Grease Flunky 

A Corvette owner accuses the grease monkeys who work at Jiffy Lube of ruining his engine. The truth may be more complex.

It's not hard to believe that the grease-monkeys at Jiffy Lube could manage to botch a quickie oil change as they shuttle customers in and out and send them home with new wipers and air filters. In fact, the Better Business Bureau has given Jiffy Lube, which boasts 2,200 locations in the United States and Canada, an unsatisfactory report for its pattern of complaints. According to a bureau spokesman, more than half the 132 complaints against Jiffy Lube nationwide were over allegedly bad repairs.

But while Jiffy Lube screws up once in a while, company defenders point out that there also are unscrupulous consumers who make bogus claims to try and get new engines for their cars.

And then there is the strange case now in Contra Costa Superior Court, in which a Corvette owner is accusing Jiffy Lube and an independent inspector of scheming to cover up the oil changer's responsibility for ruining his engine. The ex-customer is asking for $322,000 plus punitive damages to deter similar conduct in the future.

Last year, Jim Metzger took his 1998 Corvette to the Jiffy Lube at 2099 Camino Ramon in San Ramon. According to the lawsuit, the Jiffy Lube techs didn't have the right oil-filter wrench, so they installed the filter by hand. A couple of months later, the suit contends, the filter "failed" and the car's engine burned out.

Enter Magoo's Automotive Consultants, a national third-party car inspector hired by Jiffy Lube to investigate claims made by disgruntled customers. Magoo's sent an inspector over to Terry's Auto in Concord, where Metzger's car had been towed, to check out the damage. The inspector, Gary Fawcett, asked the mechanics if he could use their fax to file his report. But instead of hitting "send," the inspector hit "print," unwittingly leaving behind a copy of his report, which found its way into Metzger's hands.

Fawcett's report appeared to conclude that Jiffy Lube had screwed up, noting that the engine damage was "consistent with loss of oil pressure/lack of lube due to an oil leak at the filter gskt [gasket]." But when Metzger got the final typed inspection report from Magoo's, it came to the opposite conclusion: "This condition was not caused by the last oil change service." Metzger's attorney Ira Harris said of Magoo's, "They're supposed to be independent, but they're not."

"That's a bunch of crap," retorts Dave Magoo, the owner of Magoo's. He says it doesn't matter to him whether an inspector finds a client like Jiffy Lube liable -- either way, Magoo's gets paid. He adds that Jiffy Lube represents only 1 percent of his business and it wouldn't hurt Magoo's if the oil changer fired them because it didn't like the reports. "All I'm selling is credibility -- I don't really care what we find," says Magoo, who adds he's never been sued since he opened his business in 1988. He says Metzger discovered the inspector's field notes, not the final report. Headquarters goes over every inspector's field notes and then arrives at a final conclusion. In this case, Magoo says the isolated extent of the damage suggested a faulty oil change wasn't at fault.

Inspector Fawcett's attorney, Christopher Lucas, acknowledged that the scenario sounded fishy, but says his client changed his opinion once he got more information. Initially, Metzger led Fawcett to think the damage happened shortly after going to Jiffy Lube, Lucas says. In truth, Metzger drove the Corvette almost another sixty thousand miles before it went kaput. Lucas chuckled about Metzger suing for six figures when, at most, he could get is about $11,000 for a new engine. "I just think people are irrational about their Corvettes," Lucas observes. "They just love them."

Which begs the question: Why would you take your beloved 'Vette to Jiffy Lube in the first place?

Cross Convicted!

A jury convicted former AC Transit Board member Nancy Jewell Cross last week of four misdemeanor accounts of battery, vandalism, grand theft, and resisting arrest. As previously reported in this space, Fremont police arrested Cross on October 3 after she threw a glass at her new landlord and refused to pay him rent. Prosecutors also got testimony from other landlords -- one claims the eccentric tenant pushed her when she asked Cross not to dry towels in the microwave.

As kooky as Cross might be, it wasn't a slam-dunk case -- not because prosecutors didn't have the facts to back them up, but because Cross is an 84-year-old lady and thus a potentially sympathetic defendant. Maybe that's why her attorney didn't put her on the stand because once Nancy gets to talkin', who knows what might come out of her mouth.

After the verdict, though, she made for a sad figure. Cross, who'd been in custody for six weeks at that point, told the judge she had nowhere to go and requested that she be allowed to stay in jail awhile, the Fremont Argus reported. "When they arrested her, they took her out of her home and left all her belongings there," Cross' attorney Earl Jiang told the Argus. "She'd basically be coming out of jail with just the clothes on her back." And not even real street clothes. Police busted her in her nightgown.

Deputy District Attorney Matt Wendt says Cross asked for some regular clothes to wear to court, but her lawyer wouldn't provide them. So Wendt went to the thrift store and bought the defendant some clothes himself. No doubt, Wendt was doing so out of self-interest: A jury might feel even more sorry for a little old lady in a yellow jail jumpsuit. But Wendt says Cross rejected the apparel. "She said she liked them but that they didn't fit," Wendt recalls.

Richmond Credit Cards

With all the fuss about the FBI probe of state Senator Don Perata, Feeder has had hardly any time to pester its favorite ethically challenged municipality, Richmond. But someone was kind enough to pass along a packet recently with the ominous, if misspelled, cover sheet, "On Taxpayers Dollars," which contained six months of credit card statements and receipts for human resources director Cedric Williams. The statements, which span February to August, show that Williams charged several meals at posh eateries such as HS Lordships and Salute e Vita. The grand total? Nearly $2,400 in meals and catering.

Reached by phone, Williams coolly explained that the city manager had already investigated the meal expenses and concluded that they were all made during legit city-related business. Finance director Pat Samsell told Feeder that, for instance, one expense was for a going-away party for the retiring fire chief. In other cases, Williams would treat prospective hires to a nice meal. "You have a person interviewing here for eight hours; when you take them to lunch you don't take them to McDonald's," Samsell says.

Still, you'd expect more thriftiness from officials in a city that has had to lay off hundreds of employees and cut library hours to balance a $35 million budget deficit.

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