Chain auto repair places and varying quality of each location

I always see people here bashing on chain auto repair and lube places, likely with good reason. What I find interesting is that some of these locations actually do good work while others are AWFUL.

I won’t mention names but the example I have is a store that goes by the name of a tire brand that had major issues when used as the factory tire on Ford SUVs several years back. The one near where my parents live is an excellent place to take your car. I wouldn’t hesitate to take any brand, make, or model of car to this location. They do everything from the simple things like brakes, tires, and oil to major engine work. People are happy with them and they stand behind their work. There is another chain store just down the road from this location that has ripped off several people by replacing a year old battery saying it is bad or year old tires saying they are dry rotted terrible. The sad part is that the battery they junked still had a 100% replacement warranty on it.

Now this chain’s location where I live is terrible. I have never been there but never plan to go based on the horror stories I have heard. These include things like not putting the drain plug back in to dropping a friends’ car off their lift and claiming he had an accident and then brought it to them so that he could blame them for the damage. I know someone who bought their premium brake pads and started having issues with them so they went to another shop. That shop told them they had installed the cheapest parts store grade pads available. Someone else bought tires and a warranty, expecting that the warranty would work at any location. Well it didn’t. Also, they denied the warranty for one reason or another when they went back to claim it at this location. Now this person had bought like 8 sets of tires in the past from this store and you can guess this was their last set.

I have always wondered how one location can be very good while another can be terrible. Take McDonald’s for example. Sure, it is fast food but they are pretty consistent between stores. You can count on them to have the same level of quality. Other fast food places are more spotty in the quality and cleanliness of the stores. Hotel chains are much the same way. They try to keep things consistent between locations. Why is this not the case with auto repair?

I’m sure that there a few “Chain store” mechanic’s that come here…there must be!!!

But I’ve never seen one come here and defend the “Chain Store”.

So that tell’s me that either, none come here…or the ones that do, do not admit it. Maybe they already know their limited knowledge and maybe are coming here to learn.

There may be a great mechanic at one branch…or maybe a few, but that does not mean that all the branches have one knowledgeable mechanic on the payroll.

There could be an owner of a franchise that really wants the best, but I’ll bet that many franchise owners could care about anything but how much they make in dollars.

I’ve never seen any worker at the local Iffy Lube that looked over 21 years old. That tells me right away to stay away.


Quality control at a place like McDonalds is easier because they sell standard products (burgers, fries, etc) whose quality is easily measured, and with other easily measured metrics (average service time, etc).

On the other hand, auto service is a completely different ballgame, every job is different, mechanics have to know a lot about many different vehicles, etc, unlike McD’s employees who have to know only a few skills, and outcomes are difficult to measure (customer satisfaction) without extensive/costly surveys.

So you’re comparing apples and oranges and wondering why they’re different.

True! Plus you might have the same exact make/model/year of car and one has been treated well and the other not. Or one has been in a salty area and rusted while the other is clean.

The problem with chain stores is that because they are chains they are more insulated from their own bad behavior. If a local mechanic constantly screws up, he’ll be out of business before too long because word will spread and no one will go to him. If a chain store constantly screws up, they’ll still do pretty good business because people who don’t know anything about finding mechanics will go to the brand they recognize (Tony’s Garage is less well-known than Meineke), and people from out of town who do know about finding mechanics will likely go there anyway for the same reason they go to Applebees – not because the food is good, but because the quality is known. Their thinking is that it’s better to get mediocre quality food/repairs than take the risk of getting something even worse at a mom and pop joint.

So while a mechanic that’s been there for 20 years is probably a pretty decent mechanic (or a mafia front :wink: ), you can’t possibly make that guess with a chain store. So even though you might get good work there, you might also go home with a lot of damage, and until you risk your expensive car on the test, you just don’t know.

'‘varying quality of each location.’'
in a word ;

I’ve been in this business forty years and have seen the transition to chain franchised repair shops over the years.

  • I’ve seen many known sheisters RACE to get themselves a fancy name sign just to continue their wicked ways…in this small town, that game didn’t last very long.
  • I’ve seen many seasoned mechanics go into the chains just to keep a job and be a nicely known caveat for us locals to know that guy is now in that shop .

I WILL take my car to Firestone here because ??..I know those people.
I WON’T take my car to Pep Boys here because ??..I KNOW THOSE PEOPLE !

In this small town we see a lot of the same mechanics bounce around to the various shops, dealers, and franchises. And I can attest to the fact the PERSON rarely changes no matter where he goes. I’ve busted many right here as they try my dealership !
Checking out parts I later found they didn’t put on the vehicle .
NOT checking out parts I knew they should have.
And asking for oddball parts I knew were a patch job or short cut.
I’ve had to say :
’’ Eh hemm !! WE don’t do that here ! WE are a dealer with an eighty year reputation that YOU are not going to destroy…get it right or get out.’’
– guess who’s not here anymore ?

RE Mcdonalds, there is one that is freaking fast! Consistently they are light wars away from the others, as said in other posts my wife has never had any problem with ****lube, but I am due to convenience vs price to a place I trust, it is across the street from my work, a used car sales with a service dept, but even gave me a better price on tires than tire rack after nearby mounting options. The only rule is there is no rule.

We have a number of Midas shops in our area, but only one I really trust. They have several good mechanics and for suspension, brakes, exhaust work I have no issue using them. I draw the line at engine and transmission work which requires a lot of specialized knowledge and equipment.

Before I moved there was a Pepboys near me and I got to personally know the mechanics there. They used to won their own shop, but the hassle of running a business, having employees and buying insurance etc, drove them to work for PB. They were happy there and they were very well qualified and honest. I just had to bypass the service writer and go back and make sure they know what exactly my problem was. They took good care of me & my car.

We’ve had pretty good luck with some chains like Discount Tire and Midas but the majority of the work we need done can be accomplished by our regular mechanic who we trust much more than the average guy at the chain places, Oil changes and such might cost a little more but it’s worth it for the service.

For awhile I used popular chain tire place in NE PA, until the usual staff was gone and new guys were there. The quality of work and my trust in the place dropped off. The guy that actually does the work matters. Now I use an independent shop and I see the same workers year after year.

Franchise McService Centers somehow get run with the idea that they will operate at a profit day in and day out from day one and the customers who drive in are fair game. Today’s driving public is often drawn to the high traffic, high visibility location with an inviting coffee shop atmosphere where someone in professional/casual attire greets them and discusses the problem in contrast to the fast fading neighborhood garage where the office was just a corner of the shop and the man to deal with was the owner who dressed and looked like one of the mechanics because he was. There are 2 muffler franchises in my small home town and one is run somewhat like the old garages and has developed quite a clientele while the other has been run by several owners who are impatient to get into the big bucks and throw the scare tactic routines out to customers who drive in for a 'free inspection with the $34.99 oil change.

^^ That’s why I like the shop where I have to go find the mechanic under a car in the shop, no TV, no coffee, I don’t like to pay for that stuff.

For the record, wide variations in quality are just as prevalent among private shops as they are in chain stores.

"For the record, wide variations in quality are just as prevalent among private shops as they are in chain stores."
True, except that the chain stores seem to be able to hang onto their franchises with a rotating staff while a bad indy shop will be gone as soon as the customer base gets hurt once each and/or begins to spread the word. If they have a large enough customer base they might still survive.

A long gone uncle of mine claimed that there were no honest mechanics in Washington DC in the '70s and '80s. (Kind of like the politicians.) His theory was that there were enough customers to fleece in the capital that they could each fleece each DC resident once, and never run out of suckers. He routinely drove his cars 90 miles into Pennsylvania where he’d gotten to know a good indy shop. There were times his cars would barely make the trip, but he’d still go. I remember one that slobbered all over itself for want of a new coil. It might have needed a complete engine overhaul in the city.

I haven’t eaten at an Applebees in years but the last time I did, I would have much rather eaten McDonalds! The price for mediocre food at best was WAY too high and there are plenty of local places including a steakhouse that actually serve fresh food, not something out of the freezer. I hear they got some woman for CEO a couple years back and she has really turned the place around and offered some deals so I probably need to give the place another try.

As for the chains, you are probably correct. The appearance is good and not just some dingy old garage like the places I like. They all look the same and are in a high-profile location. People are familiar with this and may not know what good work actually is. People have an expectation of what they are used to.

I work on computers and see this all the time. People buy a cheap Wal-Mart or Black Friday special type computer and use it a year, and then trash it and buy another. These things are dreadfully slow and often use some oddball AMD processor that was never intended for a full on computer. They don’t even meet the minimum specs to run Windows yet are running Windows some of the time. Yeah, they run but the experience is miserable and that is why MS has specs above and beyond what it takes to simply turn on and boot. People buy these and then expect the computer to actually run decent. I see plenty where people want to upgrade them to make them faster. Since everything is soldiered together, I tell them that they need to just buy another computer and not another on of these!

The next “grade” of computer from Wal-Mart is a low to medium level system being sold for way too high of a price. This is catering to those looking for convenience, not those looking for a deal. People are willing to pay more for one while buying motor oil, milk, and eggs rather than save money or get a better one for the same price at an office or computer/electronics store.

I guess expectations at a chain auto repair place are much the same. People are familiar with mediocre and are willing to accept it.

“I haven’t eaten at an Applebees in years but the last time I did, I would have much rather eaten McDonalds! The price for mediocre food at best was WAY too high .”

+1 !!

I used to go to Applebee’s occasionally, because a friend of mine liked the place.
However, even something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich was almost flavorless and unappealing.

The last straw for me was when I entered the men’s room after eating at the Applebee’s in Linden, NJ, and found
…no soap
…no hot water
…no toilet paper
…and no paper towels for drying your hands!

Since this was the same restroom used by their kitchen staff and their servers, I almost hurled at the thought of the so-called sanitary conditions involved with the preparation of my food.

Never again!

Like you, I always ended up there because of a friend who liked the place. Once they moved away, I never went on my own. The reason that grilled cheese sandwich was so bland is because it probably sat in a freezer for months before hitting your plate. This is how Applebees and other chains are able to offer such a wide variety on their menu. I finally figured out that when I had to go, I generally did OK getting salads. You can’t freeze salad greens and they were pretty good. Plus I wasn’t spending $20 on a steak that tasted worse than a $2 one from Wal-Mart. Never had an issue with the restroom sanitation as I remember. I have been to places like that though and you wonder how the health department allows them to stay around.

As for the car chains, I think it does go back to the convenience, location, and expectation. Many of these don’t require an appointment either so you can just drive in. Lots of people like that.

The worst Macdonald’s I’ve ever been in was in South Houston, just down the road from Hobby Airport. It was filthy, the food lukewarm and the coffee overcooked. The worst Burger King was in England in one of the freeway restaurants near the Wales border. The burgers were precooked and were crisp and tasteless. They would have made good hockey pucks.

I had a coffee at an Arby’s once and found no soap in the restroom. Six months later I stopped in at the same one just to check and… still no soap in the bathroom. I’ve advised everyone not to patronize that place.

“The reason that grilled cheese sandwich was so bland is because it probably sat in a freezer for months before hitting your plate”

I had previously heard rumors that almost everything on their menu is pre-packaged, frozen, and then “nuked” just prior to serving. Apparently you have heard the same thing.

Hmmmm…perhaps that explains why you never seem to smell food cooking at those places!