Q. I had a remote car starter installed at Ziebart in Shrewsbury and when I received the bill, they included a 3 percent "Environmental Impact Charge" on the bill. I told them that was not right, but they said they charge everyone that. I could understand if I had work done and they had to dispose of waste materials like oil. I just had the starter installed -- just labor and parts. It is not the amount of money; it is just that I do not feel they should have charged that.
Bill Martin, West Boylston
A. I'm with you. Made-up charges like that are deceptive. At first glance, you might think it would be a charge that might have something to do with some fee required by government. It isn't.
Rather than come up with a fee called "extra money for us," auto repair shops came up with environmental impact charges, ostensibly to cover the cost of what is pretty much the equivalent of taking out the trash. Imagine if the grocery store added a separate environmental fee, claiming it costs money to get rid of the boxes in which food is delivered. Instead, those costs are just part of the price of the products on supermarket shelves.
Matthew La Plante, president of the Ziebart in Shrewsbury, said he issued a refund and said he's "reinvestigating the topic completely to assure we are in full compliance and that everything we do is completely disclosed."
He added: "I take all customer input very seriously and want to make sure my company is at its best with honesty, quality and integrity."
In the auto business, this charge has become a backhanded way to raise prices. Instead of, say making an oil change $23, a shop might advertise a price of $19.99 and make up the rest with the fee. Disclosing the charge might make it legal, but that doesn't mean it's honest.
You'll see such fees pretty much anywhere you go to get cars fixed. It's asking a lot, but auto shops ought to be upfront with their customers (and complete fairly with those who don't play this game) and make the price what is.
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Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com