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Shop Swappers - - - Some people swap shops as often as some shops swap parts

Shop Swappers

I’m not just a shop owner, but also a consumer. As a consumer I’m always looking for the best deal, but… having been in the service industry for as long as I have, I also understand the value of quality service provided to me when I’m the consumer. If my HVAC at the house goes on the fritz, I’m not likely to call from place to place looking for the cheapest company, nor am I likely to go with the most expensive.

What I will do is go with the one that has been recommended, or one I feel comfortable with. That might even mean I have to pay a little extra to get that certain company to make the long journey to my home… but that’s what I’m paying for… quality service. Now, when the shoe is on the other foot, and I’m the service provider at my automotive repair shop, I assume my customers are looking at my services the same way. But, that’s not always the case with some “one time” customers, who are just looking for a deal or a cheap repair.

The phone rings and the lady on the other end began to tell me about her old pickup problem.

“I had it over at a shop, and they said it needed a new fuel pump. So they put one in, and now it has no power, and it sometimes bucks and jerks. Also, my A/C goes off and on intermittently. It didn’t do any of this until they changed the fuel pump.”

It’s not the first time I’ve got a call like this. I do want to help them, but at the same time I want to make sure they get some value out of what they have already spent to have their car repaired. My first response is always the same.

“Did you take it back to them, so they could check their work?” I asked.

“Yes I did. They installed another fuel pump, and it’s still doing the same thing.”

“Well, maybe the fuel pump isn’t your problem,” I answered back.

The conversation continued with more of the same questions and answers. Somehow, someway I work this statement into the conversation:

“If they told you they fixed your problem with a new pump, and it didn’t fix it to your satisfaction, then I suggest you go back and explain to them what you just told me and see if they will re-diagnose it.”

“OK, thanks for the tip I’ll take it back tomorrow.”

A week later, the phone rings.

“I did what you told me, and I took it back. They installed another pump, but it still is acting up. So, I took it to the dealership a couple of days ago. They put in a new A/C compressor and installed another fuel pump, but it still isn’t working correctly.”

Here I am, standing in my shop wondering what kind of person would take their car to one repair shop, pay for their work, then call another shop for advice, only to take it to an entirely different shop to be serviced. (Just to let you know… I make a living repairing cars…not giving advice.)

“Ma’am, I suggest you take it back to both places and have them make it right. There’s no reason to be calling me, you’ve obviously spent a lot of money at both places, and it sounds like you’re still not getting the results you expected. Unless you want to spend more cash with me to check it out, I’d suggest the same thing I told you before… take it back.”

“Oh, I don’t have any more money to spend on it.” (I could have guessed that.)

“Then take it back.”

When this sort of person doesn’t feel like they are getting anything accomplished at one shop, rather than deal with them they head to the next shop down the road. Spending more and more, and not get anything accomplished.

On the other hand, it could be they are not explaining their problem fully. As much as I hate to admit it, I turn into the grouchy old mechanic when people ask for my advice and I’m not getting compensated for my time. Could be why they only called for advice, instead of bringing it in. Sometimes all it takes is a service writer’s charm to get people to bring their car into a particular shop vs. another. (Obviously, that ain’t me.)

Salesmanship is one thing, but results are what matters. Sugar-coating the response to a potential customer doesn’t change the results back in the shop. When a “shop swapper” meets up with a “parts swapper” shop, (shops that don’t diagnose but use the old “9 out of 10 times this solves the problem” method.) … … it’s going to be a long drawn out repair job. Of course, the primary reason to even think about going to one of the “chain” store repair shops, or one of those “Have tools will change parts” places … is price or location. (Or they have that service writer with the gift of gab.)

A lot of people won’t ask for certifications or qualifications of the person working on their car. They see a big sign out front and it’s close to their home or office … and that’s all it takes… done deal.

These days with the advanced electronics and computer systems, false diagnoses are more common than ever before, and shops willing to swap a parts rather than test for a solution are even more common than in years past… and so are the “shop swappers”. (Must be an economy thing.)

Another time it was a car that came in with a finicky fuel gauge. If you hit a bump just right, the gauge would swing all the way to empty. He took it back several times to the repair shop, and they kept changing the same parts over and over again. The owner then took it to another shop who fiddled around with it for over a week, before they gave up. (And of course, he paid both shops for their time and efforts.) After I dragged some critical details out of the owner on and when it would happen, it led me to a chaffed wire that was nearly cut in two by a loose bracket in the engine bay. Problem solved.

He asked me, “If I would have brought it here in the first place would you have found it without putting all those parts on that the other shops did?”

You know, I’d like to say I would have, but… as I told him, “Maybe, but that would have depended on the condition of the original parts that were changed. Assuming all the original components were in working order, and you explained things as well as you have… then quite possibly yes.”

The moral of the story for the consumer out there who’s trying to get their car repaired: “When possible, always take your car back to the original shop first. Have them make it right. Stick with one and explain things fully. You’ll end up with better results and fewer headaches and less time shopping for a repair shop.”


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Good story Gonzo...and full of truth. These people expect us to finish the repairs that couldn't be handled at the "cheapo" shop.

I had a call earlier this week. fella tells me he has a 2001 T-100 with a leaky heater core. I explained if he wanted to bring it in I would diagnose and estimate the repairs. He goes on to explain to me that he has already pulled the core out twice and it continues to leak. Then why are you calling me? He just wants me to look at it to be sure its done correctly. WHAT!? Ok I ask where he got the replpacement core. FROM THE INTERNET!! I explain to him that it sounds like he may have gotten a bad part. "But I got a radiator and water pump that are OK" I again explain that if he wants me to look at it I will need to diagnoses and most likely replace the core with a locally sourced quality part. His next statement about floored me! "I been fixin cars for years and never had a problem with internet parts. You just don't wanna work on my truck. Sounds like you might be tryin to rip me off. I will just have to find a shop that wants to work on my truck" It was all I could do to hold my tongue! OK, good luck and have a nice day.

I think I might have had my first one on one personal contact with the elusive "Some Guy"!! LOL

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There is a watershed event in every shop owner's life when he stops taking crap from crappy customers and begins prospering and making nice profits from his labors.


Mine happened about 3 months into owning the business.

Edited by HarrytheCarGeek
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This particular story has a number of great points that gets at the heart of many of our problems. We deal with situations where there is lack of competence, lack of communication and a bunch of consumer issues.


I can tell you, we also get a lot of these calls, and the last thing I want to hear is, "Hey, I already spent a ton on money on this car and the problem still isn't fix, so go easy on me."

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This has always been a subject line that I've never understood. For some people going to a mechanic is like going to a restaurant and not liking the food or the service. Some will complain about, some will just not go back to that restaurant ever again. It's the only comparison I can make about this "shop swapper" stuff.


My point of this whole story is to make clear to the consumers out there (and repair shops) that the best course of action is to go back and confront the shop that didn't do the job right. I know, I know... we're all in this to make a living, however, from a consumers viewpoint the next shop they are going to try (in their mind) can't be any better than the shop they just came from. I think this is where the mistrust of the auto repair business starts with the consumer.


If more shops would tell that prospective customer to return to the place they were at originally before getting into making the repair I believe more people would have MORE respect of you and the shop. If they insist on having you make the repairs and all goes well... (hopefully, ie... did they explain things thoroughly, do they understand the charges and are not going to throw a fit at the cost) then at that point tell them to go back to the original shop and see what compensation they can get out of them.


The whole goal of this is to get the consumer to face the fact that all shops are not the same and that all mechanics are not the same. Just as in the case of the bad restaurant if nobody goes back and tells them they suck it's going to take a lot of "no shows" at the restaurant before the owner gets the hint. Same thing at the repair shops.


If we as shop owners don't inform the consumer ... who is?

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Gonzo, you make a lot of good points. Let me ask you, "don't you think that sometimes it's a communication problem?" Let me give you an example...


I had a guy referred to me unhappy about a whining noise and lack of power. He said that the other shop took care of the lack of power, but the noise is still there. The other shop installed a reman transmission. He went back to the other shop a few times complaining that the transmission is just not right and that he stills hear a noise. The other shop checked the transmission a few times and told him, there was nothing wrong.


After hearing his story I suggested we take a road test together. On the road test I could find nothing wrong with the car and headed back to the shop. The customer was disappointed. Then, when I turned the wheel real sharp to park in a parking space, he yelled out, "There it is! You hear it?" I said, "That's the noise?"


The noise was from the power steering and obviously he had two separate problems. I suggested he go back to the other shop and clearly explain the noise. He thanked me and I could see relief in his face.


This got me thinking to be real carful and listen real carful to what the customer is saying.

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So much of what we do is just like you said Joe. When a customer can't explain things or thinks all things will be taken care of with one repair there is a lack of communication. The lack of communication also leads to a lack of understanding on their part. It just adds to the frustration level. Like I said in the article.. Explain everything.... And for shop services writers.....listen to everything.

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I recently made 5k due to a customers unwillingness to be honest, I shall explain.


So we get a call from some college kid who says his car is looting smoke out of the exhaust and wants to know what's wrong. I tell him I won't diagnose over the phone but he can have it towed over. As it arrives the tow truck driver starts the car to move it and it just completely plots smoke from the exhaust. I call the owner and try to get him to tell me the events leading up to the issue and be swears be did nothing to the car, it just has no power and smokes like a chimney. We went round and round and he finally convinced me. He then tells me he needs a car and h doesn't have much money. He explains he has another car that just needs miner work so I offer to trade him the "blown up" car for labor to help him out. We often keep a car around to fill with scrap as I'm sure most of you do.


Anyway, we fix his other car and something just kept bugging me about his story so I pull the car into the shop after work to just take a look. I pull the dipstick and find it is 3-4 quarts over filled so I drained the oil and got it to its proper level. Remember how he said it also lost power?, well guess what, the tranny was 3-4 quarts low...


So here's what I believe happened; genius 1 and 2 decided they were going to change their own oil to save a buck and drained the oil which was actually the trans fluid, after that they refilled the oil which was actually the oil and there you go... If they would've told me the truth it would have been a cheap fix for them. Instead, they lied and lied and I sold the car for 5k with having almost nothin invested.

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