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BARGAINS / GERI COOK

Auto Aid : Here's a mechanic who's on your side when it comes to making repairs on your car.

February 26, 1993|GERI COOK

The tales of corruption and greed that abound these days make it clear that we need more and more watchdog services to protect us from either incompetence or just plain fraud.

Most of us have a couple of horror stories about auto repair rip-offs. I've certainly been had a couple of times. The last incident prompted me to investigate areas where I could get some kind of protection, since, like most women (and a lot of men), I know absolutely nothing about cars.

A friend referred me to Jackie Winters, who calls his service Mechanic Rip-Off Protection. An auto mechanic of 17 years experience in a major dealership's service department, Winters is well aware of the areas where some repair shops pad their invoices and where many consumers unnecessarily part with their cash.

What Winters offers is an analysis of a vehicle's condition. He conducts this inspection at your home, office or at the point of purchase. Winters says that dealerships are most cooperative, but that occasionally a used car lot will try to block such an inspection. "That ought to tell you something right off," says Winters.

The 69 points on his checklist cover everything from brakes, bushings, carburetor, hoses, lighting system, transmission, speedometer and steering to universal joints--with many a stop in between.

When Winters inspects a car, he doesn't just open the hood and peer in. He's all over the car--in, out, over, under--and after he's checked it out in about an hour's time, he takes it out on a 15-minute road test. The fee for this inspection is $40. If Winters feels a vehicle requires a compression test, he will do that as an optional procedure for an additional $40.

Here's the reassuring factor: Winters only provides the diagnoses. He does not do the repair work, nor does he recommend any mechanic or repair shop. He believes that by operating in this way, he can be completely objective in his prognosis. Should your mechanic differ with Winters' test results, Winters says he will arrange to discuss it with him. If a difference of opinion ends up in court, Winters will go to court with you (for a fee of $100 a day) to back you up.

Winters gave me the names of several recent clients, and I checked their experiences with his service. A Burbank woman had purchased a used car for $3,200 with a $1,700 down payment. Shortly after she took possession of the vehicle, it broke down. She refused to make any further payments until the car was fixed. The dealer repossessed the car.

She contacted Winters, who inspected the vehicle and found it unsafe to drive. He testified in court on her behalf, and the woman was awarded her $1,700 down payment, plus the $1,500 that she still owed.

According to Winters there are several appropriate times for an inspection:

* Before you buy a used car.

* Before and after a major repair job.

* Before the warranty expires.

Look for services such as this to proliferate--a rather sad commentary on our times.

WHERE TO SHOP

Location: Mechanic Rip-Off Protection, P.O. Box 36884, Los Angeles.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Cards: None.

Call: (213) 737-3202.

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