and pointed to a duct taped poster on the wall as proof, to which I replied that the poster doesn't actually say that (it didn't), and to which he then did a double take (reading it for the first time apparently), then grew more infuriated, and ran back out the door.

He perpetuated his ignorance by bringing me a book, smiling, and pointing to a paragraph labeled "steering systems", and yelling "there"! I quietly advised him, that's steering not suspension. He was now really peeved. While the State manual does include belts under the steering system, its intention is to ensure operability of the power steering pump, something my belt was doing just fine with, and likely would have done for another 20,000-30,000 miles. The official verbiage in the state manual which even Mr Ducker didn't know, is that the belt must be "wore". This is a very subjective term if you take it in the laymen's way (which is likely what he did) however in a technical sense the term means (in essence) to erode the surface of something through friction. At the time of inspection, this belt showed no signs of wear to indicate issues of wear due to erosion of either the teeth of the belt or the thickness of the material. 

It was a lost cause of course, and as I've said a thousand time, generally people only get angry when you confront them when you've proved them wrong. In this case I insulted his intelligence and he deserved it. After all, I'm the customer (a poor stupid female in need of brave intelligent soul like his) and you're supposed to be an expert. Right? I decided at that point to cut our losses and leave. Of course the car, not running, mysteriously started to run once I showed up (and with a  can of gas from one of the other mechanics). This after another debacle in which this same gentleman suggested Shannon and the kids walk down Lee street to buy gas for the car because she refused to be extorted for the $150.

So I now have a failed safety inspection from Edward Ducker at Curry Automotive on a car that runs just fine. The two items that he failed, a drive-belt and windshield wipers (which I replaced last year), both "miraculously" work flawlessly. To be sure I check both the items myself and conversed with another inspection station who I'm more familiar with, and who agreed that if the car would have came into them originally, it would have passed. That said, I dropped by Auto-Zone to buy both the parts (mostly because I was just sick of dealing with all this), at a cost of about $45. Even with a half-hour of labor to install these (they're very quick to install [under 5 minutes]) Curry would have still been anywhere from $50-$80 over charging us.

This time I took it back to the inspection station which I received the second opinion from. I was required to pay an additional $12 (which I was glad to do), to which he performed a complete, new inspection, and the car passed just fine. While I was out quite a bit of money, I had the satisfaction of not allowing Curry to take advantage of myself or my partner. I can't say for certain if they pull a similar routine on men,, but it's clearly a place you want to avoid.

In fact you want to be skeptical of any inspection station that has a table of "bad" parts without showing you your parts. Be wary of any mechanic who quotes insane amounts of money for simple to replace items like belts and wipers. In fact windshield wipers cost about $6 a piece and can be installed at any parts shop (Autozone, Advance, etc.) for FREE! A serpentine belt like on my vehicle costs $26, and requires no bolts to be loosened to install. There's a simple spring loaded wheel you simply pull back on and slide the old belt off, and the new one on. Indeed if Ducker would have come to me and advised me that my car needed these items, showed me my own parts, and properly explained why I needed them, I would have gladly paid him a reasonable rate to replace them. After all, I want peace of mind. However none of this happened, and every action by this employee of Curry suggests predatory, and potentially criminal behavior aimed at manipulating the state of North Carolina inspection process into a gold mine of additional revenue for them.

I would like to say the one good thing out of it was that one employee, Zac, noticed the behavior of this co-worker and chose to run and get gas for Shannon rather than making her walk. He also seemed to carry a similar sentiment towards this individual and chastised him for his behavior. I'm not sure what the relationship is here, but I suspect it's one in which it suggests, Shannon and I are not the only victims of this individuals behavior.

It's rare I get this overwhelmingly involved at addressing a bad review on my blog, so this should indicate how upsetting this is to me. To treat women as stupid, and to take advantage of people, especially students such as us, is the worst kind of behavior I hope I never  have the chance in receiving again. I plan to submit a report to the Better Business Bureau of Greensboro, and will continue to inform friends and colleagues on campus about what happened. Ultimately you have to decide who to take your car to, but the risk of going to the "good ole boys" at Curry is one, I would not take. In fact I can't make a recommendation of an alternative, but if the decor of their showroom hasn't been updated in this century it's probably a good idea to stay far-far away.

That's what I'm doing. Because of this, I will now choose to take the $500 worth of suspension work of my other car to another mechanic, rather than Curry Automotive. 


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