Bayard Osborn, a 26-year-old from White Center, just quit his job as a tire mechanic at Big O Tires in Burien after only three weeks. He says the store's sales practices --and the way the shop's manager treats customers--are unethical, and worse than those of any other auto shop he's worked at. Osborn called the Better Business Bureau and the state attorney general about Big O Tires (there are 500 stores nationwide; the Burien store is locally owned by Herb Davenport), and told The Stranger about the problems he saw there.

When did the problems at the Burien Big O Tires start?

We had this sales meeting on Friday, August 23, and we were informed by the new manager that we were to find $1,000 wrong with every vehicle that came in, or we weren't doing our jobs properly.

How were you supposed to find $1,000 worth of repairs?

We were supposed to be very aggressive. If a woman walked in there, it was attack, attack, attack, get her money. If she's got kids, that's a bonus, because you can hit her for the safety thing. If they were elderly, you could really nail them. The new manager had some women almost in tears. He'd have stories like, "Your car won't make it five miles--this is a safety issue." If they had children, he would hit that hard, like, "Are you willing to risk your children's safety?"

Did you say anything?

I brought it to the new manager's attention: Come on, $1,000 a car? And he said "Hey, don't you care about the customers' safety?"

What did you see happen under that sales policy?

An elderly lady came in one time, with an '84 Cutlass. It was in the best condition an '84 Cutlass can be in. I did my inspection, it needed some new tires, and she needed a ball joint. She left, and her son brought the car in the next day. Another mechanic did the check and came up with almost $2,500 worth of parts she needed immediately as a safety issue.

Did you do the same thing with customers?

No. Perfect example: An older gentleman came in with an Audi for a flat repair. He had a puncture in his tire. That's something we're supposed to fix. My job was to evaluate that flat. It was fine. It could be patched safely, and had about another 20,000 miles on it. I patched it, got the gentleman out of there, and then was called into the office and reprimanded for not telling him it was not patchable and not trying to sell him a new tire.

How many people fell for it?

I'd say 90 to 95 percent of the time people did, because the new manager was very selective of who he hit. The volume of business didn't go up since the new manager was there, but the sales receipts have more than doubled. That was said quite proudly at the business meetings.

But doesn't this kind of thing happen at lots of auto shops?

Other shops I've worked at, it's been, "Okay, this is what is wrong with your car, but it will probably last a bit longer." The customers at Big O were not given the option to make that decision themselves.

THE COMPANY SAYS: Big O Tires does not target women or the elderly, owner Herb Davenport says, and his store does not sell customers parts or services they don't need. According to Davenport, the manager encourages employees to offer preventive maintenance recommended by the manufacturer, which could add up to $1,000. "We feel that we've got a really firm basis for making those recommendations, and it's not selling [customers] something they don't need," Davenport explains. "We are very, very focused on being as honest as we can be."