Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2011   by Jim Anderton, Technical Editor

Who’s Responsible?

Record everything ... if it goes bad, what you write will carry a lot more weight than what you remember.

We get letters and e-mails here at SSGM, and recently I received one from Jim Hooey from Centennial College in Toronto. Jim is a professor in the College’s School of Transportation, as well as acting as an expert witness in civil and criminal cases in Ontario. Jim brought up several issues involving shop liability (see Nestor Gula’s article in last month’s SSGM) that are important enough to deserve another look.
It’s a common issue: the customer brings in a POS vehicle for a small service procedure and you find issues that are safety-related. You tell the customer. But what’s your responsibility if he or she refuses the job and then has a brake failure on the street? The point of the insurance industry experts in Nestor’s article is to document everything … but Jim Hooey points out that in law the tech is considered the expert, not the customer; and besides, the third-party, like the parents of the kids in the school bus your customer hit, can still sue even if you get the customer to sign the work order as “work declined.”
So what do you do? On the face of it, you hold the customer’s keys until they get it fixed or tow it away. In practice this is rarely possible. If the customer pays the bill, it’s their car; if they demand their keys, there’s not much you can do. What you can do, as Jim points out, is to call the police or your provincial transport ministry and let them take it from there. Unless you’re the shop owner and/or the customer is undesirable, then this may be a quick route to the unemployment office for a tech, so shop employees are naturally going to resist the legal route. And there’s the real conflict: what the law says you should do, what you need to do to keep the boss and the customer happy, and what your insurance carrier wants you to do are rarely the same thing.
What should you do? Obviously you have to obey the law; but I’d listen carefully to my insurance expert. You have a duty to do everything you can to keep an unsafe vehicle off the streets, but you have to do it in a way that keeps your job and convinces your customer that you’re not just strong arming them into more repairs. The best way is to fire the customer, i.e. just say no before you roll that POS into the bay. But in this market that’s a tough thing to do. A mandatory inspection regime, like that proposed by Art Wilderman at the Canadian Independent Automotive Association ( would work, but that would be highly unpopular politically, so don’t hold your breath. What you can do is document everything, including a customer’s refusal to sign a work order. That work order should state in block caps “UNSAFE” so that it’s obvious that the work is more than just recommended. If it’s really bad, take a picture. Digital cameras are cheap these days. Your service writer will get a much higher “go” order from a customer if the e-mail or phone recommendation includes a picture of those cracked rotors. Record everything … if it goes bad, what you write will carry a lot more weight than what you remember.

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