A four-month undercover investigation reveals what insiders say are new tricks and tactics used to cheat unsuspecting customers at the nation’s largest truck repair chain. Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News on Monday, May 13, 2013.
Watch Video: Back Under the Hood
Seven years after an NBC4 I-Team expose prompted Jiffy Lube to apologize for cheating customers and to promise “system wide changes,” the I-Team has uncovered what insiders say are new tricks and tactics to get your money, some in apparent violation of the law.
The I-Team’s hidden cameras recorded Jiffy Lube employees charging our undercover customers for repairs that were never done, rigging diagnostic tests so they could say our car needed repairs, and pushing repairs our automotive experts said were unnecessary.
“That’s fraud,” said Bruce Hotchkiss, a former investigator with the California Bureau of Automotive Repair. Hotchkiss reviewed undercover video of the I-Team’s visits to Jiffy Lube. “They flat out lied and it appears they had the intent to lie,” Hotchkiss said.
Jiffy Lube serves some 22 million customers yearly at more than 2,000 franchised stores nationwide, making it the nation’s biggest car repair and service chain.
During a four-month investigation, The I-Team sent undercover customers to 11 LA area Jiffy Lube stores, driving a car wired with hidden cameras that recorded mechanics from multiple angles. NBC4’s test car needed no repairs or services, except an oil change, according to three experts who examined it.
But when our undercover customers asked for a $22 Jiffy Lube oil change, store employees at some outlets told them our car “needed” upwards of $600 of other repairs and services.
A Jiffy Lube spokeswoman told NBC4 the company is investigating the findings of our visits to their stores. “We take your (NBC4’s) findings very seriously and appreciate you bringing them to our attention,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Friedmann.
For example, Jiffy Lube is investigating what happened when NBC4 visited its Lynwood franchise. A service advisor named Martin told our undercover customer that our car needed $649 in repairs. We agreed to most of the services, including replacing the air filter.
But the I-Team’s hidden cameras reveal that not all of those services were performed. The cameras did record a technician removing our car’s old air filter. But when our customer wasn’t looking, the technician simply re-installed the old air filter – and then the store charged our undercover customer $26.99 for a “new” one.
At the same store, Martin, the service advisor, told our customer they had checked our car’s transmission and differential fluids and both needed to be changed, at a cost of $200. “The transmission oil…we checked out the oil and it came pretty close to empty, and it was really dirty,” Martin told our customer.
But our hidden cameras show that no one at that Jiffy Lube ever checked those fluids. If they had checked, they would have seen the fluids were clean and full, because we had just had them serviced at another Jiffy Lube store.
“You were robbed,” said former state investigator Bruce Hotchkiss, after reviewing the hidden camera video recorded at the Lynwood Jiffy Lube.
Seven years ago, Jiffy Lube promised NBC4 that it would put an end to these kinds of tactics. Back in 2006, the I-Team exposed how some LA area Jiffy Lube franchises were charging for repairs that were never done.
After that report, Jiffy Lube President Luis Scoffone met with the NBC4 I-Team and promised “system wide changes” to prevent future cheating of customers.
“It hasn’t stopped one bit,” says a former Jiffy Lube manager at numerous LA areas stores. “If anything, it has gotten worse,” he told the I-Team.
At the Jiffy Lube on La Brea and Melrose near Hollywood, our undercover customer was subjected to—what insiders say--is another scam. Before arriving, we had a reputable mechanic test our battery, and it tested in “good” condition.
But at the La Brea Jiffy Lube, a service advisor said they tested our battery, said it was in “critical” condition, and that it needed to be “replaced.” The I-Team discovered that Jiffy Lube entered incorrect numbers into their testing device, guaranteeing our battery would fail their test.
”They were trying to trick you,” former investigator Hotchkiss told NBC4. “They were trying to sell you something that wasn’t needed.”
That was also the case, Hotchkiss said, when the La Brea store told us we needed $139 air conditioning service.
”The air conditioner Freon is low,” a service advisor there told our customer. But again, the I-Team’s hidden cameras show Jiffy Lube didn’t do any tests on our car’s air conditioning before recommending it be serviced, as required by state law. “They were committing fraud,” Hotchkiss said.
During our investigation, the I-Team tested 11 LA area Jiffy Lubes, and 7 of them tried selling us repairs we didn’t need—according to our expert—by using false and misleading statements, which is against California law. The other four provided the service we requested. Click here for a map showing all of the Jiffy Lube stores visited by the I-Team.
So what does Jiffy Lube, owned by Shell Oil, have to say about the alleged fraud uncovered by the I-Team at some of its stores? NBC4 offered to show Jiffy Lube executives our undercover video and do an interview. They declined to meet with us.
In a statement to NBC4, Jiffy Lube said “We take all allegations regarding technician performance at our franchise service centers seriously, and encourage customers who are dissatisfied with their service to contact us.” Read the complete statement here.