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Buyer Beware

My Pontiac Fiero…

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When I was 19, I bought a Pontiac Fiero. OK, OK … pipe down. I can hear you hooting from here. (Besides, I know about some of the stuff you did when you were 19, and compared to you, I look like a genius.)

Granted, it wasn’t the best purchase I ever made, but I did have my reasons (none of them based in logic).

That little piece of fiberglass flew. I’d open my sunroof, put on some tunes (there were speakers in the headrests for God’s sake!), cruise down the road and forget all my problems. That is, until the Fiero became my problem.

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When the car ran, it sure was fun. Thing is, it rarely ran. From the moment I bought it, it had mechanical problems. One night after it overheated (a common occurrence), I had it towed to the closest mechanical shop. From that night on, I had a new best friend: the shop’s mechanic. He saw me more than he saw his own wife (he told me so himself). Try as he might, he couldn’t diagnose and fix my car. And he had plenty of opportunities. Toward the end – of my patience and my sanity (my money had run out way sooner than that) – my mechanic friend felt so bad that he couldn’t fix my car that he stopped charging me labor.

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After much angst – and some hearty lectures from my parents, my friends and strangers in mall parking lots – I sold my car. (Two months later, GM recalled the ’85 Fiero GTs and likely fixed ’em right up. But I’m not bitter … really I’m not.)

But make no mistake, I know I only have myself to blame. The used-car salesman wasn’t about to tell me, “I can’t in good conscious sell this car to you.”

Nope. He wasn’t about to do that. He smiled, chuckled a bit to himself – “There goes another sucker” – and walked back into the dealership, his shiny, slicked-back hair glistening in the sun.

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Because of my Fiero experience – which I now refer to as the “Dark Years” – I learned that it’s my responsibility as a consumer to research a product thoroughly before buying it. I can’t rely on the person selling me the product for accurate, objective information. Like I’m going to ask the advice of the high-school student with two nose rings working in the refrigerator department at Lowes? No thanks.

The phrase, “Buyer Beware” makes perfect sense to me these days. It’s my responsibility to know what I’m buying … and that includes collision repairs.

Fact is, consumers set the standards. If a business sells a mediocre product and consumers continue to buy that mediocre product, there’s no incentive for that business to improve the product’s quality. Why should they? If, however, consumers decide a product’s quality doesn’t measure up and go elsewhere, that business owner will be motivated (lost business = lost sales) to improve his product.

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The problem is that even the most diligent consumer is hard-pressed to know if a collision repair measures up. The collision industry can very easily disguise poor-quality work under a shiny new paint job – and the consumer is none the wiser. Still, it’s ultimately consumers who set repair standards for a market. Consumers determine what’s acceptable and what’s not.

Does this mean repairers are off the hook – that if your customers are ignorant of the repair process and are willing to take what you give them, that it’s OK to butcher their cars? Absolutely not (though some shops do just that). It’s up to reputable repairers to educate consumers about collision repair – and to teach them that there is a difference between shops.

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Consumer awareness is – and will continue to be – the driving force in setting standards for the collision repair industry. Do your part. Help consumers to make educated decisions.

As for me, I’ve got my own educated decision to make. I need a new frig, and I’ve been eyeing this snazzy “retro” refrigerator. It’s cute. It comes in red. It’s so cool!

But cool isn’t enough for me these days. Even though I’ve forgiven myself for the “Dark Years,” I haven’t forgotten.

Georgina K. Carson
Editor

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