Car repair company charges based on zip code

November 14, 2011 8:54:29 PM PST
The question: Is it fair for a company to charge you more for its services based on where you live?

If you're getting the same exact service at the same exact location, should you pay a different price than your neighbor?

A company called Safelite says 'Yes.'

Safelite repairs and replaces car windshields nationwide. You can take your car to one of Safelite's facilities or a technician will come to you for $25 extra.

With hidden cameras rolling, Action News visited a location in Cherry Hill to get the windshield on a 2003 Nissan Xterra replaced on site.

They told us to book it online.

We did. We got an instant price online. In fact, we got more than one.

On the Safelite website, Action News entered the same vehicle and that installation at a Safelite location. Then we realized the website also requires your zip code.

We entered dozens of zip codes: Plymouth Meeting, Whitemarsh, Lower Merion, Gladwyne, Haverford, Cherry Hill, and Camden.

Now here are the prices we were quoted for the SAME windshield replacement on the SAME car at the SAME Safelite shop in Cherry Hill.

Norristown residents from zip code 19401 would pay $258.95 for a new windshield. But customers from neighboring East Norriton 19403 would pay $40 more at $298.95.

And folks from Chestnut Hill 19118 have to pay $80 more than the Norristown price - $338.95 for the same job. Nearly a 25-percent difference!

If you live in the Graduate Hospital zip code you're going to pay $268.95. But if you live in the Rittenhouse zip code you're going to pay $70 more.

InterACTION: Is it fair to charge for service based on where you live?

Action News went back to Safelite for answers.

They told to us we would have to contact corporate and we did.

Safelite says in part "A majority of our work is performed at a customer's home or workplace. Therefore, all pricing is based on the zip code where the customer is likely to get the work done. This pricing approach allows us to be competitive with the glass shops the customer is likely to call. Others variables that influence pricing include the percentage of customers who book an appointment, technician availability and product availability within a given zip code. We believe our pricing model is fair and offers value."

But try telling that to the director of Philadelphia Consumer Affairs.

"It's just wrong. There is no two ways about it. This is just wrong. It should be one price for everyone; it shouldn't depend upon where you live and how much they can gouge out of you," Director Lance Haver said.

Safelite is continuing to charge based on zip code whether you get a price online or call the company directly. But Safelite tells Action News it has made one change.

The company says, "Based on customer feedback, Safelite recognized the website did not provide an opportunity to answer customer questions about pricing differences.

The website was recently changed to function more like our contact center and create a singular estimate per customer based on their initial zip code request." We've been asking what you think about companies charging based on where you live and our viewers have overwhelmingly told us they do not think it's fair and they are against it.

We hope you'll continue to weigh in by going to the Action News Facebook page.


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