Reader’s Digest is one of the most popular monthly magazines in Canada, and for good reason. If you’re in a hurry, or just want something quick to read while you’re in a waiting room, there is generally something worth looking at inside its pages. I know many service centres in Canada feature a copy or two in the customer waiting area, so this will be useful advice to many shops across Canada: Check the November, 2001 issue. On page 50, you’ll find an article by Hal Karp entitled “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride”. I’m sure you won’t need help deciphering the message inside: Auto repair is a scam. The story presents a spectrum of consumer nightmare scenarios involving a Toronto-area engine rebuilder, a transmission shop, several independents and a new car dealer. In each case, a consumer was lied to, cheated, or the victim of bait-and-switch tactics or worse. While this story has been around for as long as there have been cars and people to fix them, this kind of journalism can do one of two things to a local shop: improve customer relations or do damage. If your customer read one of those nightmare stories in your waiting area, how will they react to that estimate? That’s where your service writer earns his or her pay because this is the most under appreciated aspect of the business. Breaking bad news to your customer is never easy, but doing so to an individual conditioned to believe that the new problem your tech discovered while the vehicle was apart is bogus, will be doubly difficult. So how do you do it? It helps to already have a good reputation in your territory, and it also helps if the tech can look the customer in the eye and spell it out in a straightforward, honest fashion. Note that I’m not talking about the reality of that customer’s vehicle, but instead about the perception in the owner’s mind. It doesn’t matter that the wheel bearings fell apart when you removed the drum; it was supposed to be a simple brake job. That’s how the owner will see it, so it’s important to be able to deal with that doubt. If your tech has the hands of a surgeon, but the personality of an axe murderer, you have a problem. In that case, at least encourage that technician to show a little sympathy for the customer. If you can, warn about impending doom during regular service, and write it down on the work order so that you can refer to it later. Owners have short memories, (like the rest of us) and if you can refer to a previous visit and point out that the problem was spotted four months ago, there will be less resistance to the repair. No matter how good your shop is, the reputation of our people will remain an obstacle to consumer acceptance of the industry as a whole. Weeding out disreputable shops will help, but a few bad apples will taint the barrel, so be prepared. As for that article in Reader’s Digest, there are good shop stories there too, although they make for less dramatic reading. If you are a clean, competent operation, maybe you should flag the article or point it out to waiting customers. If you’re not, rip it out, or better yet, get out of the business. It’s hard enough to make a buck in this sector without the damage that bad shops do.