Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sears is still on my grudge list

I saw an article in the Cape Cod Times today reporting that the Sears Auto Center in Hyannis was fined $2,445 by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection for failing to properly document the disposal of waste oil. I’m not concluding that there was any wrongdoing here, other than the paperwork violation, but it does remind me of the Sears scandal in the early 1990s.

To bolster sales at their automotive repair centers, Sears decided to pay their service advisers commissions on repair work. This was tantamount to putting the age-old practice of pushing unnecessary auto repairs on steroids. Come in with a broken windshield wiper; leave with a flushed radiator, four new tires, and a brake job.

I was the target of a fraud committed by the Sears Auto Center in El Paso, Texas. My Toyota pickup truck was closing in on 125,000 miles and the front suspension was making some interesting noises. The Sears guy put the truck on a lift and showed me how much lateral play there was in the wheels. He declared that the ball joints were worn out and needed to be replaced before my wheels decided to go one direction while I steered in the other.

His diagnosis turned out to be right on the mark, as I’ll explain in a minute. I was happy to hear that they could replace the ball joints by the end of the day. I didn’t assume that they had a set on the shelf for a 1975 Toyota pickup, but El Paso is a big city and all the car manufacturers have parts warehouses there.

I recall paying close to $400 for the repair. I drove away poorer but the disturbing racket in the suspension was gone and I felt safer knowing how serious a ball joint failure could be.

A week or so later I read that California’s attorney general was moving to revoke Sears’ auto repair license for fraud. Simultaneously, New Jersey officials cited a half-dozen Sears Auto Centers for recommending unnecessary repairs. I started watching the news accounts carefully.

On Monday, June 22, 1992, Edward Brennan, chairman of Sears, made the most ridiculous statement ever uttered by someone in charge: “When our integrity is on the line, we must do more than just react—we must overreact.”

What? No. We should never overreact, Mr. Brennan. That’s not how to solve a problem and salvage your integrity. (The definition of overreact is “to react to something with disproportionate action or excessive emotion.”)

Another couple of weeks later, those noises in my front suspension started making a comeback. Not wanting to return to Sears, I sought out a second opinion from an auto mechanic that a knowledgeable friend recommended. His diagnosis? The ball joints needed to be replaced.

I recounted the Sears Auto Center episode I went through not a month earlier. The mechanic told me that they had pumped the ball joints full with a heavy grease, a “repair” that would have taken about five minutes. I had the proper repair performed and went back to Sears to recoup my $400.

What probably would have been a knock-down-drag-out battle, before all of the publicity about Sears’ string o’ frauds, ended up being a short and sweet refund process with a contrite cashier.

I wasn’t forgiving, however, and to this day I refuse to shop at Sears. When I’m at the mall on a hot day, I go out of my way to walk through the Sears store and soak up as much of their air conditioning as possible, but never buy anything. Mary is careful to always pay cash and hide the receipt for anything she buys from Sears.

Also on my lifetime boycott list: Sprint and Chrysler. Stories for another day…

Copyright 2009 Randy Hunt


  1. Good Morning Mr. Hunt

    Good old Sears repair service centers.

    I short while ago we had a new Kenmore stove that the lower element open. The warranty had expired.
    I call for service , explain to some non english, in another country, person my problem.

    I told him that the lower element was open . I put a meter on it so I knew what the problem was.

    I explained that I did not need any one to determine the problem as I had allready determined what it was.

    The other end then attempts to sell me a SERVICE CONTRACT FOR SERVIcE, I explained I did not want one.

    When the Sears service man showed up at the door two days later he begins by telling me he has to anaylize the problem, I explain that I had allready done that and all he needed to do was replace the open heatering element. I told him that was the arrangment I had made with the non english speaking person the phone when I called for service.

    The service man replaces the element and makes out the bill $75 to find out what the problem was and $ 75 for the part and installation.

    We had a discussion about the bill and it is explained to me that if I had purchased the service contract the part would have been free.

    Since that was not the case I was billed for it.

    I then called the complaint department and explain the situation. I have been gold star buyer of Sears products and I was not given the service I had requested. I get a another whole story about the charges and that they would send me a credit for $30 and that was the best they could do. Well It has been over three months and still no credit in the mail, I suppose it is time to complain again.

    They did not represent themselves in an honest and forthright manner and the non english,in another foreign country, person I spoke to misrepresented what my cost would be in regards to what I needed to get done. Never again will they get any of my business, when the time comes and that is too bad as the Kenmore brands are one of the finest products made.

    Ca Johansen

  2. Good afternoon, Mr. Johansen. We use a guy who used to repair Sears appliances for Sears. He now has his own repair service and has always given us great service at a reasonable price. If something doesn't need repairing, he'll tell you that. If something isn't worth repairing, he'll also tell you that (and put it in writing as he did for Mary one time when I was insisting that the dryer could still be repaired, but it was beyond its life--Mary got a new dryer, but not from Sears).

    Tom Van Etta
    Appliance Plus Repair Service
    (508) 888-8979

  3. Good to know, about Sears.

    I have a lifetime grudge against Alamo Car Rental, which I might blog about someday. Short version: I was in an accident in one of their cars, it was absolutely not my fault (we were hit by someone coming north in the southbound lanes of the interstate b/t San Antonio and Austin), and my credit card company provided insurance coverage for the damage to the car. They still hounded me, rudely and mercilessly, although every insurance company involved was in communication with them and there was nothing on my end to be done. This was ten years ago, and I still remember the name of the guy they had harassing me: Napoleon Coley.

    Never again.

  4. sandy shoes, lousy customer service is behind my Chrysler and Sprint boycotts. How a business like Alamo Car Rental, or any business for that matter, can abandon the principles of excellent customer service is beyond me. In Marketing 101, you learn that people will pass on a bad experience to 10 times the number of people than they'll tell about a good experience. If they had treated you right, you'd probably be a loyal customer of Alamo, even if they didn't offer the lowest price. Instead, they went out of their way to create an enemy (and one with a well-read blog, no less).

  5. As a former Sears Tech I was let go for not selling enough service contracts,perventive services that werent needed.I had a hard time justifying riping off the customer.I too no longer shop at sears and from what I hear Sears service is not what it use to be eather.

  6. I just learned about this site and love it. Just a quick comment on Alamo Rental. A few years back, I rented one while wintering in Floriday. We drove it for a month and returned it at the drop off at the airport. I got my receipt. A week after I got home, I received an email asking for me to let them charge my credit card or give my insurance company name to them so they could repair the damage to the car.

    I questioned them a number of times calling into a number that I had. I told them over and over that they were mistaken, that there was no damange to the vehicle. They sent back pictures of a car that had two flat tires in the rear and also looked to be not able to be driven.

    When I asked why did they give me a receipt for the return of the car, they stopped harrassing me. Now I don't use Alamo, and suggest to everyone in my company that they not use them. I figure I made a slight dent into their profits.

    Treat cusomers with respect.

  7. Anoymous wrote about being harrassed by Alamo. I had the very same experience. They called and called and called. I told them that I had a receipt and then they stopped.

    The picture was sent to me. It was a white car with the same plate and quite smashed.

    I go to Florida at least twice every year and NEVER will I rent Alamo. NEVER NEVER NEVER

    I also will not service my Grand Cherokee at Joe Laham Jeep. When I bought the SUV, I was told that it came with free oil change for life. The life ran out at 4 1/2 years as they charged just over $5 to dispose of the oil. The oil change was not free! Lahm is -5 stars, is far worse, and has proved it.



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