Target 8: Reliable repair?

Some auto shop owners dodge state regulation through 'hobby shop' designation


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Michigan Secretary of State’s office says it is determined to stop auto repair businesses flagged by the state from repeatedly renewing their licenses.

Target 8 became aware of the problem when Guevera Auto in Grand Rapids burned to the ground in October 2015, destroying customers’ cars. Investigators said a worker drilled a hole in a vehicle’s gas tank, sparking the blaze that quickly spread out of control.

>>Photos: Fire guts Grand Rapids auto repair shop

The Blaine Avenue business had been repeatedly cited by the state for violations, yet the business was allowed to renew its license three years in a row.

‘THAT PARTY IS OVER’

Now Guevera Auto and other repair places cited by the state are coming under additional scrutiny.

“The ones we’re going to go after are the ones that violate the rules and don’t follow the law. That party is over,” said Darryl Hill, who joined the Secretary of State’s investigative unit after more than 25 years exposing auto theft and financial crimes as a Michigan State Police inspector.

Hill said problem shops may not only fail to deliver what you paid for; they also put your safety at risk.

“You don’t know in that particular facility if the mechanics are licensed, if they’re licensed in that particular area that they’re repairing on your vehicle. If you’re going in to get an engine repaired and they’re only licensed for brakes, you really don’t want that to happen,” Hill said.

UNDERCUT BY HOBBY SHOPS

Target 8 investigators uncovered some auto repair shops bypassed state licensing by posing as hobby shops while advertising as a legitimate business.

Advocacy groups for auto mechanics say it’s a growing problem.

“It is very frustrating for my guys,” said Ray Fisher, president of the Automotive Service Association. “You know, they’re fighting for work, they are trying to keep people employed. We would like to see a deterrent.”

Licensed mechanics echoed those sentiments.

“There’s a lot of places that say they do hobby work and they’re actually doing work and making money just like I’m trying to, except they undercut me,” mechanic Thomas Wheeler said.

Wheeler is the sole owner of Cutler Car Care. He has separated from his old partners after drawing the attention of state investigators. The shop was ordered to cease and desist last May after the state said it issued improper invoices and failed to use certified mechanics.

Wheeler said he is determined to grow his business the right way, navigating piles of paperwork and red tape to get his license reinstated.

Even though he is back in business, the state continues to keep a close eye on Cutler Car Care.

“I wouldn’t say that they’re hassling me. They’re just trying to make sure everyone is in check,” Wheeler said.

STILL SKIRTING THE RULES

Not every auto shop owner is following Wheeler’s example; Target 8 found some shops are still skirting the rules.

Robinson’s Body Shop is located in the woods just outside of Cedar Springs. Its website, which has since been removed, listed the business as a “full service auto repair shop.” A Craigslist ad online assured customers they were “licensed and insured.”

However, the Secretary of State’s office said that’s not true. Department staff visited the business and determined Robinson’s Body Shop was neither licensed as a repair facility nor did it employ certified mechanics. The state filed a cease and desist order against the shop until its owners fix both issues.

Target 8’s requests to interview the owner have gone unanswered.

PROTECTING YOURSELF

Investigators and those charged with enforcing Michigan’s licensing law would like to see even more tools at their disposal.

“We are looking for more meat as far as the ability to assess fines and enforce more administrative actions against repair facilities,” Hill said.

Fisher, the Automotive Service Association president, and the Secretary of State are in favor of proposed legislation in the Michigan House of Representatives that would penalize unlicensed shops much like unlicensed car dealerships are punished. The bill is still working its way through the House.

>>Online: House Bill 4343

Before you drop off your vehicle at a repair shop, here are three ways to protect yourself:

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