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New Car Care Concept Hopes to Pave the Way for Simpler, Cheaper Repairs

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CHARLOTTE — Owning a car is a great feeling until you have to get it fixed. It is inconvenient and expensive. But there is a new kind of company that believes it will pave the way for a much simpler and cheaper repair process.

It is the part of owning a vehicle that drives us crazy: dealing with the repairs. Patrice Fountain usually brings her 6'6" tall brother along with her to deal with mechanics.

"You basically feel trapped," says Fountain. "You have no control over what they're gonna do, and they have your car. You're at their mercy"

Jill Forgea feels like she is a target.

"Especially in this business, unfortunately. I think they see a woman coming toward them the price goes up," she says.

"It's right down there with used car dealers potentially, but we're trying to fix that," says Michael McGregor.

McGregor is a vice president at Autopact, a new company that says it can make it easier and less expensive to get your car fixed.

"What we are is we're the nation's first managed care for car facility, where people can become a member, and pay one flat monthly rate, and for that we do all their car service," he says.

Autopact has two plans: one covers preventive maintenance; the other plan also includes all mechanical breakdowns.

"We're gonna do here every oil change, every wiper blade, every brake job, every tune up, your state inspections, your transmission flushes. In addition, if yours fails and we've been servicing it, hopefully it won't, if your engine fails, we'll replace it."

The preventive maintenance plan will cost you between $15 and $30 a month. The more comprehensive package costs $30 to $50.

If Autopact sounds too good to be true, there are some things that it will not cover. For example, an old clunker will not qualify for Autopact's comprehensive maintenance plan.

Autopact will not pay for items including tires, wheels, car stereos, body and glass, upholstery and trim, and power accessories like locks and windows.

If you have a major mechanical breakdown on the road, Autopact says it will cover that repair up to $200.

The company also screens for pre-existing conditions at a pre-inspection.

"We do check out the car thoroughly. For example, I don't want to pick up a 70,000 mile Honda or Ford Taurus and find out a week later that the engine head is blown," says McGregor.

Autopact will conduct the pre-inspection once you pay a $149 membership fee. The company says that money will often go toward the repair of any pre-existing conditions found.

So is this deal to good to be true? George Leggett has investigated auto fraud for the state Attorney General's Office for years. He has seen several service contract companies with the best of intentions that were unable to keep their promises.

"Very unique and very interesting," Leggett says of Autopact. "And ultimately this could be successful if it could save consumers substantial amounts of money."

Autopact's vice president of operations says the company has thoroughly researched this business concept, and insists it will work.

"If we do our job right, we do our maintenance correctly, you will not have any unexpected mechanical breakdowns on that vehicle. That saves the customer money and aggravation. That saves us money and aggravation as well," says Tim MacKrell.

Autopact has impressed Patrice Fountain, who plans to sign up for the program; Jill Forgea is still slightly skeptical.

"I really think we need to try it, and see if it's really everything, you know, that they're billing it up to be," she says.

Right now, Charlotte is the only city where Autopact operates. If the business plan does work, it could have locations in the Triangle next year.


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