APA/W5 auto repair investigation - April 2011

April 9, 2011.

Majority of repair shops unable to pass a simple test in the latest APA auto repair investigation.

Thirty percent: that’s the percentage of repair shops that passed a simple test submitted by the APA in its latest auto repair investigation. Using three specially prepared vehicles and hidden cameras, the APA visited 31 repair shops in Toronto and Calgary for the correction of a simple problem. A report on the investigation airs on the Saturday April 9 broadcast of W5, the CTV current affairs show, and is available on the ctv.ca website. The Automobile Protection Association received funding from Industry Canada’s Contribution Program for Non-profit Consumer and Voluntary Organizations for this investigation. The views expressed in this report are not necessarily those of Industry Canada, nor of the Government of Canada.

The APA used a 2006 Chevrolet Malibu and two Honda CR-V SUVs for the investigation. The Malibu received a new battery, brake fluid, pads, discs and shoes, new tires, spark plugs, an accessory drive belt, as well as an oil change and coolant flush. The CR-Vs were fully inspected and up-to-date with their service.

A small fault, a loosened positive battery terminal, was introduced on each vehicle. An APA mystery shopper reported that the vehicle failed to start on occasion. The repair diagnosis should normally begin with a verification of the battery and charging system that would readily identify the loose cable.

The mystery shopper also requested a general inspection of the vehicle, saying they had purchased it recently and did not know much about its service history.

The Results

APA president George Iny said the results varied wildly. The cost to check the vehicle and tighten a loose battery cable ranged from zero to $2,400. Only eight out of 30 shops tightened the battery terminal without charging for unnecessary repairs to earn a Pass rating. This included two shops that checked the car and corrected the problem for under $50.

Twenty-two repair shops failed the APA test. Among them, ten charged for unnecessary work to replace parts on the APA`s test vehicle, or recommended unnecessary work. These services included a new battery (seven times), a new starter, suspension struts, an unnecessary brake service, and replacing the spark plugs.

A variety of unnecessary minor services were recommended, including power steering fluid on the Malibu (there is none, the power steering is electric) and transmission fluid (it’s sealed). The APA did not consider the fluid recommendations in its tally of unnecessary repairs.

Active Green and Ross in Toronto, and Canadian Tire presented the highest repair charges in this year`s investigation. The Canadian Tire store on 8th Avenue NE in Calgary replaced the battery and returned spark plugs from a different vehicle, and presented a bill of $507. The Active Green and Ross store at Jane and Wilson in North York charged a total of $2,400 on two repair invoices to correct the loose terminal, and replace the starter, spark plugs, suspension struts and an air filter. The APA determined that only the air filter, a $22 item, was an acceptable repair. This is the highest charge the APA has ever paid in an undercover repair probe.

No shop recommended unnecessary oil treatments, fuel injection flushes or gas treatments. This is a welcome improvement from APA repair investigations in 2001-2003. Only one repair or inspection affected the safety of the test vehicles, although some repairs left the vehicles in worse condition after the “repair” than before work had been performed.


CITY REPAIR SHOPS Pass Fail Report Details
Toronto 12 1* 10* Click Here
Calgary 19 7 12 Click Here
Total 31 27% (8/30) 73% (22/30)  

*One shop in Toronto that recognized the car as a test vehicle was excluded from the Pass/Fail totals.



This year’s small Toronto sample achieved the lowest percentage of successful outcomes ever recorded in an APA mystery shopper investigation of auto repairs. Only one shop out of 11 corrected the loose cable without performing additional unnecessary repairs. W5’s underhood camera showed many mechanics inspecting the underhood area only partially, and actually bypassing the battery that was the most likely place to start investigating an intermittent no-start problem.

The best outcome occurred at the Active Green and Ross Store at 1964 Victoria Park. The shop corrected the loose terminal, and performed a general inspection for only $42. Several shops that did not find the loose cable did not charge to look for it.

Four of the repair shops that failed in Toronto performed unnecessary repairs. This included a brake service to the new brakes on the Malibu at Active Green and Ross on The Queensway, the outrageous repair bill at Active Green and Ross at Jane and Wilson, and battery replacements at the Canadian Tire on Weston Road, and at A & A Auto, an independent shop at 111 Strachan Street in downtown Toronto.


Seven out of 19 shops were able to identify the loose terminal and perform an inspection without performing an unnecessary repair. Service generally cost more in Calgary than Toronto, with inspection charges ranging from $0 to $199.99. The least expensive repair was obtained at a small independent shop run by two mechanics in a shopping plaza – Delta Auto Care and Repair. The loose terminal was corrected and the CR-V determined to be in good overall condition for a bill of only $30.

Among the chains, Fountain Tire, which operates in Western Canada, earned the best results, with two out of three shops passing. Other shops that earned a Pass included one Canadian Tire store (three failed), and Midas and Minit-Tune (one each). The one dealer visited for the investigation, CMP Classic Chevrolet Buick Cadillac GMC had no difficulty finding the loose terminal, but recommended replacing the new brake fluid on the Malibu; the underhood camera revealed that the fluid had never been checked.

Five Calgary shops replaced batteries on the APA test vehicles. This included two of the four Canadian Tire stores visited. At the Canadian Tire store on 8th Avenue NE, the mechanic originally checked off the spark plugs as “Satisfactory”. At the Country Hills Canadian Tire, the mechanic similarly checked off the battery as “Satisfactory”. At both stores, the “Satisfactory” evaluation was later crossed out and changed to “Unsatisfactory”, and the APA shopper was told the parts needed to be replaced. Kal Tire stores performed unnecessary repairs in two of three visits. Kal Tire on 42nd SE replaced the battery and Kal Tire on Edmonton Trail replaced the ignition switch. Among the other chains, the Midas store at 16th ave N.W. and the Fountain Tire store at 40th Avenue NE replaced a battery needlessly. Upon learning of the Fail rating from W5, the Fountain Tire store at 40th Avenue NE bought a new battery tester and offered the APA a full refund.

Results by chain

Active Green and Ross (1 Pass/2 Fail/1 Inconclusive)
Active Green and Ross is a regional chain operating in Ontario. It had the largest variability of the chains visited for this year’s investigation, with repair bills ranging from $42 to $2,400. The chain’s management has taken the position that this outcome is likely the result of sloppy work by the APA, and that they “recommend” work to the customer, which the customer is free to accept or pass up. Active Green and Ross has never refunded the APA the cost of unnecessary repairs after failing an investigation.

Canadian Tire (1 Pass/5 Fail)
Canadian Tire has the best locations and the most attractive auto repair facilities, usually located in large and new shopping centers, right next to their stores. Canadian Tire also proved to be the most expensive of the national chains by a considerable margin. A failure at Canadian Tire was more likely to involve the unnecessary sale of parts than the other national chains. Canadian Tire tended to bill much more time than actually observed on the underhood camera. For example, one Canadian Tire store charged $57.50 to install a new battery and a second charged $46. Kal Tire, Midas and Fountain Tire charged just $30, $23. and $36 respectively for the same work. In all cases, installing a battery on the APA test vehicles took under 10 minutes.

Canadian Tire’s position is that all repairs performed were approved by the mystery shoppers and that repairs were performed “with integrity”. APA has learned that mechanics in some Canadian Tire stores receive a low base hourly wage, with compensation calculated on the number of hours they can bill to customers, which can be more than the actual clock time spent on the job. Service personnel at the counter may also receive an incentive based on the amount of the invoice or additional work sold to a customer.

Fountain Tire (2 Pass/1Fail)
Fountain Tire is a regional chain operating in Western Canada. This year’s outcome is similar to previous APA investigations, in which Fountain Tire outperformed the other chains. The Fountain Tire location that replaced a battery volunteered to refund the APA’s bill and bought a new battery tester for their repair shop.

Midas (1 Pass/4 Fail)
Midas was the cheapest of the chains visited, by a significant margin. Midas stores in Toronto offered a no-charge general inspection. Midas’ diagnostic skills appeared to be lower than average, with only one shop actually correcting the loose terminal. Midas stores tended to recommend fluid replacements based on manufacturer service intervals, but these were frequently not the ones for the APA’s vehicles! In previous APA investigations, Midas is the only national chain to have refunded the cost of unnecessary repairs.

What you can do:
The APA recommends you avoid the Canadian Tire and Active Green and Ross shops that failed its investigations until those chains can show that they have taken steps to put their houses in order.

• Stick to the scheduled maintenance listed in your vehicle owner’s manual. The shops APA visited frequently recommended fluid replacements like new antifreeze, brake fluid and power steering fluid, even when they were only a few weeks old. Spark plugs on the APA’s test vehicles were changed twice even though they were in like-new condition.

• Keep your maintenance records. The APA shopper claimed they had just bought the car and did not offer any information about its service history. A complete record might have reduced the overselling of fluids and scheduled maintenance, though it’s not likely to prevent overselling of repairs.

• If the diagnosis is unusual, or the estimate sounds too expensive, go somewhere else for a second opinion. Results were so variable that you are likely to save plenty of money by asking for a second opinion; the price of a diagnosis is cheap compared to the cost of a repair. If you`re in Greater Toronto, contact APA for an inspection facility.