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Telling you what you want to hear

November 26, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Have you tried any of the diet supplements that claim that if you take it, you can eat all you want of any kind of food and still lose weight? How's that working for you? Let me guess. It didn't work, you didn't return it for a refund because you thought it might have been your fault it didn't work and, anyway, the shipping would cost too much. It's a scam, pure and simple.

"Why do people advertise that way?" you ask. The answer is: these people know that you will buy, if they tell you what you want to hear. Even if what they are saying is wrong. If they tell you how hard it really will be, you'll ignore them in favor of the ones that tell you it's easy. That is human nature, and marketers know how to use it.

Now, there's one starting up in the car repair field. It will be a service where you ask them for estimates on repair costs, and they solicit estimates from various repair centers to do your repairs. In effect, they become middlemen between you and the repair centers. At first blush, this sounds like a terrific boon for consumers. You simply have to choose the lowest estimate and therefore get the best deal. This is the way most people want it to be. You want instant, no hassle estimates, so that's the way it's being pitched to you. Be careful. There are some real problems here, among them:

n Nobody, and I mean nobody, knows what repairs are needed until a qualified technician examines the car. I know you would like to think that maybe you do, or your neighbor or a friend does, but unless they are a working mechanic with real experience in the field in the last few years, they don't know either. Any working mechanic will tell you that the large majority of cars that come in for repairs have been incorrectly diagnosed by their owners, often requiring radically different repairs than what was expected. This is not a criticism of owners, (we know that it is also human nature to guess at what's wrong), but a notice that all the time and effort expended to make estimates on the requested repairs was wasted, and worse than that, the estimate was misleading to the owners.

n Another problem is that there is absolutely no consensus among different repair shops as to what constitutes a "tune-up" or a "brake job" or a "complete service" or any other formerly accepted repair procedure. I know you want it to be otherwise, and that's what they're pitching to you, but cars are so complicated and so different now, that these once-familiar designations are completely meaningless. Asking for competing estimates for these services would result in wildly varying figures, because each shop would be planning wildly different procedures. For some shops, a "complete service" would include valve adjustment, fuel injector cleaning, power steering flushing, brake fluid flushing, transmission flushing, coolant flushing and oil and filter change, costing north of $500. For others it's oil and filter and check and fill fluids, costing south of $50. It makes more sense to find out what the car needs and just do those things. That requires a professional diagnosis first.

Another problem is that unlike men, all parts are not created equal. There are choices between original manufacturer made parts, American made aftermarket parts, or Chinese or Mexican made aftermarket parts, with widely varying prices. Trying to specify exactly which procedures and parts will be involved to get an accurate estimate would be very time consuming, and considering the likelihood of an incorrect or incomplete diagnosis in the first place, very wasteful and misleading.

What can happen is: shops might give low estimates to get you in the door, and then "up-sell" you for the repairs you need. I wonder if you'll be in the best shop available when that happens. It's known as the old "bait and switch" routine. But they told you what you wanted to hear. Caveat Emptor, my friends.



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