Retired car mechanic helps women

“Dr.” John Booth calls himself a car doctor. He’s a retired auto mechanic with a mission. He uses the Internet to dispense advice to women dealing with auto repair shops. 

“I wanted to target women because all through my career, I worked for companies that really weren’t that nice to women customers. They really took advantage of a lot of them, obviously because a lot of women didn’t know much about cars and so trusted the people at the front desk to tell them the truth. And of course, that wasn’t so. They were always trying to make money out of people,” says Booth.

“So I print the horror stories about the way women are sometimes treated in garages, the way they’re talked down to and lied to, and the scams and the rip-offs-and a lot of good information which they can follow.”

John Booth and his 57 Thunderbird

Horror story
A recent horror story posted on his site,,  involves an older woman who took her seven-year-old Toyota to a garage to have the clch changed. The garage charged her $350.

“Four months later, the clutch wore out. And they said that’s because of how you drive. Then another garage found the first garage had charged $65 for machining the flywheel, which they hadn’t done at all. So then the first garage said to her ‘as people get older, they shrink. And your car is an old car, and it’s shrunk. And that’s not covered by warranty’, so goodbye. And I get this every day, all these kinds of stories,” says Booth.

Next page: His retirement project

His retirement project
The website is a retirement project for Booth, 63, who spent 45 years in the auto trade. He has an engineering degree and is a licensed auto technician. He also served an apprenticeship with Rolls Royce in the United Kingdom. He and his wife emigrated to Canada 25 years ago. They live in Hamilton and recently celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.

Booth is well known in that area through a car talk show on a local radio station. When that ended after eight years, he turned to the Internet to continue with car advice. He also gives car talk seminars for seniors, billing himself as “Dr.” John, dressing in blue medical scrubs and wearing a stethoscope.

In 18 months since be began his Internet practice, Booth says he’s had over 6,000 queries. He likes the web site, because it allows people to print off his advice.

Gives terminology
“I often give them a lot of terminology. And even if they don’t understand the terminology, if they use the right words, then the garages are going to think ‘this lady seems to know something about cars, so we’ve got to treat her car carefully.’ So that alleviates some of the problems.”

Booth says men, too, will find the site a useful source of information. But he’s convinced that the auto repair world is still sexist. He’s doing his bit to change that.

“I get satisfaction. I’m helping women. After all those years, when I’ve seen women go out, some of them in tears from garages because of what they’ve been told. Like-the car is highly dangerous. That’s another scare tactic. You shouldn’t be driving this. You’ve sitting in there with two children. There’s no way you should be driving that car out. So they’ve scared the person into saying, well, you’d better go ahead and fix it,” says Booth.

Finding good garages
Booth says any problems with car repair shops start at the front desk.

“Those people, like the technicians, are on commission. The more they’re able to sell, the more money they’ll have in their pocket as a bonus at the end of the week. So what they will do is try and oversell,” says Booth.

He has several bits of advice for finding competent, honest auto repair places:

  • Go to a shop that is not on commission or flat rate but on an hourly rate.
“Flat rate means that a labour guide book lists how much time it takes for each job. And even if the technician takes less time, you still get charged for whatever time the book says.”

“Flat rates make a very good mechanic a bad one because now he’s shortcutting in order to get your car out in three-quarters of an hour instead of two hours, because he can get another car in and make more money doubling up on the time.”  
“The dealers started the flat rates, because they make more money that way. But you don’t have to go to the dealers. You go there for the warranty work, and that’s fine,” says Booth. But then-

  • Once the warranty work is finished, either buy an extended warranty, or go to an independent garage.

Next page: Canadian survey says..

    Recent Canadian survey
    A recent survey of Canadian customers for auto services supports what Booth says. The survey found customers are more satisfied with independent repair shops and aftermarket establishments than with dealerships.
    A report by J.D. Power and Associates, an international consumer and market research company, quizzed more than 10,600 Canadian vehicle owners.

    Autopro, was ranked first for satisfactory service, Ultramar came second, and independent neighbourhood repair shops were third.

    Booth says he agrees about independent shops. “We ran a survey of honesty in shops around North America. And the ones that stick out were family owned and run garages. They were the most honest.”

    Customers want service
    According to the J.D. Power study, dealers for big auto makers, Canadian Tire and Mr. Lube all ranked below the industry standard. A news release from the company says that dealerships continue to perform the largest share of service, but customers give aftermarket service providers higher satisfaction scores.

    “Competing on price alone may produce some short-term results, but customers will remain uncommitted until the establishment has proven to provide an outstanding service experience on a continuous, consistent basis,” says the release.

    Get same mechanic
    “Dr.” John puts it this way: “There are ways of finding a good mechanic. And once you’ve found one, then you stay with them.”

    • Ask for the same mechanic each time you go to the garage.

    “This is the unfortunate thing with dealerships. A lot of them work shifts and seven days. So when you take your car in, you could get Tom, Dick and Harry. But if you’ve got the one person, he knows you, you know him. Even if you’ve forgotten your paperwork, he remembers everything he’s done on your car,” says Booth.

    Drives pink Thunderbird
    He says he doesn’t break his nails doing much car work these days-except on his 1957 two-seater Thunderbird-pink, with white leather interior. And there are the car problems are at his garage in cyberspace. 

    “I enjoy every moment, especially when I save people money or am able to get them money refunded for shoddy, or underhanded work ethics. That’s the gratifying reward for it all.”