Just Brakes Accused of Routinely Padding $99.98 Brake Jobs

a car mechanic removes a tireIf you've ever owned a car you've probably had at least one bad experience with an auto repair shop. But hundreds -- possibly thousands of people say they've been burned by an automotive repair chain known as Just Brakes, most often for trying to inflate a $99.88 brake job into major repairs totaling hundreds of dollars.

A Consumer Ally reader named Andy recently wrote us to complain about the Texas-based Just Brakes. With a little digging we discovered Just Brakes has been the subject of hundreds of complaints to the Better Business Bureau, is well-known in various online consumer complaint forums and has been investigated by Florida's Division of Consumer Services.

Andy, a St. Petersburg, Fla. resident who prefers not to give his last name, recently took his wife's car into a local Just Brakes shop for a grinding noise. He'd never heard of them before but after a quick online search found the shop was only minutes away. The advertised $99.88 price to fix all four brakes, plus a lifetime warranty, sounded good. So he decided to take a chance.

He took his wife's car into the local shop, and said that 30 minutes later, the manager came into the waiting room and said "Let's go take a look at your brakes." Andy said he "had a bad feeling about this." At first, the Just Brakes technician showed him the worn, front brake pad responsible for the grinding noise. He also said Andy needed his rotor turned, which Andy said sounded reasonable. But when Andy was told he also needed new calipers, he began to get suspicious.

The technician then removed the rear brakes and pointed out a rusty spring he said needed replacing. Then he loosened the seals around the brake cylinders until brake fluid leaked, which he said meant the cylinders needed replacing as well. "Somewhere in the back of my mind, I recall hearing this done as a scam," Andy told Consumer Ally.

Since the $99.88 special had suddenly escalated into an almost $500 job, Andy balked and told them to replace only the brake pad and drum. The manager insisted the car wasn't safe unless they replaced the spring, so Andy relented, assuming it was just a $5 part. But then they told him it would cost $50, because it only came in a kit. "By this time, I am convinced this is all ridiculous and tell him, 'No,'" Andy said.

He paid his $99.88 (plus a $6 shop fee buried in the fine print), drove home, logged on to his computer and began turning up scores of complaints from people saying they experienced the same thing.

We also took a look online, and found that The Better Business Bureau listed 376 complaints against Just Brakes in the past 36 months. Of these, 196 complaints were resolved, while 180 were "administratively closed," meaning not satisfactorily-settled. The BBB report also had this to say about Just Brakes:

Complaints are concerning advertising and selling practices, repairs, and customer service. Specifically, complaints allege that the company advertises a brake service for $99.88 and then represents that additional work is needed, at substantial additional cost. Complaints also allege unsatisfactory repairs and unsatisfactory customer service. The company responds to complaints by explaining its procedures.

The Pissed Consumer forum listed 91 complaints against the company, with headlines such as Just Brakes lied to me and ripped me off, Just Brakes attempted rip-off and Just Brakes nearly killed me. One complaint by a former Just Brakes employee, titled Worst company I ever worked for, says the following:

The company advertises a 99.88 dollar brake job. The management expects you to sell 350.00 average. If you don't your [sic] out. You also have to go by a script in talking to customers, designed to get the customer to agree to what you say and can sell. Anytime I gave the customer a 99.88 brake job I was called down, and if the market manager happened to be on site I was ordered to make the customer buy more or my job was in trouble."

Numerous other complaints by Just Brakes customers have been posted on ConsumerAffairs.com, Complaints Board, My3Cents.com and the RipoffReport.

A 2004 article in the St.Petersburg Timesreported an investigation into several Just Brakes locations in the Tampa Bay area, following more than 100 complaints to the state and the Better Business Bureau since 2000.

According to records obtained by Consumer Ally, six Just Brakes locations in Tampa were inspected by Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for compliance violations in 2003. The case was settled in November 2005, when a Just Brakes shop located on 7655 W. Hillsborough Ave. in Tampa agreed to pay a $5,000 fine.

Just Brakes, which operates 160 stores In Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Georgia and Florida, did not respond to requests for a comment.

More than a month after his visit, Andy says his brakes are working fine.

"I do feel I was almost the victim of hard-sell tactics for repairs that were not necessary and fabricated, and had I not been firm, would have paid close to $500 for repairs I did not need," Andy told Consumer Ally. "I have told my family and friends not to go there."

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