Jump to content


Article: The Long and Short of it - - customer's explanations can clue you in on the repair

Recommended Posts

The Long and Short of it

For those of us that stand behind the service counter we have a few general greetings we’ll use, usually a welcome or a hello, but eventually we come to the preverbal question, “What’s the problem with the car?” Now, its story time. Everybody has their own way of explaining things, and over the years of standing at the counter I’ve noticed a pattern to these explanations. There’s the short, quick version, and then there is the long winded explanation that starts off with the trip to grandma’s house last summer and mentioning every bump or bruise the car has ever had. The ironic part is that when the story is long the actual problem is quite small in comparison. But, the shorter the explanation is, the larger the problem seems to be.

I’m not sure why, but it almost always seems to work out that way. Take car fires for an example. When their recall of the events leading up to the demise of the car is shortened to just a few words I’ve got a pretty good idea that whatever is being dropped off by the tow truck doesn’t even resemble much of a car anymore. However, if I seem to be listening to the next documentary on the evaluation of the modern car or how affective a cheap set of overseas sockets and a no#2 screwdriver are then it’s a safe bet there’s less of a fire and more of quick and simple problem here.

Just the other day a car was towed in because it wouldn’t start, and the only explanation the owner could manage was that he changed the battery. After checking the car out it was very clear the PCM (Power Control Module) was off line and wasn’t communicating to the rest of the systems. The more I tried to pry information out of him the less information I seemed to get. Further testing revealed the PCM must have taking a large dose of high voltage/current… it’s a fried computer for sure. So, instead of a quick fix (As he was expecting) it was a costly repair involving a new PCM and complete programming. Just replaced the battery aye? My guess is he tried to jump the car with the leads backwards or installed the battery backwards, or both. But, I never did get him to admit to it. I couldn’t rule out a lightning strike or a once in a lifetime PCM failure due to changing a battery, I just couldn’t prove it one way or another.

A complete reversal of the short story is of course the long versions. A gal dropped her car off early one morning with several hand written pages of information wedged under the service bay door. The information started out with the day and time she bought it to the last oil change. Sure, I like to have as much information as possible; however a lot of the stuff on this list had nothing to do with the current condition of the car. Honestly, I really don’t need to know how many times you went through the automatic car wash last year. However, after reading through the documented average gas mileage per year I came to the very end of the last page which offered the most important information, the fuel pump had been changed just a week earlier, but the only problem she was concerned with was that the cruise control didn’t work. Then in a little side note on the edge of the page she mentioned that the turn signals and brake lights have been blowing a fuse too. The entire problem turned out to be a turn signal lead that was trapped between a fuel tank strap and the body. It took me longer to read the information than it did to find the problem.

Not to be outdone, there are the auctioneer ramblers that will rattle off a whole list of things they’ve done to the car in a non-stop-get-it-all-out-in- one-breath type of explanation. They’ll go from one extreme to another so fast that I don’t even have time to write anything down. Some will try to sound like they are incredibly knowledgeable about the various systems in their particular car, and it’s not uncommon for them to spew some sort of trivia about how many cars were produced that year, or what production changes there were, or the name of the guy on the assembly line that installed the ash tray. Seems they know more about the car than I do, except how to fix it.

As usual, the long drawn out story ends up being something simple. The last backyard mechanic with the compiled knowledge of automotive facts failed to mention he just installed a new alternator, even though I now know the name of the guy who installs the ash trays. The problem turned out to be a blown fuse, which happens to be the very fuse that powers up the very thing he just changed...the alternator. And, of course, it was one of those cheap-o alternators with a life time warranty. But, as with a lot of these overly informed experts of the home garage they believe that all parts are the same and they all come from the same place and all those high priced parts stores just mark parts up.

Well, there is one more scenario to follow along with the long and short story telling conundrum. That’s the over exaggerators. Exaggerations and mystic supernatural tales are a completely different issue. These days it’s sometimes hard to separate facts from fiction when it comes to what might be happening in a car’s electronics. Mainly because of all the incorporated control modules that have more than one purpose, such as the BCM (Body Control Module). Something that sounds exaggerated might turn out to be completely correct. So it pays to listen up… to a point. It’s just that sometimes the claims are just too far off to be even remotely possible, as in the case of the mysterious self-starting car.

The story goes that if dad’s car was parked next to the son’s car and dad started his up the other car would start too. Both cars were dropped off; I did everything I could to think of way to solve this mystery. I finally had to give up and admit defeat and told them to come get their cars. That afternoon in the lobby, the dad had to tell me the entire story all over again, (which they always do…) while the son stayed in the background with a huge grin on his face the whole time.

Watching junior out of the corner of my eye while dad ran through his story again, junior was doubling over with pent up laughter. If I didn’t know any better, something tells me junior has something to do with this. I had to interrupt the father while he was still going through all of his super-natural claims that could have caused this problem, such as sun spots and aliens. “Hey son, by chance are you playing a trick on your old man? (The kid nearly fell on the floor giggling….) Something tells me you’re using some sort of remote start when your dad starts his car.” Yep, that was the issue. The dad, good natured thankfully, got a big laugh at the whole thing. Seems this family has a habit of pulling practical jokes on each other and they carry these jokes to the “nth” degree. We all had a good laugh over this extreme prank.

In the long and short of it, repairing the modern computer driven automotive is far less understood by the general public and even with the best information out there once in a while even the professional mechanic might have to explain things in a long drawn out story for a simple problem. My best advice is to take notes, listen carefully, and don’t prejudge a problem until you have all the facts. Because, the very next car that comes in might be the one that doesn’t fit the trend of the long story-short problem or vice-versa. It’s a learn as you go and then learn some more type of thing, not only for the customer but the mechanic too. Ya just gotta watch out for those exaggerating practical jokers.



Click here to view the article

  • Like 2

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Similar Forum Topics

    • Rare Openings in Elite's Pro Service Peer Group

      Elite Pro Service is a peer group made up of 90 of the most successful shop owners in North America, and is always full, but as of 11/14 we have a couple of rare openings! "Rare" isn't an exaggeration, as well over half of the 90 shop owners in this peer group have been members since Pro Service was started over 10 years ago. In a world where information is everywhere, it is the quality of the information you have access to that will separate you from the competition, and at Elite we feel there's no equal to the quality of real-time data and best practices that come directly from 90 of the industry's top shop owners. Pro Service is more than a “20 Group” process; it is a community. Not only do our Colleagues believe that 90 minds are better than the standard 10-20 that are most groups, but just about every colleague will tell you that Pro Service has connected them with lifelong friends. There have been several occasions where a Colleague was in trouble with their business, and other Colleagues would “jump on a plane” to help them in any way they could. Pro Service is a caring culture. It’s not only about increasing profits, but about becoming better leaders who create better lives for their employees, take better care of their customers, and make more meaningful impacts on their communities.  It’s about achieving personal and business success, but also about elevating our great industry and every life it touches. It is worth your time to visit the Pro Service web page to learn more. Pro Service Benefits 90 successful, business savvy shop owners working with you to improve your shop’s performance One-on-one coaching from a nationally recognized business coach with over 20 years of coaching experience and over 40 years spent in the Automotive industry Comprehensive host shop meetings performed twice a year, including onsite shop visits, collaboration and training to provide immediate solutions to current issues Yearly Pro Service Conference with training from outside the industry addressing leadership, marketing, recruiting, employee retention, succession planning and more! Monthly online meetings to keep you tuned up Information-rich financial Dashboard with charting, trending and analytics to benchmark performance Extensive library of information resources developed for owners, service advisors, managers and technical staff Support 24/7 To learn more or to find out if you qualify, visit the Elite Pro Service web page: https://www.eliteworldwide.com/20-group.html 

      By Elite Worldwide Inc., in Shop Management Coaching, Business Training, Consulting

      • 0 replies
    • General Liability / Garage Keepers Insurance Quotes... What do you pay?

      I have a 2 bay facility that I rent and one employee plus myself. I was quoted about $2346 per year for both general liability and garage keepers from Liberty Mutual(using CoverWallet as the broker). - General liability was $1,032 per year if paid in full for $1,000,000 limit and $2,000,000 aggregate - Garage keepers was $1320 per year if paid in full for $75,000 coverage Does this sound right? I am in the process of getting other quotes but wanted to see if I am in the right ballpark. This is my first time getting insurance for the business and it seems like some places don't want to insure you unless you have history. Shop size: Employees: Location: Own or rent: Coverage: Insurer:   Thank you

      By [email protected], in Auto Repair Shop Management Help? Post Here!

      • 1 reply
    • Best Scanner for General Repair

      Hello,  We're in the market for a new scanner and figured I'd ask fellow shop owners their ideas and experiences. I did search the board archives and didn't see much within the past year or so.  We are a general repair shop servicing most anything, according to customer attitude. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.   Thanks in advance 🙂

      By Extracareman, in General Automotive Discussion

      • 5 replies
    • Shop Owners: You don’t have to answer every question for your employees

      As shop owners, we sometimes feel that we need to answer every question and handle every situation. While you need to be proficient as a business owner, you also need your employees to think for themselves.  Empower your people to solve problem.  Ask them for their opinions and don’t be too quick to jump in on every situation.  The more you jump in and solve their problems, the more they will rely on you. This is not to say you don’t have their back; but a team functions best when everyone takes ownership of their position and takes responsibility to take care of problems. Will employees make mistakes? Yes.  But there isn’t a shop owner on this planet that has a perfect record at making decisions.  We all make mistakes. As a shop owner; teach, mentor and coach.  Include your employees in on decisions that relate to their job position.  When employees feel you trust them, they will begin to solve their own problems. This will set you free to work on the things that will bring you greater success.

      By Joe Marconi, in Joe’s Business Tips For Shop Owners

      • 2 replies
    • Article: Identifying the Problem with Your Shop

      I have never met a shop owner who didn’t have the desire to be successful. People go into business with dreams of changing the world and to make a positive influence in the industry to which they have dedicated their lives. They’re devoted, sacrifice time away from family and, at times, drive themselves to exhaustion—all in an effort to become the best they can be and make their mark. However, all too often, something happens along the way and the business begins to suffer. While shops owners may start their business with passion and vision, they tend to create a world in which everything revolves around them. When the business is small, the owner pays careful attention to every detail. Every car is repaired with the highest degree of excellence. Quality time is spent with each customer and a bond is created, which gets stronger and stronger as the years pass. As the business begins to grow, the owner realizes that the amount of work to be accomplished each day is overwhelming and hires more employees. Everyone is working, but not necessarily with the same culture the owner has. They do their job, but they are not really aligned with the goals and vision of the owner. The shop owner continues to work on his or her skills, learning everything that is needed to run a successful business. After a number of years, the shop owner becomes skilled at running a shop and proficient in nearly every aspect of business, except one: the area of people. And that is when the downward slide begins. The owner recognizes that, in spite of the dedication to excellence, things are not right. The shop owner has established the goals of the company and put everything in place. Everything is attainable. But it’s not working. Frustration sets in, and it’s not long before the owner begins to complain about the lack of performance and drive from the employees, which is the perceived root of the problem. Well, the root of the problem is the owner. We all know that running a business is not a walk in the park, but if your business is struggling, you, personally, are struggling. If your people are not performing the way they should, then you are not performing the way you should. Granted, there are employees that are a problem, and if that’s the case, they need to go. But even superstar employees will turn sour under poor leadership. There are endless issues and problems you encounter each and every day, and some of those problems are out of your control. But, excluding a cataclysmic event, you can trace most of your problems back to you. You are the shop owner, you are the leader. The strength of your business begins and ends with you. Given two equally talented ball teams, the difference between winning and losing is usually leadership. Employees need to know you care about them. The people you employ have vision and goals, too. Not the same as yours, but real nonetheless. One of your jobs, as leader, is to align their goals with yours. We throw this leadership term around a lot these days, and for good reason. It’s the most powerful skill you have in terms of getting the results for which you are looking. The horrible truth is there are too many bosses and not enough leaders. Anyone can be a boss. Bosses order people around. And people will follow, but not for the long term. A leader motivates others by understanding what drives the individual. A leader gives credit to others, never seeking gain at the expense of others. Next time you walk through your shop, pay attention to the mood of your employees. Are your employees laughing and talking to each other? You know, having a little fun at work. Do your employees look to engage in conversation with you, or are their heads buried under the hood of a car as you pass them by? Even worse, does everyone stop talking when you are around? These are signs that your employees are not engaged, which means they are not aligned with the goals and vision of the business, and you are not aligned with theirs. A leader finds out what’s important to others, and works to help them achieve it. Aligning the goals of the individual with the goals of the company will achieve great things. When employees are respected as people, they become motivated and perform at their best; not because they are told to, but because they want to. This is the highest form of team spirit and becomes your driving force toward success. This story was originally published by Joe Marconi in Ratchet+Wrench on October 1st, 2018
      View full article

      By Joe Marconi, in AutoShopOwner Articles

      • 0 replies
  • AutoShopOwner Sponsors