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Rig trouble? Beware the roadside rip-off

By Russ and Tiña De Maris
It’s the stuff that could make you regret hitting the road. Here you are, in the “middle of nowhere” with your rig, and something goes wrong. Or at least that’s what someone tells you. For Devon Anderson, the bad news came from a tire man at a little gas station in southern Utah. “Oh, my gosh! You’ve got cracks in your tires!” Anderson couldn’t see any cracks, but he took the man’s word for it – after all, he was a tire specialist, right? Anderson quickly became the victim of a roadside rip-off. Could it happen to you?

Tire cracks and wobbling wheels in Utah

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For Devon Anderson, what was to be a replacement of two tires for $600 turned into a credit card charge of $1,124.54. He still only got two tires out of the deal. And Anderson wasn’t the only guy on the receiving end of a roadside rip-off. There was the RVer from Montana, traveling through the same area where Anderson was “had.” This man was cruising down I-15 when somebody flagged him down. His bad news? ‘You’ve got a wheel wobbling – it’s about to fall off!’ The concerned “Good Sam” told him he should bring the rig straight over to the station and have it looked at. This time, the victim was sold new shock absorbers. To the tune of $738.

Earlier this month, in a Utah courtroom, an assistant state attorney general questioned the owner of the shop that performed those “repairs.” How much did they charge the customer for the shocks? $738. And how much did the shop pay for the shocks? $84. “So,” asked the attorney. “You had an 800%, more than 800% mark up?” Answered one Michael Heath, the shop owner, “That could be.”

“Merchandising the island”

Heath, the owner of Freeway Tire, a shop associated with Shell, is located in New Harmony, Utah. Heath was not apologetic about any of it. He told the court that his mechanics were simply “merchandising the island,” a practice he claims Chevron taught his father, a gas station owner, before him. It’s a simple matter of taking a close look at a customer’s vehicle, and if finding anything amiss, recommending a repair or replacement.

The judge disagreed. When ordering Michael Heath to pay $20,000 in fines, he found Heath guilty of violating Utah consumer protection laws by misrepresenting the price of tires and shocks – not just to Anderson, but to three other customers as well. But apparently Heath was not a newcomer to the roadside rip-off scheme.

Pressured to buy what they never needed

According to an investigative report by the Salt Lake Tribune, back in 2005 over in Elko County, Nevada, the local sheriff had likewise been tipped off to roadside rip-off allegations against a Shell station in Wells, Nevada. A long stream of motorists complained they’d been pressured to buy tires and parts that it turned out they never needed. A sting operation was put into motion, sending in plainclothes folks. The first one went in with local plates on their vehicle and came away unscathed. But the next rig sent in had Idaho plates. This transaction turned out far differently.

Once at the station, the “bait” asked attendants to check her tire pressure and oil. By the time employees were done with her, they told her three of the car’s tires were unsafe. She ended up buying two tires at $159.95 each. Employees said they were built buy a “Goodyear affiliate,” and that Goodyear stood behind them. When detectives (covering themselves with a search warrant) got the two “bad” tires from the station, another tire dealer said there was at least 3,000 to 5,000 miles worth of tread left. A Goodyear dealer said the replacement tires were definitely not Goodyear tires, and priced equivalent tires at $106 each.

Locals avoid it

The owner of the station of this Wells, Nevada, roadside rip-off? Michael Heath. Another out-of-towner “taken” by Heath’s sharp practices drove himself into the Wells city hall to complain. Outside of city hall was a group of city employees, who eyeballed the car’s out-of-state plates. Barely had he opened his mouth, the employees just said, “Shell station?” According to the Salt Lake Tribune report, locals avoid the station like the plague, and truck drivers warned one another via C.B. radio to steer clear of the place.

Maybe the pickings got too slim, because later, Michael Heath relocated to his present, Harmony, Utah, location. But the court judgment issued this month wasn’t Heath’s first run-in with Utah law. The Tribune reports that even before this episode, Heath had been charged by Utah’s Division of Consumer Protection of “untrue representations,” and failing to “clearly state the costs of goods sold,” in a 2017 citation. A few months later, in August 2017, the agency issued another citation, this time alleging nine counts of consumer code violations – some while Freeway Tire was busy defending the first citation.

Not an aberration

Sad to say, New Harmony’s Heath is not just a strange aberration in an otherwise road-safe state. A few years back, this writing team had pulled into a Walmart parking lot in St. George, Utah, not too far from New Harmony. Relaxing in our travel trailer, we were a bit startled when a man in a mechanic’s uniform rapped on our door. He urged us to come outside, as he said, while he was walking by, that he noticed a real problem with our trailer suspension system. We wouldn’t get too far down the road, he said, before we’d have real problems. But it would be an easy fix, just bring the rig over to the shop he worked at – not far from Walmart.

Our own roadside rip-off alarm sensors immediately went to high alert. We pulled out of the Walmart parking lot – and drove right on past the recommended shop. We went across town to an RV repair facility, and they found – to no great surprise – nothing wrong with our suspension system.

Beaver’s not better

And what about the story of a friend of ours, Connie G.? Connie is a single RVer, a full-timer. She generally summers in Wyoming and winters in Quartzsite. After a few years of acquaintance, she expressed concerns about her rig’s roadability, as she was getting ready to make the flip-side back to Wyoming. When we asked why the concern, she said she’d just had so many problems with tires and suspension parts, and was fearful maybe she’d have it happen again.

Connie showed us a stack of receipts from a shop in Beaver, Utah. On several passes through Beaver, she’d had occasion to stop at this shop. At nearly every stop, the shop “found” something wrong. We analyzed the prices for the work done. Even if it were true that the “somethings” were truly wrong, the prices she was charged for both parts and labor could seemingly bankrupt the economy of some small nations. On one occasion, the outfit had “replaced” her fifth-wheel’s suspension equalizers – for hundreds of dollars. Oddly enough, those same equalizers themselves “needed” replacing less than three years later for an equally exorbitant price.

Avoiding the roadside rip-off

How can you avoid the trap of the roadside rip-off? Being an informed consumer is critical. First, when things go “wrong” with your rig, you’ll probably know something’s wrong without a friendly salesman telling you. Does the steering feel “wrong”? Is the rig swaying, bouncing, or otherwise acting in a way that you’re not accustomed to? New, strange noises are another tip-off that something needs attention. Keeping an eye on your gauges and knowing typical operating ranges will put you on the alert if things start to drift out of range.

And if somebody helpful warns you that you “really need to get this fixed,” by all means, thank them for their concern. Then find a second opinion before you have anything done. When a shop offers you an estimate, make sure the estimate is in writing. Each item should be clearly detailed with a cost. Then question every line as to why such a thing is truly necessary.

Your “roadside assistance” group may not be your friend

And watch out for this other roadside rip-off. Let’s say you blow a tire on your motorhome, so you call your tow service. They’ll be more than happy to send a technician, and a tire. You’ll be covered! All you need to do is pay them the cost of the tire. An actually honest tire shop owner in Wells, Nevada, told us a story. He said he got a phone call from a big-name RV roadside assistance dispatcher. The company had a member stuck beside the road north of Ely with a blown tire. Did they have the correct tire? Surely they did, and said they could send a tech out right away. “Do not,” said the dispatcher, “discuss the price of the tire with the customer.” The shop owner was told they would get a check from the roadside assistance company, and that was all that was needed.

Later in the day, a motorhome pulled up in front of the shop. An extremely IRATE RVer climbed down from the rig and proceeded to read the shop owner up and down. Never, said the RVer, had he ever paid so much for a tire. He quite unpolitely told the shop owner what he thought of his personality, and perhaps his maternal origins. The shop owner then asked, just how much did the dispatch service charge him? On learning the price, he advised the man that he should think about disputing the charges with his credit card company, as the price the service charged him far exceeded the amount of the cost of the tire the shop had put on – in multifold amounts. In this case, the roadside assistance program was lining its pockets at the expense of a trapped member.

Bottom line advice

Bottom line, if you do have a problem that requires someone bring you a tire, a battery, etc., you may do well to call a tire shop in range of your breakdown. Ask what it would cost to have the tire shop come and do the job. Then call your assistance dispatcher and get a direct quote. It may be that you’ll be better off dealing with a shop on your own. Beware the roadside rip-off. They want your money.

Related

How to prepare for a roadside emergency
Which RV roadside assistance program is best?
RV Tire Safety: Is “sealant” a good fix for a flat tire?

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David Hagen
4 months ago

A few years ago I was at a Flying J gas stop in southern Utah when a guy told me my shocks were bad because they were damaging my tires. So I went to his shop and he replaced all our shocks on my motorhome, at a cost of over $900. After talking to other people, I realized I had been scammed.

Cam Daddy
4 months ago

Great article! Thank you for the information.

Bluebird Bob
4 months ago

So..who is the ” Big Name RV roadside assistance”? If you don’t name the company…it’s just hearsay..

Ival Secrest
4 months ago

This article took me back to the 1950s and 1960s when Route 66 was on the “Bucket List” of many people. Needless to say this “marketing plan” was prevalent in the part of the west where it was a considerable distance between towns.

Paul T
4 months ago

Yup, happens everywhere. Years ago, our Ford Explorer started stuttering at stop lights. Took it to our nearest Ford dealer, who, on a 41,000 mile vehicle – 1000 out of warranty – told my wife it needed a new fuel pump for $800. My wife laughed in their faces and we tried a different dealer… who immediately diagnosed it as a backwards PCV from the recent oil change place. $30, which the oil change place paid when my wife went to them! LOL. Later, Ford closed the $30 dealership, while the $800 one is still there, bigger than ever. Go figure. There is a great song about this, too… Alan Jackson – The Talkin’ Song Repair Blues..

Eric
4 months ago

I was delivering a race car in my covered trailer, coming from central California and going to the Denver area when I blew a trailer tire on I-15 just before the Nevada line. I put the spare on and continued on my way. The next morning on I-70 in Utah I saw a gas station/tire shop (with prominent Michelin & other brand banners) on my side, right off of the interstate. Nervous that I was far from the half way point of my round trip with a shredded spare, I stopped to inquire if they had the trailer tire I needed. When the manager came out to see what I needed, he mentioned that he had seen one of my tires/wheels wobbling when I pulled in. He also tried to convince me that one of the other tires had “bubbles” in the sidewall.
Needless to say, there was nothing wrong, and it was all an attempted rip off. I continued on and finished the trip without, thankfully, having another tire problem.

rvgrandma
4 months ago

In 2010 we were ripped off by L.D. Express 916 E Broadway Needles, CA 92363 760-326-6735. Checking online says they are closed now.

We were traveling from Vancouver, WA to Yuma. We stopped for gas. While there the guy said our tires were all bad – all 6. He saw a sucker coming! It was hot and I was tired. My husband who use to be my ‘Mr Fix-it’ and dealt with these things was far enough into Alzheimer’s to be no help in decision making. After relentless pressure I gave in. When we got to Yuma I showed a picture of the tires and was told ‘yes they were getting worn by the rough California roads but would have been safe to drive on to Yuma. I also paid twice the price I would have paid in Yuma for the same tires.

I posted complaint on yahoo and anywhere else I could find.

Tom
4 months ago

I’ve had my share of roadside ripoffs but there are some good ones out there too. Heading through Georgia in a rush for my dad’s funeral in Florida with two kids. Made a pit stop for the kids and noticed a screw in the right front tire. It was in the edge of the tread and looked like possibly in the sidewall. Made it to the first service station I could find. South Georgia middle of nowhere (nothing against Georgia). Good old boy took one look and said probably in the sidewall. I thought ok here comes 2 to 3 hundred for a tire. He broke it down and came back and said it was just in the tread rubber already remounted and ready to go. I asked him how much and he said 8 bucks. Gave him a 20 and said keep it. Bad ones in everything but good ones too.

Travis
4 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Agree they are not all bad. And I like to see the good ones mentioned as much as the bad ones.

RS Buchanan
4 months ago

As Rick previously said, Sure wish you would have told who the roadside service was with!

I add, how do we avoid the company, if I do not know who it is?

Roger V
4 months ago

This has been Firestone’s business model for years. When young, inexperienced and on my own, it took me several visits to realize that no matter what I took the car in for (even a state inspection on a fairly new car), they were going to find something expensive to fix. Crooks are everywhere. They may not all be that way, but as a result, I haven’t been back to one in over 30 years. RV’ers away from home might as well be wearing a “Kick Me” sign.

DANI CHAPMAN
4 months ago
Reply to  Roger V

That was exactly my experience with Firestone in South Dakota. As a single woman, I trusted the female service writer who always found something extra (and pricey) to fix! I finally figured it out on my own after a couple of expensive repair sessions, got a really reputable service outfit across town & never looked back (except in disgust at my costly Firestone bills!) I think the exception to this might be if you have Bridgestone Tires, I got a free tire replacement in Texas.

Bill
4 months ago

Another “Roadside Assistance” ripoff. Traveling through eastern Colorado, the trailer lost a wheel bearing. There was no doubt, since the wheel was canted over by 30 degrees. I called Good Sam, our RA insurer, and requested a flatbed haul as promised in the policy. The dispatcher insisted that “We always send out Roadside Assistance Vehicle first – sometimes they can fix the problem.” I objected, but four hours later, a Ford Fiesta pulled up, the driver pulled out a small toolbox, and spent two hours tapping and poking the bent axle. He admitted he couldn’t do anything and left, but Sam demanded I pay him $450 on the spot for his trouble. Next morning, Sam sent out a flatbed that was too short to load my trailer. By noon, a better flatbed showed up, and took us to a mechanic 80 miles away. Sam charged me for the initial dispatch, the Roadside Assistance Vehicle, both flatbeds, and an assortment of parts, Sam paid me $50, sticking me with more than $2,000 for their “help”.

chris
4 months ago

I believe the town in Utah is Scipio.

Chuck
4 months ago
Reply to  chris

Yes, right off of I-15, the rip occurs. The service station is on the right as you pull in to park where large places for trailers are. I was haul my fifth wheel, and you drive over some speed bumps, and the sits there, watching you, then approaches saying what he “noticed” and encourages you to leave your rig while you eat and he’d fix it! Utah is the worst.
n

Impavid
4 months ago

Twice on stops in Needles, CA and once in Malad City, IA I had a guy come over and try to tell me there was an issue with a tire. I asked him to hold on a minute as I wanted to get my camera to take a picture of the faulty tire, a picture of him and a picture of his car with its license plate showing. I went to my RV, waited about 2 minutes and when I came out he was gone.

Rick
4 months ago

Sure wish you would have told who the roadside service was with!

Firefly
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick

Agreed! You can’t avoid ripoffs if you don’t know the unsavory characters.

Tommy Molnar
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick

I agree too.

Don
4 months ago
Reply to  Rick

Absolutely agree…. If it is an important part of your report, knowing what company this is helps us all.

Bill
4 months ago
Reply to  Don

Yes, but there is more than one, and some of them change names frequently. Better to know the method of the scams. If someone says you have some awful problem you weren’t aware of, beware!

Stephen Malochleb
4 months ago

I used to teach a ladies car care clinic. My first words to them was(never say you know nothing about vehicles). That’s the beginning of a rip off. With the internet these days it is easy to baffle them with BS. A little quick search and you won’t be replacing your muffler bearings for $500 plus. If a shop even gets the idea you have somewhat of a clue, they’ll be leary of a cheap ripoff. And always get a second opinion even if it’s a bluff,(let me call my uncle Joe who’s a master tech for his opinion). Ask the shop for pictures of the problem to send to uncle Joe so that he could see the issue. Even if your just sending those pics to your copilot. It will put them on alert that maybe your not a easy mark. And with all the forums out there, if you do have pics of an issue, you may get an honest response. Happy and safe travels fellow campers.

Bob P
4 months ago

If a shop/mechanic senses the customer is totally ignorant of their rig the rip off light goes on in their brain. I have never been taken advantage of by these rip off idiots because I familiarize myself with my rig before I get in and blindly drive into the terrible world. This is kind of like animals and you, if an animal senses you’re afraid of them they take advantage of you and keep you scared. If one of these rip off artists think you know a little of what they’re trying to rip you off on the likelihood of you falling victim diminishes. If you learned how to become successful in your job you can learn the basics of your RV, research, research, research!

Jerome951
4 months ago

Sadly, it’s not just small repair shops who try to sell unnecessary repairs. I’ve experienced a Toyota dealership try to do the same… twice…

Bob P
4 months ago
Reply to  Jerome951

Rip offs are everywhere if you’re not informed.

Chris Ludlow
4 months ago
Reply to  Bob P

There is another Avenue. In Louisville Ky. after returning to our truck camper I noticed a rear tire down( way lower not flat). I carry a Viair truck battery powered compressor and reinflated. Then got online and found a “ truck tire “ service center 6 miles away across the Ohio river in Indiana. Not only did they have the exact tire in stock (should it have needed replacement, it didn’t) but thoroughly repaired the tire in the shop @ a reasonable $ and amount of time. A “ regular” tire shop may not have been so good! I now carry an even bigger “Viair”! Be prepared and go heavy duty/service. I also carry AAA RV.

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