Are the 'Let the Experts at AAMCO Check it Out for FREE!' Commercials Deceiving? [VIDEO]

Are the ‘Let the Experts at AAMCO Check it Out for FREE!’ Commercials Deceiving? [VIDEO]

AAMCO's catchy TV commercials grab viewers' attention by saying "Check Engine Light On? Let the experts at AAMCO check it out for FREE!" However, drivers are complaining that they are actually being charged for this service. Do you feel these ads are deceptive? How do you charge for diagnosing a check engine light?

AAMCO’s catchy TV commercials grab viewers’ attention by saying “Check Engine Light On? Let the experts at AAMCO check it out for FREE!”  However, drivers are complaining that they are actually being charged for this service. Do you feel these ads are deceptive? How do you charge for diagnosing a check engine light?

Below is the article as it appeared on the SACRAMENTO CBS13 website.

Call Kurtis Investigates: When Is Free Not Free?

May 17, 2010 4:50 pm US/Pacific
By Kurtis Ming

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) ― A Sacramento couple saw the AAMCO ad that says if your check engine light comes on, bring it in, they’ll check it for free. But when they say AAMCO charged them to diagnose the problem, it was time to call Kurtis Ming to investigate.

We’ve all seen and heard AAMCO’s catchy commercials. When Gloria Ridgeway’s check engine light popped on in her Chevy Malibu and it started making a rattling noise she remembered the ads.

"It said if your check engine light was on, bring it to AAMCO. We’ll check it for free," Gloria told Kurtis.

Gloria brought her car to a locally owned AAMCO shop on Arden Way in Sacramento and she says after leaving her car with them, a manager called her up.

"He said we checked the car and we’re going to need $162 to do the work, and I said ok."

Kurtis asked, "He didn’t say it’s going to cost $162 to diagnose it?"

"Nope," she responded.

She insists it wasn’t until after she picked up the car and was on her way home, she realized they didn’t fix it.

The light was still on, the engine still rattling.

"I got ripped off," Gloria said. "That ad is not true."

If you read the invoice, it shows the $162 was for an hour-and-a-half of diagnostic time; not for a repair.

When did free become $162? Her husband Byron thinks AAMCO took advantage, and calls it deceptive advertising.

If you go online, you’ll find other complaints from people across the country who fell for the ad.

One California customer wrote the AAMCO worker said, "I know the problem and your info is saved in the system and I have the code, but it will cost you $85 to know what is really wrong with the car.

A customer from Florida said they had to run another diagnostic test… to determine the problem which would cost $129.

When we stopped by the local AAMCO shop, I explained the situation to a crew of curious mechanics who walked over to talk with me.

"The commercial does not say free diagnostic," said one of the guys.

Really? Here’s a quote from one commercial linked from AAMCO’s website.

"He’s the best around if my baby’s check engine light’s on, because he’ll diagnose it for free".

"I don’t really see what the problem is here," the mechanic said.

But then one of the three actually admitted, the ad is just meant to get you in the door.

"If we did all that for free for everyone, then we’d spend all of our time doing diagnostics for free and not getting any work done."

Local AAMCO shop owner Dave Schuette didn’t want to go on camera, but says what’s free, is the generic codes after they connect their computer to your car.

But those codes don’t tell you much about the problem. He says if they have to get under the hood to figure out what’s wrong, they’ll charge you for their time.

Schuette sent us a form Gloria signed acknowledging she may have to pay more for the additional diagnostics.

He says she approved the work over the phone, and again acknowledged the additional cost for diagnostic time by signing a second form when she picked up her car.

But what did they do in that hour-and-a-half to diagnose the problem?

The invoice doesn’t say, and Schuette couldn’t tell us.

According to the California Bureau of Automotive Repair, state law says they must list right on the invoice, what they did during the time they’re charging you for.

"If it’s too vague, it may in fact be in violation of the business and professions code of California regulation," said Tim Corcoran of the Bureau of Automotive Repair.

Schuette admits the invoice should say more on it and now plans to use this case, for training. Not wanting an unhappy customer, he agreed to refund Gloria and Byron their $162.

After getting lured in by that catchy commercial, Gloria says, "They’re probably going to charge you, so ask them."

Now in the final frames of that commercial in small print, it does say additional charges may apply. AAMCO Shops are individually owned and operated.

This case is under review by the Bureau of Automotive Repair. If you have an issue with a mechanic, try to work it out with the manager or owner. Gloria did not.

If you can’t get results, you can always file a complaint with the Bureau of Automotive Repair. Click here for a link to their site.


"AAMCO franchises may offer engine light checks at no charge in order to retrieve and report any diagnostic trouble shooting codes stored in the vehicle’s computer. In many cases, this no charge scan for codes will identify a problem leading to a specific service recommendation for a specific price. In some cases, additional diagnostic time may be needed to further identify the source of a problem and the proper service recommendation. In any event, AAMCO franchises must disclose any diagnostic charges and obtain customer authorization before proceeding. We are glad to hear that the local AAMCO franchise was able to address a specific customer concern resulting from an apparent misunderstanding. We will work with our local franchisees to avoid any future misunderstandings and ensure complete customer satisfaction."

Michael J. Pekula
Director of Consumer Affairs, AAMCO Transmissions, Inc.


My service writer made a mistake, and did not accurately describe the results of the diagnostic test. This is not our normal practice, and I appreciate you bringing this to my attention so that we may use it as a training opportunity for my service writers. Apparently the customer wanted more information, but never contacted us to get further explanation, or to let us know that they were unsatisfied with our services. I find it odd and extremely unfair that you would run a segment that would negatively impact my business based on an isolated repair order.

Dave Schuette, Local Franchise Owner

To read this article on the SACRAMENTO CBS13 website, visit

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