By Russ and Tiña De Maris
A few years ago we were parked at a Utah Walmart when a man knocked on our door. He said he noticed we had a serious suspension problem with our trailer, and just wanted to let us know about it. He also helpfully pointed to a nearby service station, where, he said, we could probably get the issue fixed. For some reason, something didn’t sound right about it so later, when we pulled out, we went across town to a different shop. There a relatively minor suspension problem was found on the opposite side of our rig — and was fixed inexpensively.
We’re not pointing the finger at any particular state, but this “helpful” person issue popped up on the radar again. A court case out of New Harmony, Utah, brings up the point. In this case, a “helpful” fellow flagged over Curt Albert, a Utah man, who was towing his trailer with Montana plates down Interstate 15. The man told Albert that he’d spotted his right-rear trailer tire wobbling, and suggested Albert follow him to a shop he worked at. Albert “bit,” and when he left Freeway Tire in New Harmony he had four new shock absorbers on his trailer, and was $1,018.10 lighter in the pocketbook.
Last March, an administrative law judge ordered Freeway Tire to fork over $27,500 in fines for violating consumer protection law. How did Freeway Tire end up in court? It’s because Curt Albert figured out he’d been scammed. In a story appearing in The Salt Lake Tribune, Albert says what really ticked him off was that he’d ignored the warning signs. The helpful service man who stopped him said he’d seen the right-rear tire wobbling — but the man in the shop found “a broken shock” on the left side of the rig, and told him he should replace all four — this on a rig towed less than 2,000 miles. Incidentally, those shocks scaled in at more than $700 of the final bill — and the same make and model of those four shocks could be purchased at a nearby NAPA store for less than $30 each.
Freeway Tire also came under the judge’s ire for another “helpful” intercession. A 78-year-old Las Vegas RVer dropped in to buy ice, and a Freeway Tire employee kindly pointed out the man’s front tires were “cracked.” He went away deflated of $1,121 for two tires, fees, service, equalizer bags, and tax. The judge ruled some of the tire shop’s representations to the man were lies, and they didn’t adequately explain the charges the man would be paying.
This isn’t the first time Utah stations have come under legal fire for ripping off travelers. Back in 2015 the state’s Division of Consumer Protection fined Flying J franchises in Scipio and Beaver $10,000 after they “represented to consumers that repairs, inspections, or other services are necessary when such is not the fact” and that the businesses “represented to consumers that goods being inspected or diagnosed are in dangerous condition … when such is not the fact.”
The basis for the judgment boiled down to this: When travelers pulled in for fuel at Flying J stations, drivers (typically RVers) were told by a station employee that their tire (or tires) looked as if they were ready to separate. They would then be directed to a nearby shop, in one town called Goober’s Service, in another, Goober and Gomer’s Service, whereupon they’d be offered new tires, and in some cases would be also sold new shocks or suspension parts. One older RVer reported he wasn’t told how much the replacement tires would cost him until the rig was off the ground and all the tires removed.
In our case, we didn’t get directed to any of these three businesses, but to an entirely different outfit. But what probably saved our bacon was not ignoring that little suspicion buzzer that went off in our heads. We didn’t go where it was suggested we go, we kept going, looking for a different shop. Yes, there may truly be some folks out there who will legitimately point out what they believe to be problems with someone’s rig. But if they tell you where to go — you might be better off telling them where to go.
And if you think you might really have a problem, then pull over to a safe spot and cool down. If you have Internet access, look up Yelp! and check out other customer comments, or Angie’s List if you’re a member. Look up the Better Business Bureau website and see if there are complaints about a shop you may be thinking about using. And when you do get there, get a written repair estimate BEFORE you give a go-ahead. Make sure the repair order specifies all the work to be done, including what parts are needed, and how much you’ll be charged for labor — and how. Hourly? Or by the job? If you’re told that you’ll need parts, ask to see the part that needs replacing. And don’t let them just show you a part — make sure they show you, on your own rig, where the part goes. Some rotters will just show you a bad part off someone else’s unit, trying to convince you that you’re in trouble.