Auto Service World
Feature   May 28, 2009   by CARS Magazine

Mounting repairs has customer livid

“I was 100 miles from home when my car died. I was towed to a dealership where I was told the problem was a loose battery connection – a $70 fix. Fifteen minutes later I was told that my engine was hydrolocked. A half hour later they said the timing belt needed replacement. A half hour later they said the spark plugs were fouled. I was there for more than 10 hours and the final bill came to over $1,000! I’m sure these people saw I was from out of town and decided to take me for as much as possible!” So… what went wrong?


This scenario is screaming lack of communication between the service advisor and the technician, not to mention weak communication with the client. A proper CCF (customer communication form) along with a proper client interview should’ve told the technician to look for something beyond the battery cable to begin with. Furthermore, a minimum inspection procedure that covers all common problems associated with the complaint, as well as potential maintenance items, needs to be implemented.
Ivan Brown
Integra Tire & Auto Centre

This is a case of classic premature diagnosis that blew up in somebody’s face! I hate when that happens, and I suspect we’ve all been there before. The sad part is that the guy was from out of town and they were likely trying their best to get him back on the road and maybe rushed the diagnosing. It’s difficult in a case like this to say whether the guy was ripped off as there are a lot of cars out there that are held together with baler twine and optimism. When the vehicle finally packs up, the end result can look and sound just like this. The only way out is careful diagnosis, but then the customer would likely complain you’re taking too long and “mining” the car for work! Some days you just can’t win.
Ward Zintel
Perfection Automotive
Saskatoon, Sask.

This sounds like one of two things: One, the technician could not diagnose the problem correctly and started changing parts until the car ran. If it was just a loose battery connection, the tech should have had the car running in his bay before going to the service writer with his findings. The second scenario is – just as the customer suspected – he was being ripped off. There are few exemptions for not being able to provide an accurate diagnosis in this day and age. We have a scanner, computer information, power probe and a host of other equipment at the shop where I work.
Bruce Brannan
Moon Repair
100 Mile House, B.C.

Working in a small town, we run across this situation frequently. Our normal course of action is to repair the vehicle and if other repairs are noticed, I’ll tell the customer he’ll make it home but the vehicle needs to be looked at by their regular mechanic. This puts him at ease. In fact, this has sometimes even generated a letter to the local newspaper editor praising the town and the shop that helped them out. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. No matter how slow you are, treat customers honestly and it will pay off sooner or later.
Don Marsh
Carline Automotive Services
Alliston, Ont.

The problem is who’s at fault or accountable. The service advisor for poor communication or the technician for improper understanding and a rushed diagnostic procedure and poor communication. Or management for not training everyone in the first place. Or maybe the customer shares the blame for perhaps not telling the whole story.
Carlo Sabucco
Sil’s Auto Diagnostic Centre
Mississauga, Ont.

It would appear the person at the service counter has very poor management skills and the technician has very poor diagnostic skills. Whether the bill came to $1,000 or not, the way in which the client was informed on what was wrong was conducted poorly.
Doug Lowther
Doug’s Mountainview Auto Service
Penticton, B.C.

I would speculate, based on the limited information provided, that it is just a case of incompetence. If I were to attempt to rip someone off, there would have been only one phone call made, with one large quote given.
Todd Huggard
TechSupport West Diagnostics

I think what went wrong is the customer failed to perform apparently any basic maintenance prior to embarking on a road trip. A loose battery clamp? A timing belt? Fouled plugs? Perhaps a cooling system test may have caught the issue that caused the “hydrolocked” engine? All this falls somewhere into a PM schedule. So the basic issue may be a shop at home that isn’t meeting the customer’s needs. Or it could possibly be consumer ignorance (a little customer education may be called for here.) Or perhaps the dealer 100 miles away might be operating a poorly-run and inefficient scam?
Trevor Howe
Prince George Motors
Prince George, B.C.

There are a number of different scenarios that could be the reason behind this complaint, and all of them come back to communication and operational dictates. Probably the best way to have handled this would’ve been for the service writer to say, “Our preliminary diagnostic will cost up to $250. And at this point we should have a good estimate of what the full repair will entail and what it will cost.” Only when everything has been diagnosed should the service writer present the full estimate to the customer. The service writer might also have offered to arrange for a hotel room, or drop them off at a park, mall or tourist attraction so the customer isn’t hanging around the showroom wringing their hands and checking on the tech every five minutes.
Sean O’Gorman
Glenn’s Import & Domestic
Courtney, B.C.

Here’s Another Scenario:

I went to a repair shop to buy four new tires for my Camry. They told me that it would take about a couple of hours, so I went to a mall to wait. Four hours later, they were finally installed and I could pick up my car. I paid for the job ($599) but before I left, I decided to look at my brand new tires. I was very frustrated to see that it still had the same four old worn out tires! Apparently, another car that looks like mine came in to get an oil change – but it got the new tires and I got the oil change. The service guy cancelled the credit card transaction, and tried to book me in for the next day, but I was so frustrated I just went home. I was told the owner would call me in 48 hours. It’s been a week and I still have not heard from these people!
So… what went wrong?