It’s easy to blame the auto repair industry for excessive car repair prices, but sometimes these extra expenses are our fault. Like a computer, if we supply it with incorrect data, we’ll get garbage. For car repairs, bad data means unnecessary and/or excessive auto repair costs.
Here’s a brief example to put things in context and to save some money.
A customer with a headlight issue assumed that his bulb was burnt out. He purchased a new bulb and brought it to his repair shop to have it installed. The repair shop installed the bulb, and billed the client the appropriate labor. After installing the bulb, the light still didn’t work.
Who’s at fault?
In this case, the client was forewarned that his particular vehicle has a Xenon head lamp system and that it should be diagnosed first, as it may be a tad more complicated than a bulb. Nevertheless, the client requested the installation, and agreed to the labor charges. When the light still didn’t work, the shop called the client to ask if he wanted to authorize an additional hour of labor ($110.00) to diagnose the headlight issue, and pay another $55.00 to remove the bulb and install the original bulb. As you can see, this customer quickly racked up a bill (including a $358 non-returnable Xenon bulb) and his light still didn’t work.
This is merely one example of the very common “customer-diagnosed/supplied part” scenario.
It gets even more complicated when customers lie, mislead, or don’t provide all the facts. Now, a good technician won’t proceed until he is clear on the client’s exact issue and can reproduce the complaint. However, good technicians are scarce (see a great article, Getting Your Car Fixed Right The First Time). For now, let’s focus on what the customer does wrong.
Top 5 Mistakes:
1) Diagnosing the problem rather than explaining the symptoms. As in the example above, the client assumed his headlight was burnt out – a $523 mistake
2) Supplying your own parts. The repair shop installing your part has no obligation to rectify the situation or supply any type of guarantee if the part fails. Here’s a real life example: customer supplied a used alternator. Shop installed it, but the used part didn’t work. The customer had to pay again to have a new alternator installed – a $250 mistake
3) Lying. This should be self-explanatory, but here’s an example. A customer stated that his air-ride suspension lights kept intermittently flashing. After hours of diagnostics and testing it was revealed that the client’s real issue was a minor suspension squeak – no dash lights had ever come on. It turned out that the client thought that if the mechanic checked the air-suspension computers and electronics that his vehicle would be more thoroughly evaluated – a $1,200 mistake
4) Suggesting unnecessary work. This may sound strange coming from the customer, but it happens. Some car repair customers will blurt out “just tune it up” or, “change my oil” even when they know it isn’t required at the time – these can be very costly mistakes – $100’s, even $1000’s of dollars are lost this way to repair shops all too eager to take your money
5) Assuming your repair shop will figure it out. This type of thinking is dangerous. Your repair shop needs your input because, despite the lack of automotive experience on your part, you know your vehicle better than any one. Here’s an example: a man dropped his car off for what he called “a loud grinding/buzzing noise.” Despite the best efforts from a service advisor and technician, the noise could not be duplicated, nor could any other information be gleaned from the client as to the conditions under which the noise was heard. A road test with the client did not produce the noise either. Nevertheless, the client was adamant that something was dreadfully wrong and agreed to pay to have it checked out. After a $200 inspection, the vehicle was given a clean bill of health. The client paid and happily went on his way. Ten minutes later, he walked in screaming that the noise is so obvious you’d have to be deaf not to hear it. He jumped back in the car with the service manager, simultaneously, his cell phone went off (in vibrate mode), which he kept tucked between the seat and center console – what a “grinding/buzzing” noise that made!
There are a number of other ways to pay too much, but if you can spare yourself from these 5, you’ll be way ahead of the game. In short, don’t diagnose your own car, and avoid supplying your own parts. Don’t lie or mislead. Tell the truth even if it’s embarrassing. I once had a woman tell me that her boyfriend shot her radio with a .22 caliber hand gun. Not only did this information help with the diagnosis, but also the extent and breadth of the damage.
Remember, don’t suggest unnecessary work. Stick to your manufacturer’s recommendations and play an active role in helping your repair facility diagnose that pesky grinding noise, or bullet-riddled radio.