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Couple sues Whitestown auto mechanic after he kept truck for two years

Eric Stanfield and SAE Machining facing March 5 lawsuit
SAE Machining in Whitestown
Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-29 18:30:24-04

WHITESTOWN — A couple has filed a lawsuit against a Whitestown auto mechanic, accusing him of keeping their truck for two years and failing to do the work promised.

Jo and Jon Carey of Illinois filed the lawsuit on March 5 against SAE Machining and its owner Eric Stanfield.

The Carey’s lawsuit comes after WRTV Investigates started asking questions about the mechanic’s business practices.

They sent their truck to SAE Machining in 2018 for an engine replacement, and records show, they paid the business a total of $6,629 at the end of 2018.

It’s now March 2021 and the Careys still do not have their truck and had to purchase another vehicle.

“For many months I was paying for a truck I couldn't drive,” Jon said. “I paid it off. I have the title. I'm willing to give him the title. I just want my money back."

The Carey's hired Indianapolis attorney Andrew Ault and Greenwood attorney Ryan Frasher.

They filed a 19-page lawsuit on March 5 accusing SAE Machining and Stanfield of fraud and violating Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act.

The lawsuit alleges the business misrepresented the time and cost of the project, and Stanfield told the Careys the vehicle would be repaired “in a couple of months.”

"It's unreasonable to have a vehicle for two years and not be able to correct the vehicle like you promised you would correct it,” Frasher said. “It's unfair in that industry. I doubt there's any mechanic who would state on the record that's normal."

The lawsuit also alleges Stanfield failed to tell the Careys he was, "overworked, understaffed, and incapable of completing the work within a couple of months."

Ault said even after two years, Stanfield asked them to pay $2,628 before they could pick up the truck.

"It's crazy. There was already a cost overrun,” Ault said. “The authorized repairs cost way more money and two extra years to complete. It's just completely unreasonable and unfair."

The Carey's do not want their truck back at this point.

In their lawsuit, the Carey's are demanding Stanfield pay them the cost of the vehicle plus damages.

"The value we are looking to return to the Careys is about $16,000,” Frasher said. “That's the value of the truck and the value of repairs they paid that weren't completed. The judge can increase the amount three times so that's $50,000 that we will be seeking from the jury to award to the Carey's."

WRTV Investigates reached out to Stanfield for a response to the lawsuit and via email Stanfield said “I have no comment at this time.”

You can read his full statement below.

In October, we questioned Stanfield about the Careys’ situation and his business practices.

WRTV Investigates: “You’ve had their vehicle for two years?”

Stanfield: “I told them the last time we spoke that unfortunately, they weren't the only ones who got into a situation where they were waiting quite a while. Because the problem is over the last 2-3 years, work had built up because I decided to work alone. I like a challenge so I took the job. Problem is I took other jobs that were similar, those all start to build up and then all of sudden we’ve got lots of people waiting and me working by myself. So, it’s a situation I created on my own.”

The Better Business Bureau showed three complaints about SAE Machining taking a long time to complete work.

WRTV Investigates: “Can you respond to those complaints as well?”

Stanfield: “It all goes back to what I already said about overloading myself because I like the challenge of the large jobs. Most of the time you would not see a shop of this size with one person working inside."

In the fall, Stanfield showed WRTV the engine he said will be going into the Carey’s truck, and told us he’s waiting on one more part.

Stanfield: “In a perfect world where the engine is built from start to finish but there's other employees to help, the job would still take three to four weeks.”

WRTV Investigates: “Three to four weeks would have been the end of 2018.”

Stanfield: “That’s a best-case scenario when there’s other employees and several hands on the job.”

WRTV Investigates: “The Careys are saying we've waited two years for this vehicle to be finished, we don't think we should have to pay you anymore money. What's your response?”

Stanfield: “I do understand that. I think my attorney also mentioned in that communication, there were several parts missing when the truck came that I was unaware of until the last couple weeks. There originally was a second half of an invoice that would be due when the truck was finished. It’s not additional money on top of what they were aware of.”

WRTV Investigates: “Is there anything you can say to customers who waited a long time to get their vehicles?”

Stanfield: “Obviously I would apologize for the time frame. And the fact that I did create this backlog of work by being such a perfectionist and choosing to do the job alone. Some people would rather me hire some help and get it done quicker. I would assume in this case, they would rather have it done quicker. So would I at this point.”

Stanfield said in the fall he had whittled his backlog from 25 pending jobs down to six pending jobs.

MARCH 26 STATEMENT FROM ERIC STANFIELD

First of all, I would like to offer my apology to Mr. & Mrs. Carey for the extended amount of time required to complete the work on their vehicle. Many unforeseen issues complicated the process for me to complete the repair, but it definitely took longer than it should have and longer than expected. For that, I sincerely apologize.

At the time we last spoke during my interview on October 5th, 2020 I was nearing completion of the work on Mr. & Mrs. Carey's 2007 Ford F-150. In fact, that work was completed a few days later before your story ran on the evening of October 9th.

Prior to speaking with you on October 5th there had been several factors that caused progress on customer's vehicles to become delayed. These included increased customer inquiries, unforeseen complications with equipment and vehicles, my optimism regarding completion of various daily responsibilities and most importantly, a relocation of my business operation. Having realized the backlog of work and the need to catch up, I ceased all advertising nearly 1 1/2 years ago.

Shortly after that time an opportunity to relocate to a larger business location presented itself. This was a difficult decision because of the magnitude of moving a business like mine. Moving all of the large equipment and tools requires heavy equipment and planning. There would also be time required to set up the equipment at the new location. I felt like the move was a necessity even in the midst of Winter because I had been very crowded in my previous 4,000 SF location where only one vehicle could come inside and some of my equipment did not fit inside and was stored outdoors.

After moving all the equipment, inventory, tools, vehicles and supplies into my current 11,000 SF location during the months of January and February 2020 it was determined that the electrical system and other necessary features of the new location were not correct to begin setting up machines. It became a serious issue and required several months of time dedicated just to being able to set up equipment necessary for work to commence on customer's vehicles again.

Many have also asked why I continue to work alone even when faced with a backlog of work. The answer is simple. Without completing the intense work of building each engine by hand after machining each part to exact specifications, I could not offer the product and service that is what separates my work from that of other shops and mechanics. I consider myself more than a mechanic. I am trained and fully capable of the jobs that mechanics perform, but am also capable of much more. I am a machinist, engine builder, designer, inventor and restoration specialist. It would be very difficult to find another shop in the area that has the capability and equipment to build many different types of engines, both late model and classic, all in house from the bare castings, then install them as well. However, I go even one step further than that when I build each engine by hand. Over the years I have also studied the forensics of engine failures I have seen and use that evidence to find the root cause of engine failures. I then take that information and begin designing modifications and improvements to engines that have inherent factory built issues. This is how I became a "specialist" in the Ford 5.4L 3V engine used in the Carey's truck. That particular Ford engine is known to suffer from faults in its original design and created a market for a quality repair. In order to offer a product of higher quality than a stock replacement available from other sources, I use techniques and modifications I designed to build a more reliable engine. I have done this for various different engines over the years, learning and implementing ways to improve the quality of the engines I build by rectifying issues sometimes present since they were new. There are failed components here from customer's original engines even now that I set aside for future inspection to help design improvements for those engines. Removing parts and installing new ones is not only boring to me, but a futile attempt at repair when there is an underlying cause.

I use approximately 35 machines and pieces of equipment to build each engine. Each of these has to be set up and calibrated in order to ensure a quality product. I only install engines that I build from start to finish, many of which include design improvements made by me. This is how I am able to offer a product superior to what is available through parts stores or other shops. I build each engine step by step and machine every part individually with great attention to detail. I could list easily over 100 steps that must be performed with accuracy before the long block engine assembly is ever ready for installation (the point where most shops start after ordering a replacement engine). This obviously takes much more time to complete than it would at a factory where there may be hundreds of employees, but it is the only way to know exactly what is inside every engine and stand behind it with my own warranty.

In the first few days of July 2020 I received a letter from Andrew Ault representing Mr. & Mrs. Carey. The letter explained that Mr. & Mrs. Carey had become frustrated after delays in the completion of their vehicle and then had found it missing from my previous business location in March 2020. While noting their disappointment it could now not be completed, Mr Ault asserted that the vehicle had been sold or disposed of without notice to the owners. I quickly responded via email the same day to Mr. Ault and apologized for the missed communication of the business move. I then assured him that the vehicle was not missing and was stored indoors at my new location since February 2020. At this time I had set up many of my machines and was hopeful that I would be finished setting up and able to complete the work on Mr. & Mrs. Carey's truck by the end of August. I was sure this news would be a relief to them after thinking their truck was missing. However, after this response I did not hear anything from Mr. Ault or the Careys.

During the following two months new complications delayed the remaining set up of equipment necessary to complete work. Consequently, I was not able to bring the Carey's truck to the lift bay for preparation to have the engine installed until late September. Luckily much of the machine work and preparation of the individual components mentioned above had already been done at the old shop and transported during the move. Mr. & Mrs. Carey were unaware of this when they saw the truck outside at my previous location. There is no reason to bring the vehicle to the installation bay until the engine and all the external components are completely ready. The time and effort required to get to that point constitutes 75-80% of the job. This is why I was able to complete the job in less than a week after my interview.

A statement has also been made that I told Mr. Carey "the engine has been ordered and we're good to go". As I mentioned earlier, I only install engines that I build because that is the only way I can be sure enough to cover them by my own warranty. Therefore, I would never tell a customer that I had "ordered" them a new engine. I believe what Mr. Carey remembers me saying I had ordered was in regard to engine block and head metal castings. When a remanufactured engine is built it uses metal castings from previous engines that have been cleaned and tested as a starting point. This is why remanufactured engines always require an old engine to be exchanged or a "core charge" to be paid to offset the lack of parts for building another engine in the future. When I was originally contacted by Mr. Carey about an engine he shared with me the fact that the original engine had already been removed from the truck and he did not have it. I explained that this would not be a problem, but would incur a "core charge" as stated in my advertising (this charge was included on the additional parts invoice paid by the Careys). I continued to explain that these engines were in high demand and I currently did not have any additional "core engines" to build. I then checked with a few "core engine" suppliers I use and was able to locate one. I told Mr. Carey that it was on the way and we would now have a starting point for his new engine.

The reason it may look to some like the job was more than paid in full according to the original invoice is related to what was missing from the truck when it came to my shop. Mr. Carey had mentioned when we first spoke that his truck had been to another shop prior to calling me where they had removed the engine but not replaced it and that he did not have the old engine. This is the reason for the engine "core charge" mentioned earlier. However, at this point he had not yet brought the truck to me. After bringing the truck to my shop I was able to physically inspect the truck in person and quickly determined that there were many other parts missing from the Carey's truck that I would need in order to complete the requested job. After the time consuming job of reconstructing from parts diagrams all the missing pieces, I contacted Mr. Carey to explain what I had found. We had previously discussed not having the old engine as a "core", but there were many, many other parts missing. The advertisement that Mr. Carey had originally contacted me about clearly showed in the photos of the replacement engine that external components and many other parts missing from the truck were not included inthe original price advertised. Including the engine "core charge" previously discussed, the total of additional parts needed to complete the engine replacement was very large. None of these items would normally be required to perform the engine replacement on a vehicle because they are cleaned and transferred during the installation process. However, in this unusual case, they were actually missing. The total to purchase all of the necessary parts alone neared the cost of the engine replacement itself. This was without any charge by me for the time taken to inspect, research, document and acquire them. I felt this was a tipping point where this would cause the job to cost more than the value of the truck. This cost for the additional parts amounted to approximately a 75% increase. I gave Mr. Carey the option of bringing any or all of the missing parts to me, purchasing them from me or canceling the repair (since the job required these additional parts). To my surprise, Mr. Carey decided within a day to continue the repair by purchasing all of the parts from me. He elected to not bring any parts to me after the inspection showed a multitude of parts missing. He requested that the payment for these parts be split into two payments with the first being under $3,000.00 that day because of daily card limits. He would then contact me the next day to make the second payment to finish paying for the additional parts. Two payments were made over two days for these parts. Receipts for these payments clearly show they were made for additional parts needed to complete the original engine replacement. These payments along with the original deposit (1/2 of the engine replacement cost) are the 3 payments that were received from the Careys. This was just days after I originally saw the vehicle. At this point the additional parts were paid in full, but obviously the second portion of the original job including all of the labor had not been paid. That portion is not charged until the job is complete.

As stated during my interview on October 5th, 2020 I remained dedicated and felt obligated to complete the job I had agreed to complete. I had explained in my July 7th, 2020 response to Mr. Ault that not only was the truck not missing, but it was safely stored indoors where it was nearing completion. The owners would now be able to enjoy their new engine instead of being disappointed. Finishing a job set before me with high quality and attention to detail has always been my goal, no matter the hurdles. That week proved no different from much of life with more unforeseen issues and difficulty. However, I worked diligently and completed the work on the Carey's truck before the your story aired on the evening of October 9th, 2020.

When I completed the work and began to take the truck for a test drive it was obvious that the truck had some other mechanical issues not related to the engine work. I was unable to test drive it due to dangerous safety concerns. The next day I decided without speaking to the owners of the truck to repair the issues not related to the engine and replace several parts in order to make it safe with no intention of charging them for the work. There were a few reasons for this decision. First, I must test drive a vehicle after completing engine work to verify all functions and check for any leaks. Second, the vehicle was not safe to drive in its previous condition. I knew the owners were from Illinois and would be making a long trip home. The truck needed to be safe for that trip. Lastly, after the amount of time they had waited for the job to be completed it seemed like the right thing to do. All repairs to make it safe for them and the trip home were finished two days later. I was able to complete the test drive verifying all engine repairs and then had the truck detailed to make it ready for pick up.

At this point, about one week after my interview with you, Mr. Ault was notified that the truck was complete. All work was documented and copies of the invoices were sent via email to him. This included documentation for the original engine and installation, additional parts determined necessary to complete that job because they were missing from the truck, as well as the safety related work (although there was no charge for this).

Although all of the safety related work was done at no cost, a balance remains due on the vehicle at this time because the second portion of the engine replacement has not been paid. It is never charged until after the job is complete. This is why the deposit to start the job initially was 1/2 of the total.

In fact, to this point there has been no labor cost paid for any of the repairs and a portion of the parts remains unpaid. At no point has this repair been paid in full. This is evident from the invoice copies the Carey's have had for 2 years. They clearly show the second half of the original engine replacement job as being a balance. The invoice balance has never changed even though various additional hardware and supplies were used in completion of the job. These were discounted to maintain the original cost of the engine replacement.

During this entire process I had never met Mr. or Mrs. Carey in person and I was very excited to do so when they came to pick up their vehicle. I was sure that after being in such disrepair when it came in that they would now be very happy to have it drive beautifully on their way home. I provided the extra safety related work as a gesture of goodwill and in hopes that it could save them money and time. Taking the truck elsewhere and having to pay for that service after waiting for the engine repair would be frustrating.

I'm disheartened that as of now the Carey's have not shown any intention of picking up their truck. I have been unable to meet them or apologize in person for the delay in their truck's repair.

Thank you,
Eric Stanfield

TIPS FROM THE INDIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL:

  • If possible, consumers should be proactive and not wait until a breakdown to select or identify a mechanic. This can limit a consumer being pressured in a situation with a mechanic you don’t know or trust.
  • AAA maintains a nationwide Approved Auto Repair Network. Anyone can use this service whether you’re a AAA member or not.
  • Ask your auto insurer for recommendations; it may have a network of approved repair shops it can share.
  • Check online reviews of the mechanics you are considering.
  • Ask the potential mechanic questions, such as:
    • Is the repair shop’s mechanics ASE-certified?
    • Does the mechanic offer guarantees or warranties on its repair work?
    • What types of parts does the mechanic use? New, used, OEM or after-market
    • Does the mechanic offer free estimates? Do they guarantee their estimates?
    • If the mechanic offers a guarantee or warranty on their work, get it in writing before repairs commence.
  • Under Indiana’s Deceptive Consumer Sales Act, if the cost of the repairs on transactions $750.00 or above increases the estimate by more than 10%, a mechanic must get your consent in writing before completing the work.
  • If you wish to inspect the parts taken out of your vehicle, the mechanic has a duty under the Deceptive Consumer Sales Act to show you the parts before disposal.
  • If you think you have a problem with your mechanic or think you were deceived in some way, file a complaint with the Indiana Attorney General’s Office at IndianaConsumer.com.

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