Q & A With Jack Bulko, Owner of AutoAid Auto Repair & Service:

If you were looking for an auto shop, what would be the first criteria you'd use as a customer?
Jack: My first criteria would be longevity in the business. Another being AAA (Automobile Club of America) approved. Reviews. Today we're a review-driven society and the customer's opinion is critical to the selection of any service.
What are the scams that other shops get away with ... that you hear customers complain about most?
Jack: I don't know that they complain as much about scams as trying to be oversold or being told they need something when they don't. Dealerships are relentless for overselling an issue. So if there's an oil leak in an engine, they'll try to sell an engine versus 'let's try and fix the oil leak.' ... That's one of the biggest issues that I come across.
What is the #1 sign people should look out for that they might be dealing with an unsavory auto shop?
Jack: I think appearance is probably the number-one thing when you pull into a facility. Is it clean? Does it look professional? Were you greeted at the door with a hello? Or are you ignored until somebody eventually realizes you're standing there. Are the technicians in uniform? Are they clean as well? Does the shop look organized in terms of equipment and tools? Are they an AAA shop? That creates an automatic higher standard for an automobile repair shop.
What about the idea of "lifetime auto products" -- do you believe in those or is that a complete fallacy?
Jack: It's a fallacy. It's a way to get people back in the door for more service or to purchase more parts. Lifetime warranties are usually very limited. Back in the '80s, the battery companies practically went bust because people would change batteries every couple of years at no cost. And they couldn't maintain it. It became lifetime for the amount of time that we owned the vehicles. So if you owned the vehicle for two years and [sold] it, whatever part was lifetime warranty was out the window. Several companies did lifetime warranties on brakes. How do you possibly guarantee brakes for a lifetime? And whose lifetime? It doesn't make any sense. It's a means of getting people back in the door and upselling. I personally don't believe in it.
For oil changes, the windows seem to have shrunk in terms of when [dealerships] want the car back. Is this a common trend?
Jack: Ideally, it's good to have your oil changed as frequently as possible. It'll never hurt. In the old days, 3,000 miles was kind of an icon for an oil change. Driving in a city like Los Angeles is considered severe driving conditions because of the air, the stop-and-go conditions. So the more frequently you do an oil change, the better.
What are the benefits of choosing a mom-and-pop shop such as yours versus a dealership?
Jack: It's developing a personal relationship with the mechanic. With the business. It's just like having a good dentist. Or a good doctor or lawyer. Once you find someone you like and trust, you don't want to go anywhere else because you have that relationship. People come through the door and we address them by their first name because we know them and their kids. We know their moms. It's wholesome. It's a good-feel kind of relationship.
Do you think fear is overused as a tactic in order to up-sell services?
Jack: Some shops might use that tactic to boost their bottom line, but ... I prefer to use the word "urgency" ... There are times when we see something on a vehicle and we'll show it to a customer. We'll take him outside, put him underneath the car, show him exactly what we're talking about and suggest 'it's extremely dangerous to drive with. I wouldn't recommend you drive.' ... That's the extent of fear or creating an urgency.
What's the best way to tell if you've been given used parts -- when you've bought new ones?
Jack: Obviously, if one is not certain, they don't have that much confidence in their repair facility. Secondly, you can always ask for the old parts back. You want to see the old parts. If you're really that uncertain or lacking [confidence] in that facility, ask them to show you the part on the vehicle. Most parts are visually accessible; some are not because they're under hoods or under dashes.
What are the most unnecessary repairs that people are often told they need?
Jack: It could cover a broad spectrum of parts. Tires, for instance, wear at different rates. If a tire has four thirty-second (4/32") of tread depth left, some shops will recommend replacement. A dealer will recommend replacement. I'd say no, use it for another three or four thousand miles. That might be an unnecessary immediate repair.
I've heard of shops that will change out a tire on you [with an old one] when they have your car ... and tell you that you need a new tire. What's a practical morsel of advice to help people not get scammed?
Jack: I would say in that realm get a second opinion. Always get a second opinion if you're that uncertain about something. Especially if the quote is in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. We just had someone referred to us ... and she was told she needed a head gasket, which involves tearing the engine apart, a $2,000 repair. Turned out she never needed a head gasket. She just needed some emission sensors and that was a totally unnecessary repair ... Her bill was about $800 versus $2,000.
What's the most common mistake customers make?
Jack: Don't rely on the Internet for your diagnosis. Don't come in with a diagnosis, come in with an open mind. And the symptoms. Tell us what you experience versus what you read or heard on the Internet 'cause that sets the stage for misinformation, mispurchased parts, unnecessary parts and it becomes a headache.
Is the tire pressure monitoring light sensor the biggest joke in the world? I've had more problems with that going off for accidental reasons than problems with my tires...
Jack: That little light is underestimated ... That light was born of legislation from the accidents causing deaths from the Ford Explorers with Firestone tires that caused cars to flip years ago ... It may be annoying, but better to be annoying than unsafe. If you're on the road and you get that light comin' on, yeah, after a while it's like cry wolf, it comes on and off. But the one time you have an issue, and you picked something up on the road and the tire is about to blow, it's better to have it. It doesn't hurt.
Can you give an example of how online reviews have been helpful or hurtful? The idea that customers are sounding off about your business online?
Jack: Obviously good reviews everybody loves. They've been extremely helpful. The bad reviews, the ones that we do get, enable us to know where our holes are, the flaws in our service. So when we get one, we immediately respond by phone or by email. To try to find out what the issues are. Why the dissatisfaction. What can we do differently and what can we do better? That on the whole improves our overall service.
What keeps people coming back to your shop?
Jack: They like us. We're a family-owned business. We've been here for 34 years. We're AAA approved. We're "Certified Female Friendly" by AskPatty.com, which basically empowers women to negotiate with auto shops and dealerships on a much more knowledgeable basis. We've been "Super Service" award winners on Angie's List four years in a row. And we're personal. We're not this huge organization that has no personal contact with the individual. We're a father-and-son [owned] business ... have a great staff ... and really like taking care of people.
David & Jack Bulko Pictured above: David and Jack Bulko, co-owners of AutoAid in Van Nuys, Calif.

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