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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: “You Want Me To Do WHAT?”—Customers Seeking Partner In Pushing What’s Possible (Or Prudent)
By Phil Coconis on October 19, 2012
“Have it Your Way” was a popular TV ad campaign some years ago. While it seemed to work for the world of fast-food burgers, it certainly wasn’t universally applicable in others.
Like in the world of Auto Repair, for instance.
Maybe especially in planet Los Angeles, home of what I call “The Hollywood Effect”: that insidious and seemingly all-pervasive spirit-force which motivates people to jettison logical and rational thinking, and instead concoct and attempt implementation of a personally acceptable “reality” for any potentially unpleasant circumstance.
Like a costly repair scenario involving their personal motor vehicle, for instance.
Granted, I don’t like to spend money unnecessarily; and I will explore other possibilities before accepting any unpleasant circumstance that comes my way. But when all else is explored, and it looks like “God Has Come” truly, I will either give it up and turn it loose, or bite the bullet, man-up, and take care of the situation. Call it perfecting the “craft” of sanity, if you will.
If all of my customers rolled by that standard, not only would my life experience not be the richer for it, but you wouldn’t be reading this particular entry, either.
Here are a couple examples of not completely irrational responses to the aforementioned repair scenarios.
A customer approaches with an underhood noise that turns out to be a water pump bearing failure. I would show them that the pump had indeed failed this way by grabbing the pump pulley and shaking it from side to side. Often, their initial response to this would be asking if I couldn’t just “tighten-up” the bearing quickly, and get them on down the road.
If the customer were informed that their car’s MacPherson Strut damper had failed due to loss of damper oil, they would of course request that I just add some oil to it, so it would work a little while longer.
If they understood that their vehicle’s timing belt had failed because the drive teeth were sheared-off, they’d ask if I couldn’t just get some replacement teeth for it.
Often, any of these kinds of statements would be preceded by “I’m no mechanic, but…”
Indeed. And it would completely explain the nature of their request—which was totally understandable, from my point of view.
Usually, after a little additional explanation about the impossibility of their request, they would listen to reason, and either “fish or cut bait”.
Sometimes, though, they would persist in their line of “reasoning”, maybe even adding that a shop down the street would be willing to fulfill their request—and for next to NOTHING, on top of that! What were they doing standing in my shop, then, I’d say?
Sometimes, though, this “ Hollywood effect” would shift in motivation from that of fantasy, to that of “future shock”. I’d get a customer who felt their backs were against the proverbial “wall”, and they neither had the funds to repair their car properly, nor did they have any other viable alternative to their impending transportation dilemma.
One such memorable occasion involved what certainly appeared like a borderline-homeless person and their somewhat tattered Mustang II.
He pulled up to my open door and parked, as I was working just inside at the back of a vehicle in my repair bay.
I soon realized that I had been in more danger by such close proximity than I had imagined.
He requested that I change the front brake pads, and informed me that he had the replacement set with him; and showed me the almost equally tattered box that apparently housed the new pads.
I told him I had to move his car over, so I could back the vehicle I had just been working on out of the bay in order to pull his in.
He seemed a little uneasy, but handed me the keys.
As soon as I got in the car, started it and covered the brake in order to select reverse gear, not only did I understand his uneasiness, but I also fully appreciated how precarious my earlier position between the back of the vehicle I had in my bay and the front of his approaching vehicle had been. There was virtually NO brake pedal!
I didn’t even bother moving the little ‘stang; opting instead to shut the engine off and lift the hood. As I was doing this, I asked him about the nonexistent brake pedal.
He said that that was not a problem to be concerned with, and reiterated that he just wanted the brake pads changed, only.
I told him that, it was a concern of mine, if I was going to work on his car. I asked him if I could check a couple of other things before we proceeded with even having a repair order written up. He reluctantly approved.
When I lifted hood, I focused attention on the master cylinder, firstly to check if the lack of brake pedal was related to fluid loss. Before I could get even that far, I was greeted by a brake booster hose that had been removed from the booster and plugged with the threaded end of a spark plug! Add one brake booster to the pre-estimate.
The master cylinder was plenty full of fluid, suggesting an internal failure of the cylinder. Add a master cylinder to the pre-estimate.
I checked the preliminary condition of the brake rotors by visually inspecting through the openings in the styled-steel wheels. Not surprisingly, there was major evidence of metal-to-metal contact—and not from the pads that were presently installed!. Add two brake rotors to the pre-estimate.
The customer didn’t appear to be impressed by any of this, but instead restated his original request!
I informed him that if I did what he wanted, the already beleaguered braking system would likely provide even LESS stopping power than it had at present. Besides that, fulfilling his request would not only be unprofessional, but also in fact, be illegal by State standards!
He said he wouldn’t hold me accountable for any of that.
I told him I appreciated his word, but there was just no way his request was going to fly without a complete inspection of his braking system, and all necessary repairs being performed.
He thanked me and drove away.
Wonder if he ever got it “His Way”…
As an ASE Certified L1 Master Tech, Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.
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