Transmission repair deals too good to be true

Something about Doug Stouffer’s story sounded all too familiar. He took his truck to a transmission shop because the deal offered by the owner sounded good: a low $1,497 for repairs, a two-day turnaround and the work guaranteed.

But when Stouffer got his truck back five days later, he had to pay $2,500 (cash or cashier’s check only). The original problem wasn’t fixed, he says.

Yes, The Watchdog had heard this story before, but that was about a transmission repair shop in Denton, Texas. This happened at a Grand Prairie, Texas transmission shop.

As readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, turns out that the same owner is involved — Larry Duncan. Duncan, 58, moved his Denton business to Grand Prairie. The Transmission and Auto Shop is in the 1800 block of South Great Southwest Parkway.

I first talked to Duncan in 2007 after a 22-year-old woman told me that he promised her a $1,000 repair and a two-day turnaround. Three weeks later, she had to pay $2,600 in cash to get her car back. It still didn’t work, she said.

After her story appeared, Watchdog readers reached out to her. One reader donated money for her repair. Several transmission shop owners offered to repair her car for free.

Duncan’s business has operated under other names, too — and Transmission/Engine Shop.

A frustrated customer took this secret photo of Larry Duncan

When someone calls the Grand Prairie shop, a taped message from Duncan promises, “We have a two-day turnaround on transmission work.” There are no qualifiers.

In a recent phone interview, Duncan told me: “Let me explain something to you briefly. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this because this is crazy.

“The $1,497 price is providing everything is rebuildable. The man had things that were not rebuildable. He had to pay for those things. He clearly understood that.

“So for the two-day turnaround, when things are not rebuilt, we have to order those parts. It takes time for the parts to arrive. Of course, he was told that.”

Duncan sometimes faces angry customers, he says, but that’s part of doing business. He denies Stouffer’s claim that the transmission in question wasn’t properly fixed.

Although Duncan doesn’t explain all the details to customers when making his pitch, his paperwork that he asks customers to sign fully explains the rules in 46 lines of fine print beneath the vehicle information.

Stouffer says Duncan assured him that any added costs would increase the bill by a few hundred dollars. Turned out to be a thousand. Duncan says there’s no way he can know what the real price is until his techs take apart the transmission. “I’m not a messiah, so I can’t know what’s wrong with a vehicle.”

When Duncan called Stouffer and said the bill would increase by $800, Stouffer said, “I reluctantly agreed and actually felt like I didn’t have a choice.”

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What to do?

What can a vehicle owner do when facing a major repair?

The Better Business Bureau suggests getting bids from multiple shops. That’s smart advice that I now follow. Twice in the past year, I got bids. For one job, the original quoted price was $1,700, but I found a shop that would do it for $325.

On a second repair, I was given a $1,200 written estimate from a repair shop, but when I took it to a second shop, I was told that nothing was wrong with my car. When I returned to the original shop and explained what happened, I was told that the technician who made the estimate had been fired. So getting estimates for those two jobs saved me $2,600.

When it comes to a transmission repair, two readers shared what to do.

Robert Graves of Fort Worth taught me that a service department at a new-car dealer that specializes in that make of automobile is more likely to make an intelligent diagnosis because the techs know the vehicle. If a quoted repair price is too high, shop around for a better deal.

David Fusco of Arlington told me that if a car needs a transmission repair or other major work, the first stop should be a dealer to learn whether there has been a parts recall by the manufacturer. That might pay for part or all of the bill.

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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