Auto Service World
News   January 2, 2020   by Allan Janssen

COMMENTARY: They can’t handle the truth!

I hate to admit it, but a friend of mine would be a terrible customer for any repair shop. If you see him coming, flip the sign in the window. “Sorry! We’re closed.” You’ll be doing yourself a favour.

He’s a great guy, but he’s always looking for a deal. And as much as he needs his car for a very demanding sales job, he just hates to spend money on it.

He takes it for service, only when absolutely necessary, to one of those small back-alley garages that has an inch of grease on every surface.

It’s one of those “my guy” kind of situations. You know. “You should go see my guy,” he says. “My guy is really good. And he’s cheap too.”

Emphasis on the “cheap.”

Anyway, when my friend’s 2009 Sebring was starting to make strange noises, I convinced him to take it to what I called “a real shop.” See what they’d do, I said, and I recommended a shop with a great reputation for quality repairs and excellent customer service. The real shop found that the Sebring desperately needed a strut mount and they quoted him on the job. But because they’d never dealt with him before and didn’t know his vehicle’s maintenance history, they took it upon themselves to conduct a complimentary inspection.

They presented him with results, which were not atypical for a 10-year-old vehicle. A lot of things needed attention. If he’d authorized it all, it would have come to over $1,700. That was far more than buddy had anticipated. And while he understood that he was under no obligation to purchase the repairs, he found it a little presumptuous that they’d inspected his vehicle at all. He hadn’t asked them to.

I explained that this is a trend in the industry, and a defensible one at that. If he experienced some kind of ignition problem a week later or found that his brakes were metal-on-metal, he’d be upset that they hadn’t pointed that out when his car was in the shop.

The inspection was intended to give him a report on the current state of his vehicle, and he could do with it what he liked.

What he liked, it turned out, was to go back to his guy, who offered a cheaper solution to the strut mount problem – about half of what the other shop had asked for. My friend’s guy scoffed at all the other work the shop had found, but he promised a better price on that work if my friend really wanted to have it done. No surprise, my friend stuck with his guy.

People always say they want to find an “honest mechanic.” I think the problem is that they don’t want honesty at all. They would rather hear some delusional diagnosis that saves them money, than an honest assessment and a plan to restore the value of the vehicle. To paraphrase Colonel Jessup, they can’t handle the truth!

In the end, of course, proper maintenance doesn’t cost more than neglect. My friend’s 10-year-old Sebring is on its last legs. Replacing it will not be cheap. But regular maintenance through the years could have doubled its life… and saved thousands of dollars.

This is the message we struggle as an industry to communicate. It is the consumers who “get it” that you really want as customers.


          I want to hear what you think. You can reach me at


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4 Comments » for COMMENTARY: They can’t handle the truth!
  1. Noah says:

    I have a customer that smacks of what this customer is like. He is a catch 22 terrible customer. He is cheap and owns a prmium auto. He talks the talk and considers himself a car buff but cant put air in his own tires or turn a wrench to save his life and cannot walk the talk he talks!

    He is constantly schemeing even trying to get the insurance company to work with his hairbrain angles so he can get free winter tires. His favorite phrase is “yeah but” he is on his 2nd veh of the same manufacture….with over 600,000kms between both of them. He tries to get me to do work on the sode like im his buddy. Im not. And he cannot for the life of him handle the truth. He tries the grease the wheels to get deals. He is a brown noser and a schmoozer and boasts how it does it to others then tries it with me…. no thanks. I dont do work off the books. Not in mine or his best intrest even though he doesnt u derstand labour has labour warranty.

  2. Bob Ward says:

    It is only human nature to look for the “best price”. As professionals it is our job to educate the customer about vehicle repairs and the importance of maintenance. Yes, there are many shops who don’t have their customers best interest in mind. The example you gave is a perfect one! Our focus should be on VALUE not PRICE. The shops that do service right will be the survivors. Unfortunately it will take time to weed these poor shops out. We have all heard the saying “if it is too good to be true then it is too good to be true” (stay away from it) There seems to be a steady stream of people drawn to these shops. Think about it. Are these people the ones you want as clients?

  3. Christian Rondeau says:

    I don’t sell the service side of vehicle work, just the parts, but we are constantly telling people who come in to our store that going to a reputable repair shop and letting them do the work properly comes with all sorts of benefits that cannot be achieved any other way. Yes, it will certainly cost more than “your guy” but it comes with the benefits of knowledge, experience and warranties that aren’t offered otherwise. We are always trying to educate our customers on the value they receive when they purchase the higher end parts that they will never see the benefit of if they purchase “cheap” parts. Service is the same. You get what you pay for…

  4. Henry says:

    I started my business as a teenager and didn’t have an established client base yet, that, along with being a teenager made it difficult for people to believe I was competent in my field of work. (I had been doing this work with my dad since age 10) In order for me to keep busy required that I work for less money than my competitors. I have been in business for 40 years now and I’m still plagued by those early decisions to work for less. I developed a long list of clientele that to this day expect as good or better price for their repairs. The client you describe is only loyal to you if you provide them the lowest price.

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