Denver-area car owner finds transmission in pieces: How to avoid a bad mechanic

HIGHLANDS RANCH — We don't all drive famous people around, like Vail-area business owner Desso Gorgiev does. But we all have cars that need repairs sometimes. Some of us, like Gorgiev, have been burned by mechanics who aren't up to the task. 

When one of Gorgiev' Cadillac Escalades — which his business uses to transport high-profile clients around ski resorts — had a transmission problem, it ended up at Transmission Repair Centers in Highlands Ranch.

Gorgiev said the shop promised repairs in a few days, but weeks went by with only excuses. Then while he was in Denver on business, Gorgiev noticed his SUV out and about. He said a woman was driving it with dogs inside, and he recognized the woman as an employee of the transmission shop.

When he demanded the vehicle back, the SUV had 1,400 more miles on it than when he dropped it off, Gorgiev said.

Denver7 Investigates discovered Transmission Repair Centers’ owner, Robert Murillo Villanueva, has many unhappy customers. One sued him and won, and when he didn’t show up for court, deputies arrested him.

Tim Turner is one such customer. He paid $3,200 upfront for transmission repairs in December. He says he later found his Jeep in a nearby parking lot, with the transmission in pieces in the back. Julie Cooper says she has been waiting for months to get her car back and Peg Hayslett says her car has been in the shop since March 2016.

Villanueva initially promised to sit down and explain everything, but he refused to answer questions after Denver7 made several attempts to talk to him. On a recent visit to the shop, a Denver7 crew found people packing up tools, saying the shop was closing down.

Avoiding a bad mechanic

One of your best lines of defense against being ripped off is doing some research.

In the case of Transmission Repair Centers, the company has quite a few unhappy customers and has been sued in the past. Doing a little bit of searching online can sometimes reveal problems or warning signs that something is up.

A good first step is to look up the business on the Better Business Bureau website. The BBB includes its own ratings as well as customer reviews and complaints. Businesses even have a chance to respond to those complaints.

MORE: See the BBB rating and reviews for Transmission Repair Centers

If you’re a member of AAA, you can also look for businesses with AAA accreditation. Bonus: These shops offer members discounts on service and other benefits.

It’s also a good idea to look for accreditation such as ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) and ASA (Automotive Service Association). These organizations offer training and other resources to help automotive shops provide good service and quality work.

When you decide on a mechanic, it’s a good idea to make sure they look at your vehicle before giving you a quote. For complex jobs like a transmission repair, the auto shop can’t give you an accurate idea of the price without looking at the vehicle first.

Also be wary of auto shops that continue to call with new problems after they start working. That could be a sign they didn’t do a thorough inspection in the first place.

The Better Business Bureau has much more information on its website, including ratings, reviews, and helpful tips.

What to do if you think you’ve been ripped off

If you think a mechanic has cheated you out of your money, you can sue in small claims court.

This only applies to certain cases, however. The maximum amount for a claim in small claims court is $7,500 and the statute of limitations for cases involving motor vehicle repair is one year.

You don’t need an attorney for small claims and your case won’t go before a jury, but it will cost you a $55 filing fee.

If you get a judgment in your favor, collecting money is another step. You’re responsible for collecting any money owed, but if you know where the person works or has a bank account, you can get a judge to order some of that person’s income be garnished to repay what you’re owed. You may also be able to request a lien against the person’s real estate.

Be aware that there are additional fees associated with taking this kind of legal action.

You’ll find a lot more information on the small claims legal process on the Colorado Judicial Branch’s website.

Jace Larson

Jace Larson is an award-winning investigative reporter for Denver7 Investigates. If you have a story idea or a tip for Jace, email or text him at jace@thedenverchannel.com or 720-270-1468. You can remain anonymous. Connect with Jace on FacebookTwitter or Instagram.

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