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A Canadian Tire customer is raising serious questions about a North Vancouver store's service practices, after an attempt was made to sell him a $400 repair — on an inexplicable loose wheel bearing, discovered by an auto technician installing new tires.

Canadian Tire response

"The CBC has published a story containing serious allegations against one of our Canadian Tire stores and information we believe to be untrue, incorrect and extremely damaging to our brand.

Your story paints a serious picture of a store and service technician that deliberately tampered with a customer's car and manufactured repairs that were not necessary.

We specifically and categorically deny these allegations and want to place the CBC on notice that the allegations you have now aired infer shocking behaviour that we strongly and confidently believe never took place. The impact of these allegations is severe on our brand – and we don’t believe the CBC has done its due diligence in ensuring the facts are correct.

Our service technician who identified the loose wheel bearing on the customer’s car is a trusted, experienced and deeply honest man. The suggestion that he deliberately took apart a wheel assembly to create a problem is beyond belief.  Further, there is no evidence to support the CBC's aired allegation that our technician engaged in a shocking act to loosen nuts and bolts – and the evidence of this is not recorded on our service order or the GM dealer's service orders.  This is an item that would have absolutely been noted had it been true.  Further – the CBC is relying on the GM dealership who apparently did not follow GM service standards to back up their story that Canadian Tire did something wrong."

(The entire statement from Canadian Tire spokesman Duncan Fulton can be read in the "Related" links, to the right of this story.)

"All of a sudden — out of the blue — it needs replacing?" asked customer Errol Hanson. "You would feel some kind of vibration. A shimmy on the freeway, and I felt nothing wrong."

"Those bolts don't just come loose," he said. "It has to be undone with a wrench, a very big wrench," he added.

Hanson took his 2002 Chevy Tracker into the Canadian Tire store at 1350 Main St. to have the tires replaced at the end of October, 10 days after his regular mechanic serviced it at North Vancouver Suzuki.

The Suzuki service manager confirmed to CBC News that a mechanic inspected the vehicle while it was at the dealership and did not find a loose wheel.

Sudden loose wheel

When Hanson returned to Canadian Tire to pick up his vehicle, he said the person at the service counter told him a wheel bearing needed replacing.

"He says we can do it right away for you — on the spot," said Hanson. "He said it needed to be replaced."

Hanson chose instead to take the vehicle to North Shore Suzuki.

"I shook [the wheel] and it was loose! I thought, 'No, there's something wrong here.'"

Records show a mechanic at the Suzuki dealership "tightened [the] wheel bearing" and charged him $80. Hanson said the service manager told him the bearing did not need replacing, just tightening, and that the nut that holds the bearing in place does not come loose on its own.

The North Vancouver Suzuki service manager told CBC News its mechanic test drove the vehicle, spun the wheels and inspected the wheel bearing. He said the mechanic confirmed the wheel was loose, however he found nothing wrong with the bearing — it looked brand new. North Vancouver Suzuki insisted the only problem its mechanic found was the nut holding the bearing in place had come loose.

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Errol Hanson showed reporter Kathy Tomlinson the cap covering the large bolt that secures the wheel bearing Canadian Tire offered to replace. ((CBC))

"It raised the hair on the back end of my head. I just felt very uneasy about the whole thing," said Hanson.

"Heaven forbid the wheel fell off or something like that — who would I go after?"

Hanson returned to the Canadian Tire and asked the service manager how this could happen, but said his concerns were essentially dismissed.

Customer felt 'duped'

"He said, 'The mechanic doesn't remember this — so there isn't anything I can do about it,'" said Hanson. "He didn't take any responsibility for anything. I felt duped. I really did."

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Hanson wonders if someone at Canadian Tire loosened the nut holding the bearing in place, while the new tires were being installed.

"I went there as an innocent bystander in good faith and this is what happens. I don't know what to say. I can't point the finger that they deliberately did it. I wasn't there to see them do it," said Hanson.

CBC News called the North Vancouver store to ask for an explanation, but the service manager said, "I don't know why I would want to get involved with the media," and hung up.

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Canadian Tire says customer Errol Hanson did not receive the appropriate level of customer service at a store in North Vancouver. ((CBC))

Canadian Tire's head office later sent a statement, which suggested the auto technician involved did remember Hanson's vehicle.

"While undertaking the [tire and alignment] work, we noted an item that required repair (the hub bearing) and also in accordance with best practice in auto service, we informed the customer of the service need and quoted a price on the best repair available (replace the hub bearing).

"Not being engaged to do the work, we cannot determine whether tightening or replacing the hub bearing was the best service offered."

Canadian Tire also said Hanson will be getting an apology.

Apology from head office

"That said, in this case we believe our customer did not receive the level of customer service excellence we aim to provide and so we will contact the customer directly in order to apologize and resolve his concerns to the best of our abilities to his satisfaction."   Canadian Tire's head office then sent this additional statement Tuesday, to specifically address Hanson's most serious concern.

"It is a serious and harmful accusation to suggest that a Canadian Tire mechanic would tamper with a car and put lives in jeopardy ... Canadian Tire categorically and specifically rejects this inference."

CBC News decided to do a test of its own at the same Canadian Tire outlet to see what repairs, if any, would be recommended.

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This bolt attached to the wheel system was intentionally loosened by mechanic Carmen Martino at CBC's request, but Canadian Tire in North Vancouver didn't note that during a subsequent maintenance check. ((CBC))

We took a 2007 Honda Fit, which belongs to CBC intern Gareth Madoc-Jones, to Carmen Martino, an independent mechanic who does consumer education for the Automobile Protection Association.

Martino test drove the vehicle and took the wheels off. He concluded it was in good shape but recommended replacing the front brake pads soon. Martino also intentionally loosened two bolts — one in the rear wheel area and one in the front — which he said should be noticed by any mechanic looking under the car.

The loose bolts could cause a safety hazard, if left that way, he said.

Madoc-Jones then took the car to the North Vancouver Canadian Tire. He told the service centre he just bought the vehicle, and asked that it be looked over to see if it needed work.

A service representative said they would do a "basic maintenance check" for $20.

Madoc-Jones was told, "We're just going to check it out …They're going to check everything."

Loose bolts missed

The next day, Canadian Tire gave him an estimate for $200 worth of recommended work, including a rear brake adjustment. There was no mention of the loose bolts, or the front brake pads Martino had said were wearing thin.

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Carmen Martino, an independent mechanic who does work for the Automobile Protection Association, shows reporter Kathy Tomlinson why he thinks the Canadian Tire estimate includes unnecessary repairs. ((CBC))

"They didn't even look at it," said Martino, after checking the estimate. "That's what it tells me. They didn't even look at it, as they didn't even take the wheels off.

"They put things down that he doesn't need and put things down that will make them a fast buck."

When Martino found the bolts still loose, he warned, "This is very, very dangerous."

Canadian Tire's head office responded: "A basic maintenance does not include a wheels-off inspection, but does include a visual and noise check which is what the store did. This fits with what your mechanic has said — that we didn't take the wheels off."

The Automobile Protection Association (APA) has included Canadian Tire in some of its past annual surveys for consumers.

President George Iny said it found the quality of service varied among Canadian Tire outlets, which are independently owned and operated.

Advice for consumers

"Canadian Tire is unique when it comes to customer service," he said. "They don't appear to have standards or impose them in a uniform way on stores. So you are often at the mercy of the store."

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Canadian Tire customer Errol Hanson said he feels duped after Canadian Tire tried to sell him a $400 repair for a loose wheel bearing. ((CBC))

Based on the results of the CBC News test on the North Vancouver store, he said, "Very obvious mechanical deficiencies were not picked up and they also sold a service or recommended a service that likely wasn't necessary.

"You might want to proceed with caution before going to that store."

The APA advises consumers who are offered repairs at a major chain like Canadian Tire to get a second opinion from an independent mechanic. Iny also suggests people ask mechanics for their old parts back, because then they can check if the repair was really necessary.