Company Promises 'Budget Brakes,' Hopes to Sell More
When something goes wrong with your car, you depend on your mechanic to be honest with you about the problem. NewsChannel 5 went undercover at a chain of brake repair shops in town to put that to the test.
Investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus discovered customers may get more than they bargained for.
Your brakes are one of those things you just don't mess around with.
When you need your car to stop, you want it to stop.
And when your brakes need to be fixed, you want the job done right.
But after several customers told us about what happened when they took their cars to Budget Brakes, we decided to investigate.
One of the customers, Earline Corley, told NewsChannel 5 investigative reporter Jennifer Kraus, "It's not fair to rip off people like that."
Another customer, Charles Jones, said, "I would never go back."
So, we first had our own mechanic give our van a total brake job.
Then we took the van to all four Budget Brakes locations in Nashville and asked for their advertised free brake inspection.
Their commercials promise, "No obligation, no charge to you."
We also had hidden cameras both with us and in our van so we were able to see exactly what they were doing, or in many cases, not doing.
At one shop, the mechanic barely glanced at the brakes. We timed how long he inspected them and it was just one second checking out our front brakes. Basically, no time at all.
And on the back brakes, it wasn't much longer. He spent less than three seconds.
And the other shops didn't do much better.
Yet, Budget Brakes still claimed to find all sorts of problems with our brakes.
Two of the shops told us our rotors were too thin and we needed new ones, that our brakes would warp if we kept driving on them as they were.
Another siad our rotors needed resurfacing, even though they never even measured them. They just gave them a quick pinch.
That same shop also told us our rear brakes needed resurfacing to remove a glaze they said coated the brakes.
And three of the Budget Brakes locations told us we really needed to have our back brakes cleaned and adjusted.
And while Budget Brakes' commercials promote that they'll sell you new brakes for just $68, they wanted to charge us, in many cases, a lot more.
Anywhere from $100 all the way up to more than $300.
But again, remember, we'd just had our brakes totally overhauled.
We then asked our mechanic to take another look at the van, just to make sure.
Bobby Armstrong of Ultimate Tire and Car Care told us then, "You need absolutely nothing done to this car whatsoever."
He said our brakes were still in great shape.
And, believe it or not, one of the four Budget Brakes shops actually told us the same thing.
The mechanic said, "You got brand new pads up front, brand new pads on the back." He said doing any repairs would be a waste of money.
"I'd hate for you to spend $248 dollars for nothing."
But that mechanic also told us the only way we'd be guaranteed to get rid of our so-called squeak was to let him install new pads and new rotors.
Our mechanic, Bobby Armstrong, says, "They're trying to sell you something that you don't need."
And the former Budget Brakes managers that we talked with says what happened to us doesn't surprise them.
They say it happens all the time.
Jack Hays, one former manager, told us, "The sad thing is people don't know."
Hays says he left Budget Brakes because he couldn't stand selling customers parts or repairs they didn't need.
But that, he says, is what he was told to do. The standing order from the owner of the company he says is, "You don't let the customer leave without doing something."
And Hays says customers usually have no idea they're being taken advantage of.
He adds, "You're at the mercy of a mechanic when you go there. You've got to take whatever they say for granted. Most people do and they know that."
But Michael Palazzolo, the owner of the company says, "You're coming in with a problem. Our job is to try to figure it out."
Palazzolo says his employees are just trying to do what's best for the customer and that often, deciding whether a repair is necessary or not is simply a judgement call.
And Palazzolo maintains, "There is no pressure to sell."
But while there may not be pressure to sell, our investigation found employees do have a very strong incentive to sell.
We obtained internal documents that show how Budget Brakes employees earn hundreds of dollars a month in bonuses based on how much they sell.
The documents show how employees are ranked by how much money they bring in and are even scored on the number of parts, including rotors, that customers buy.
Earline Corley, one of the customers, says when she first took her car in to Budget Brakes and she talked with the manager, "He said I needed both rotors on the front."
Corley says based on her experience, there's no question employees are pushing parts. During five different visits to Budget Brakes, Corley says she heard employees tell all of the other customers the same thing.
"They told 'em, 'you need rotors.' Well, every car in Nashville do not need rotors."
Corley ended up spending more than $250 on repairs.
Charles Jones, the other customer we spoke with, spent even more - $413.
"It's nothing but a rip off," Jones said. "They seemed to be adamant about trying to get money out of you."
And both Jones and Corley say it wouldn't have been so bad if their cars had actually been fixed. But both say they ended up having to take their cars to other shops for repairs.
In the end, Budget Brakes did refund their money.