BOONE COUNTY — A Whitestown auto mechanic is accused of keeping a couple’s truck at his shop for two years, leaving the family frustrated and demanding their money back.
In the fall of 2018, Jo and Jon Carey of Illinois were looking for a mechanic to do a very specific job.
"I needed a new engine for my truck because I didn't want to buy a new truck,” said Jon Carey. “On the internet, I found an SAE Machining in Indiana. They specialize in the 5.7 liter F-150 engines that go bad.”
Jon said he spoke with SAE Machining’s owner, Eric Stanfield.
"I said great, how long does it take, and he said ‘I will just order the engine, it will be a couple months,’” said Jon. “He said ‘I will put all my own parts inside so this engine will work for a very long time.’"
Jon Carey had the engine removed and on October 24, 2018 the truck delivered to SAE Machining, which at the time was located in Zionsville.
Records show Jon paid the auto mechanic a total of $6,629 at the end of 2018.
"He told me the engine was ordered and we were good to go, but I didn't hear from him for 6 months,” said Jon Carey. “Crickets."
Jon said when he did get a hold of the owner, he got excuses, so he drove to the Zionsville location and was shocked by what he saw.
“The truck was parked outside, and the tire was flat and the inside was full of cobwebs,” said Jon Carey. “I lifted the hood and there was no engine. There was nothing being done to it.”
The Careys hired Indianapolis attorney Andrew Ault, who specializes in consumer problems with auto dealers and mechanics.
"Mechanics do often take a vehicle into their shops and they're unable to complete it,” said Ault. “This happens but this is one of the worst I’ve seen.”
In July, Ault sent a legal demand letter to SAE Machining, which moved in January 2020 to Whitestown, asking the company to pay $16,789.95 which includes what the Careys paid for the engine work, plus the value of the truck when it was delivered to the shop.
"Even if he were to complete this, It's too late,” said Ault. “He's damaged my clients in the amount of $17,000. You can't remedy that by ‘hey, here it is, 2 years later!’"
Jon Carey said he is worried about damage to the truck while it was sitting outside for more than a year.
“I want my money back and I don't want the truck back,” said Jon Carey. “I'm at my wit's end. I'm out a truck, literally for 2 years. That is crazy."
SAE Machining’s owner Eric Stanfield responded to the July demand letter by vowing to finish the job.
“Completing this for Mr. & Mrs. Carey by the end of August is a priority for me,” said Stanfield in a July email to Ault.
But as of October, the Careys still did not have their vehicle or their money back.
WRTV Investigates stopped by SAE Machining and spotted the Carey’s truck inside the shop.
Stanfield came out and invited WRTV Investigates inside and showed us the Carey’s truck which did not have an engine.
WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney: “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 shows three complaints about SAE Machining taking a long time to complete work.
WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney: “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."
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 3 to 4 weeks.”
WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney: “3 to 4 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.”
Stanfield’s attorney told Ault via email that the Careys will have to pay more money, $2,628, before they can pick up the truck
WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney: “The Careys are saying we've waited 2 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 Kara Kenney: “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 he has whittled his backlog from 25 pending jobs down to 6 pending jobs.
Meanwhile, Jon Carey had to purchase another vehicle.
"For many months I was paying for a truck I couldn't drive,” said Jon Carey. “I paid it off. I have the title, and I'm willing to give him the title. I just want my money back for the truck and for the money I paid him.”
The Careys want other consumers to be aware.
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.
TIPS FROM THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU
· Do your research. Ask friends and family for mechanics they trust. If you need major repairs, you may want to find a dealer or repair shop specializing in the type of repair or specific type of car. Make sure the shop has proper licenses and complies with local laws. Look for certifications like an Automotive Service Excellence Seal. ASE certification indicates that some or all of the technicians have met basic standards of knowledge and competence in specific technical areas. Make sure the certificates are recent, but also remember that certification alone is not a guarantee of good or honest work. Check business profiles at bbb.org to see if a business is accredited and in good standing and to read reviews and complaints. You can also check with your local attorney general's office in the United States, or local consumer protection agency on either side of the border to see if the shop has a record of complaints.
· Maintain your car properly. Read your vehicle's manual for suggested routine maintenance to keep it humming along and reduce the need for repairs. Look for information such as the type and weight of oil to use in different seasons, proper maintenance intervals, and the maximum load your car can carry or tow. If your car has a manual transmission, find out the proper shift points for maximum engine life (they are usually the same as described for maximum fuel efficiency). Pay close attention to any changes in how your car performs, any lit dashboard signals, and unusual smoke or odors.
· Understand your warranty. Make note of anything you need to do to keep your warranty valid. If you are getting work done while the car is still under warranty, check to see if there are guidelines you must follow and if you must take the car to a specific location. If in doubt, ask questions at the dealership where you bought your car. If your warranty has expired, shop around for a reputable mechanic to perform the work.
· Plan ahead. Don’t wait until you have an accident or your car stops running to look for a mechanic. You will be under a lot more stress when facing an emergency, so do your research when you can take your time and make educated decisions.
· Have a professional diagnose the problem. Self-diagnosing problems can lead to unnecessary costs if you ask for specific work that doesn’t actually fix the issue. Describe the problems you are experiencing, with as much detail as possible, but have the auto body shop do a diagnostic (ask first if there is a charge for that) and determine what should be done. Don't rush the technician into making an on-the-spot diagnosis of the problem.
· Get a written estimate. Be sure to get a detailed estimate including repairs, labor, parts, and expected time to complete the repairs before signing to have the work done. Ask if there is a charge to get the estimate before requesting one. Ask for any details on costs connected with the return of parts, the cost of shop supplies, the cost of disassembly, inspection, and diagnosis of the vehicle, and the cost of reassembling the vehicle in the event that you choose not to authorize repairs. If there is anything you do not understand, ask for an explanation. Make sure the estimate states the mechanic will ask for authorization before doing additional work or incurring additional costs. Include your name and telephone number so the mechanic can reach you. If there is any uncertainty about the repair, get a second opinion. For larger repairs, you should also get multiple estimates. Never sign off on an estimate that is blank or appears to be incomplete. Be sure to understand all shop policies regarding labor rates, guarantees, and acceptable methods of payment.
· Pay attention when you pick up your car. When you pick up your car, get a complete and detailed written summary describing everything the mechanic did. Ask the service manager to go over it with you and explain all the work they did and replacements they made. Also, if they replaced any major parts, ask to see what they did. Depending on the state or province, some laws allow customers to keep all replaced parts if requested before the work is started as long as the parts do not need to be returned to a supplier or manufacturer. Be sure that your bill itemizes the repairs so if a problem occurs later, you can show what was done. It should also note the car’s odometer reading before and after the work. Are there any charges you do not recognize or understand? If the shop cannot explain a charge, it may not belong on your bill. If you requested to approve work before it was done, and you see charges on the bill that you did not approve, you should ask questions about those items.
· Get all guarantees in writing. If the shop guarantees its work, get the guarantee in writing. A written guarantee should include what it will cover, such as parts, labor, or both, how long they are guaranteed, and any exclusions. It should also outline whether the guarantee is adjusted for time or mileage, and if it transfers to a new owner if you sell the car. Save all paperwork, bills, and receipts.
· Follow up with problems. If you continue to have problems with your car after the work is complete, take it back to the shop that performed the original repair. If issues continue, it will be easier to identify who is responsible for the repair. If you are unable to reach a satisfactory repair, you may wish to file a complaint at bbb.org. If your issue involves the warranty for the car, you can open a dispute with BBB AUTO LINE in the United States. In Canada, if the car is a recent model, it may qualify for CAMVAP arbitration.
· Be a smart consumer. One of the best ways you can protect yourself against disreputable car repair shops and scams is to practice "consumer automotive strategy." Be quiet about your lack of knowledge. If you do not know much about automobiles, do not let the mechanic know. Watch your car if possible. Do not leave valuables in your car when leaving it in the shop. Be aware of common scams used by dishonest repair shops. There are many things disreputable mechanics can do to make a car appear to have more problems than it does. For example, simply switching the spark plug wire connections can prevent a car from starting. If you feel you have been taken advantage of, you should first complain to the service manager of the repair shop or the owner of the facility. If you cannot resolve the complaint satisfactorily, contact the BBB where the car was serviced. You can also contact your local consumer protection office or state's attorney general's office. If the mechanic who did the work is ASE certified, ASE may be able to take action if enough complaints have been filed.