Say you were Pennzoil, the leading motor oil company in America. You’d want to get your products out to as many people as possible. So you merge with Quaker State and buy Jiffy Lube, the company specializing in oil changes and basic car maintenance. Now you have the materials, the shops to deliver the service, and brand names everyone recognizes.
All of the above happened in the late 1980s. In 2002, seeing an opportunity to expand its own mammoth business, Royal Dutch Shell acquired the whole package. Motor oil and auto service empire, meet your new boss: the No. 2 oil company in the world.
We’re not saying this situation could lead to corruption — or something like a total racket — but you can see how it’s possible. Since Shell took over Jiffy Lube, customers have filed countless complaints against the company for ripping them off in one way or another. In recent years, Jiffy Lubes in California were shut down, fined, and forced to serve probation.
So car owners who need an oil change or basic repairs might want to think twice about pulling into their local quick-lube franchise and asking for a few quarts of Pennzoil. Here are 14 outrageous scams and lies pulled on customers and investigators at Jiffy Lube over the years.
1. ‘Your engine oil is low’
- The cars always had plenty of oil.
In 2016, dozens of California Jiffy Lubes received a $220,000 fine and three years of probation for various scams they pulled. The state’s Bureau of Auto Repair had launched a sting operation at these centers following complaints. Before pulling in, inspectors made sure their vehicles were in tip-top shape with all fluids full, so the Jiffy Lubes had no reason to make repairs.
After five months and 38 undercover visits, investigators found 37 causes for discipline. In the first example, a Jiffy Lube employee told the undercover investigator the car needed another quart of engine oil even though the fluids were full. When someone at a station tells you your oil is low, ask them to show you. Better yet, check yourself before going into the shop.
Next: They charged people to replace a filter but never actually did the work.
2. ‘You need a new air filter’
- They took the money but never installed the new air filter.
While California’s official investigation had the power and resources to succeed, an NBC affiliate did some impressive work on its own in 2013. Using an elaborate system of hidden cameras and actors posing as car owners, NBC4 News nailed several Jiffy Lubes scamming customers. One flagrant case followed a recommendation for a new air filter.
Though the technician insisted the woman needed a new filter and charged her for it, they never replaced it. NBC4 has written on the various parts in invisible ink. When the team brought the car back for inspection, they found the original filter inside. All told, Jiffy Lube bilked the customer for $649 when no repairs were needed.
Next: A few flushes that don’t need to be done
3. ‘Time for a transmission flush’
- The myth of the transmission and engine flush
California Jiffy Lubes, most of them controlled by the Fanticola family, also had a habit of offering unnecessary transmission flushes. In the lengthy 2016 settlement, investigators recounted the story of a Honda Civic they brought to a San Jose shop. Prior to showing up, the team made sure all fluids were full and clean. They also changed the oil and replaced the filter.
When the Jiffy Lube looked at it, the technician recommended a transmission flush, fuel system cleaning, and engine flush. (Honda directs owners never to perform engine flushes in the manual.) By the time the repair shop was done, they charged the undercover agent $279.14 for useless work. As a bonus, California’s investigators drove away from the Jiffy Lube with the “check engine” light on. It wasn’t there when they pulled in.
Next: This tactic eliminated any paper trail.
4. ‘We can only accept cash right now’
- When people paid in cash, there was no way to prove payment for a bad repair.
What’s worse than getting ripped off for fake repairs? Maybe it’s equally offensive, but one Jiffy Lube scam recounted by a former employee involved demanding customers pay in cash. According to a Consumerist report, the employees went through their usual routine of offering repairs the customer didn’t need. When it came time to pay, they had the nerve of asking for the money in cash, claiming the computer system was down.
That way, there was no digital trail for anyone to follow and no receipt for the customer to use as evidence. If any mechanic refuses to stand by his work and won’t give you a receipt, take your car elsewhere and alert the authorities.
Next: They told investigators this fix would boost mpg by a lot.
5. ‘I’m about to improve your MPG’
- To make the sale, they promised an instant fuel economy boost.
In the 2016 California case against Jiffy Lube, investigators encountered some claims they categorized as fraud. Technicians said the fuel system cleaning he recommended would remove the carbon found in the vehicle’s intake manifold, increasing the car’s economy by 2-3 MPG. These claims were bogus, so you can file them under “lies.” No cleaning was necessary, and the manual recommended against flushes, anyway.
Next: Technicians tried to tack on this repair when the car only needed an oil change.
6. ‘You need a new belt’
- The belt was new, but suddenly it needed replacing.
Time after time, California investigators who asked for oil changes heard they needed other repairs ASAP. In one documented scam, a Jiffy Lube employee said a 2000 Chevy needed a new belt. On top of the oil change, the service center charged $89.99 for the belt. State vehicle inspectors examined every inch of the car beforehand. The belt was in perfect shape prior to its arrival at Jiffy Lube.
Next: This shop had more devious methods than usual.
7. ‘You need a new battery’
- Fake test results can prove anything you want.
When the NBC4 team took its car to a Jiffy Lube in Hollywood, a technician said it was time for a new battery. Prior to the visit, a former California state inspector declared it in perfect shape. This shop had more devious methods than most others found cheating customers. Rather than blatantly lying about the reading, the service center employee actually manipulated the test results. Showing it to the customer, he confidently stated the battery needed replacing.
Next: According to an ex-employee, you would see this scam at “every” Jiffy Lube.
8. ‘The air conditioner Freon is low’
- You can’t see low Freon levels without looking.
This line was a direct quote from the same Los Angeles Jiffy Lube that sold NBC4 News a battery for no reason. California state law dictates technicians must test an air-conditioner system before making recommendations. The Jiffy Lube in question did not perform those tests, then lied about the Freon levels being low. A former manager of the company told the NBC4 team these scams are normal. “That happens at every location,” he said.
Next: This one means ignoring the car manual completely.
9. ‘We need to flush your cooling system’
- You can’t trust a mechanic who ignores the car manual.
Car owners who want to avoid most unnecessary repairs should start by noting the automaker’s recommendations in the manual. In the California state investigation of service center scams, inspectors used one vehicle that recommended cooling flushes “only after catastrophic failures or extreme corrosion in the radiator.”
Nonetheless, the investigators decided to flush it anyway prior to visiting a repair center. A Jiffy Lube technician in San Jose looked at the vehicle and recommended a cooling system flush in addition to an oil change and transmission flush.
Next: One Jiffy Lube fell int a trap with this lie.
10. ‘The transmission fluid is the wrong color’
- It’s not the color that counts.
Jiffy Lube employees may not be alone in this type of flagrant lie, but they are the most brazen we have on record. In its “31st Cause for Discipline” prior to the 2016 California settlement, a Jiffy Lube employee in Castro Valley told undercover investigators “the Chevrolet’s transmission fluid should be bright red, but [it] is dirty and should be changed.”
You can file that one away in the book of lies, as well. In fact, the color of transmission fluid does not determine its usefulness. By the way, state vehicle inspectors changed the fluids right before the visit in case someone from Jiffy Lube tried to pull that scam. The trap worked.
Next: This lady was tricked into buying her own car battery.
11. Get sold your own battery
- This shop was not subtle.
On Reddit, a former Jiffy Lube worker held an AMA (Ask Me Anything) and revealed shocking truths and stories about the business. As the post above shows, he once sold a woman her own battery for $169.99. Under the direction of his boss, all he had to do was wrap the supposedly new battery in plastic and take her money. However, he does claim that he went to her house and gave her the money back from his own pocket.
Next: You won’t believe what the boss did for an air filter order.
12. Chopping a Volvo filter to fit a Mercedes
- Why look for an expensive part when you can charge someone for a fake?
One of the main goals at Jiffy Lube is to get customers in and out as fast as possible. Sometimes that can mean not doing something correctly. From the same AMA, the former employee reveals how his boss cut a long air filter in half to satisfy the order, instead of spending an extra 10 minutes to get an extra filter.
Next: What do you get when you cross an air filter with a chipmunk?
13. Air filter crosses with a live chipmunk
- This scam is almost too stupid to believe.
One story from a separate Reddit thread involves an air filter filled with twigs, leaves, nuts, and a live chipmunk. The worker tried to convince a customer he needed a new air filter, which was actually replaced two weeks earlier by the customer. When that didn’t work, the worker claimed the brake pads needed to be replaced, too. Buyer beware.
Next: Why you should always pay attention to your car.
14. A simple oil change goes wrong
- In at least one case, someone needed to take the wrench out of Jiffy Lube’s hands.
Just in case you had any doubts about the quality of workers at some of these shops, one man shared his horror story. He went in for a simple oil change and started to worry after about 20 minutes. By the time he looked up, the worker was doing a number on his drain plug with a ratchet and an air gun. Luckily, he was able to get Jiffy Lube to pay for new parts and he installed them himself.
Additional reporting by Eric McWhinnie.
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