Denver ABC News Garage Investigation – Hatchet Journalism or Investigation?


A hidden camera investigation team of Denver Colorado ABC news,  KMGH, visited 10 repair shops in the Denver area with a 2005 Jeep Liberty SUV to test the quality and honesty of auto repair garages and mechanics.

The CALL7 Investigators found recommendations from the Denver metro area auto shops varied widely. Some suggested unnecessary repairs and others missed problems that needed to be fixed.

The CALL7 Investigators took their 2005 Jeep Liberty to Rodney Perkins, a master mechanic, who teaches auto repair at Emily Griffith Technical College . Mr. Perkins with the aid of his students in the  program did a full inspection of the SUV. Perkins and his students identified two repairs that need to be completed:  a leaking power steering hose and a leaking lower radiator hose. The latter, if not fixed, could leave the Jeep inoperable, Perkins said.

It was not disclosed by the reporter how long it took Mr. Perkins and his students to perform the inspection. Whether the inspection was one of only visual inspection or disassemble and test. How much they were compensated for the inspection, nor the credentials of Mr. Perkins. It was not disclosed IF a written report had been presented or if it were only verbal.

In the video it  can be heard very clearly that the  CALL7 Investigator requested a “look it over” when she visited the Meineke on 120th Avenue in Thornton.  We have no way of knowing if she requested any specific area that she was concerned with or offered any focus such as “going on a trip” or buying this suv”. This is very vague and may have been intentionally so.

The mechanics there caught the problem with the Jeep’s power steering hose, but missed the leaking radiator hose. The shop also added on parts and services that weren’t necessary, like $150 to replace spark plugs. The total estimate: $596.

CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon (post undercover investigation) interviewed the manager, who admitted the inspection could have been more thorough.

“Yeah, probably could have done a better inspection — that would have been a good idea,” the manager told Rabon.

The manager added that it is standard procedure for his mechanics to recommend the replacement of spark plugs based on mileage; not an actual inspection of the condition of the Jeep’s parts.

“We didn’t pull any of the spark plugs out,” the manager said. “I could if I was asked to.”

Rabon asked: “Well, wouldn’t you think that’s an important thing to do before saying someone needs them?”

The manager replied that CALL7’s undercover investigator “just wanted me to check the car out and what it needed. Um, I’m sorry. I don’t like on-camera.”

The garage and the mechanics suggestion of replacing the spark plugs based on mileage is well documented in vehicle owners manuals as a service interval requirement by the manufacturer, however that recommendation in the Investigative Teams opinion was “parts and services that weren’t necessary”. IF the investigator had knowledge that the service was not needed, perhaps because they had already been replaced, shouldn’t she have informed the garage manager of this?  Or was she purposely with holding vital information simply to make the garage and mechanics look bad  for her story?

The Just Brakes shop on 592 S. Broadway missed both major problems with the Jeep. Instead, the shop gave CALL7 Investigators an estimate suggesting brake work and rear shocks for $526. The manager at the shop told CALL7 Investigators by phone that he is new and therefore “can’t really respond” to the details of the estimate his shop provided us at the time. He added that his shop does its work “correctly” since he became manager.

At Green Garage in Denver’s LoHi neighborhood, mechanics missed the problem with our Jeep’s radiator hose, but caught the issue with the power steering hose. The estimate to fix that problem was substantially higher than any of the other estimates we received.

Green Garage’s owner apologized for missing the radiator problem and defended his shop’s pricing, saying it is based on industry standards.

The identity of each garage was not disclosed in the article or video, so questions like who chose what shops to go to? Why take a SUV with known power steering and cooling system problems to a national chain like Meineke that until recently has been an under car garage (exhaust, brakes, shocks, struts) or a Just Brakes which implies they specialize in brakes only is pre-selection to prove a point.

It was not disclosed how long each garage inspected the SUV for nor were the qualifications of each mechanic performing the inspection. You would not want a general service mechanic inspecting your car and telling you what is needed any more than you would want a school nurse doing brain surgery!

It was also not disclosed if this was a”Courtesy Inspection” or a more thorough inspection that requires several hours to complete and for which the shops would charge a fee. Neither was there any mention of each garages’ inspection costs, if any, disclosed in the article or video.

The Green’s Garage being more of a generalist garage should have caught the needed repairs.  if  it was more than a courtesy inspection. And as to how much Green’s Garage charges, isn’t that theirs and their customers  decision to make?

I don’t personally know  Green’s Garage mechanics, but throwing them  into the same compensation pool as all other mechanics in Denver is like saying a Fifth Grader that can do Ms. Keli Rabon’s job of reporting so Ms. Robon should only be compensated on an equivalent level of that Fifth Grader ( small allowance, room and board).  What do you think Ms. Rabon, would you accept that same compensation?

Other shops provided estimates that were off target, failing to identify needed repairs or recommending ones that our expert said were unnecessary.

It is illegal to suggest repairs that are not necessary under a little-known law called the Motor Vehicle Repair Act, according to Adams County District Attorney Dave Young. It’s also illegal to charge for repairs without a customer’s consent, as well as for mechanics to say that repairs have been completed when they really haven’t.

“I have a feeling that there’s a lot of people out there that don’t even know it’s a criminal act to do these things,” Young said. “It’s fraud. There’s no other way to put it.”

Young did not say any of the shops the CALL7 Investigators tested committed fraud.

It is great that the investigative reporting staff is concerned with potential fraud in the auto industry, but if they really want to see fraud and report it, then they need look no further than their own industry. On November 17, 1992 Dateline NBC aired an investigative report  titled “Waiting to Explode”. It was about the Rounded-Line Chevrolet C/K-Series pickup trucks allegedly exploding upon impact during accidents due to the poor design of fuel tanks. The producers not wanting to take chances, had rigged the truck’s fuel tank with remotely controlled model rocket engines to initiate the explosion.

Danny Katz, director of Colorado Public Interest Research Group, or CoPIRG, said consumers are in a tough position with auto shops. They have to place their trust in mechanics because they don’t know enough to double check the work.

“That’s why it is important to shop around and get a couple of quotes,” Katz said.

Mr. Katz, aren’t we all in this position in any field outside our own? Case in point, when a judge makes a bad decision not based on law and does harm because they don’t know their job, it is the injured party plaintiff or defendant to file an appeal and pay more money to overcome the judge’s incompetence? It is impossible to get a ‘second quote’ on that judges’ decision and we don’t call that fraud. Why Not?

As you can tell I am passionate about “Hatchet Journalism” and how it harms the industry. Yes, there are garages that do bad things as well as mechanics, but it is no different in any industry as I have shown above.I think their investigation tells us more about the television station, its editors, and reporters than it does about the garages and mechanics that were subjected to an undercover investigation.

The Investigation team admits that the 2005 Jeep Liberty SUV is their vehicle and obviously the drivers have failed to report fluid losses or have it repaired. Thus they failed miserably not only in maintaining the SUV and totally ignored their responsibility as drivers, but they have placed other people at risk should the power assisted steering have failed, it could have caused an accident.

If you want to read the full article and watch their video, here is the link. CALL7 Investigators

Bloody Cars Admin Staff: An email request for fact clarification was sent to Ms. Keli Rabon, investigative reporter on 25 February, but a reply was not received.