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Gonzo

Article: Have you seen 'this' before? - - Dad, TV tubes, and the skeptical customer

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Have ya seen this before?

         Have I seen this before?  The typical question asked by that skeptical customer.  How do you answer the question?  I find it rather hard to know which way to answer it.  A yes answer can lead in one direction, and a no answer can lead in an entirely different direction.  Not answering, well that’s not going to work, either.  Whichever way I answer their question only leads to more questions, or even more skepticism, but answer it I do. That’s how a lot of these repair jobs from the skeptical consumer begin.

         A typical phone call or skeptic customer at the counter tells the service writer about their car, which usually involves another shop or Uncle Bob.  You know Uncle Bob, the family car expert guy. The skeptical customer is at the service counter not so much to get their car checked in, but to do a little investigative research on the shop and the mechanic’s skills.

After telling their story of what the last shop did or what Uncle Bob tinkered with, sooner or later the proverbial question pops up, “Have you ever seen ‘this’ before?” They’re expecting some grandiose reply that either shows a spark of intelligence, or some sort of genius level response that even Uncle Bob could never achieve. Rarely does it ever make it to the genius level; most of the time it’s a mere curiosity to the mechanic that we’re even discussing apples to oranges. All he wants to do is test for a solution and not guess at a repair.   

         Just for the sake of argument, let’s say I’ve answered the question with a “Yes”.  A yes answer is always followed up with, “So, what do you think it is?” now instead of diagnosing, testing, confirming and repairing their car I’m playing a round of Jeopardy. Even though my answer isn’t in the form of a question there’s still money involved. Their money that is, and it’s not the daily double.

Inevitably, if I throw out a probable cause it’s almost always countered with, “Uncle Bob tried that already” which only leads to a second attempt on my part to come up with a new and spectacular answer to their problem.  If my answers turn into Jeopardy answers such as, “What did Uncle Bob do to the car?” we’ll soon be back to the skepticism and doubt on their part that I can tackle their seemingly impossible to solve problem.

         However, if I answer with, “Nope, never seen that before” it sends a message of incompetence or lack of knowledge and skill about their problem, and most likely even more skepticism. I guess you could say if the customer asks, “Have ya seen this before” I’m probably going to avoid saying “No” more times than not. What I’ve always wondered what the real purpose of asking the question in the first place? Are they looking for some assurance, or is it more of a check to see if I’m competent enough to handle the job? What is my reaction?

         I think it goes back to my dad and the TV set.  

         In my younger years every TV had tubes.  Yes, I know, I’m dating myself.  Anyway, if the TV set would go on the fritz you didn’t call a repairman, well at least not my dad, he would pull all the tubes out and take them down to the TV shop and test them.  He wasn’t a TV repairman by any means, but if he “thought” the problem was a bad tube he knew he could test them for free at the TV shop.  You see, most TV sales and service store had a free tube tester on the showroom floor.  Simply by sticking the tube in the appropriate socket and pushing a button you could find out if the tube was good or bad.  Of course, while he was there he’d work the service guy over with a series of questions trying to get the guy to tell him what he “thought” the problem might be.

         As years went by the same principle of removing a component and bench testing it carried over into the automotive world, such as a starter, alternator or even an ignition module, for example. If you “thought” a certain component was bad you could remove the part and take it to the local parts store where it could be bench tested free of charge. While you were there getting the part tested you could play a round of Jeopardy with the parts guy, who in most cases, had a pretty good working knowledge of the cars of that era.

The parts guys were usually the first to see or hear about a problem, and sometimes the parts guy and the mechanic were one in the same person. Problems were somewhat predictable and for the most part common from car to car.  There weren’t as many variations between electronic circuits or mechanical systems.  As the years have progressed so has the modern car, and guessing at what I “think” might be wrong with a particular system doesn’t have the same typical answer it did back then.

         Nowadays, asking if I’ve seen a particular problem may not be as easy to answer or as simple as removing a part and bench testing it. These days, it's like asking my dad if he’s ever seen that certain tube go bad on the TV set before. Believe me, he had no more idea of which tube was going to fail than the man on the moon. Maybe it’s time we remove the quote “Have you seen this before” and let it fade off into history just like those old TV tube testing machines. 

         Cars are so different than they were back then, but people, well… they haven’t changed much.  Technology changes a whole lot faster than the average person’s conception as to what is involved in repairing the modern car.  Cost is always a factor, and those cheap shade tree type shops that rely on “I think it’s this” to make repairs will probably be a thing of the past as the interconnection between manufacturers and the independent shops grows closer and closer.  The trend these days is for the manufacturer to hold a tighter grip on their products. This is going to lead to a compromise between the professional independent shops and the manufactures in certifications, component purchasing, and information. Maybe then when somebody asks, “Have you seen this before?” the professional answer can be, “I can test the system and then find out the results.  At that point I can say whether or not I’ve seen it before. That will be $xxxx to perform that certain diagnostics.”  The days of the free tube check followed by drilling the service guy for answers is a thing of the past.

I think you can sum it all up like this, “Yes, I’ve seen it before, but what your problem is exactly, I won’t know until it’s tested”.  


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Ahhh yes, but now a days it just isn't uncle bob or the other shop, we have the parts stores that read the codes " free diagnostics " ( far from diagnostics ) and the receipt from the failed emission tests. I get it all the time someone walks in with a register receipt with a code read out and a list of parts or the failed emissions report with the codes printed on it. " Have you seen this before, Do you know what this is? , Can you fix this? " My first response to them is in the form of a question " how much money do you have in your bank account " LOL. There may never be a correct answer to the question, or could it be Yes I will have seen it once I am done making the repair on your car. LOL  Technology does change at a fast pace, tests done 20 years ago are no longer needed just like the good old armature growler and hacksaw blade! another good story we can all relate to Gonzo. Just like the old TV cars still do the same basic function get from A to B just a whole lot more complicated, TV the old ones let you watch movies or what ever your heart desires, the new ones do the same just a whole lot more complicated and simplistic for the user IE remote controls no more getting up to change channels or adjust the antenna. so all in all it is all relative the same beast just more complicated for the person who has to fix it.

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You should not have to ask "have you seen this before" you need to trust your mechanic or technician's ability and even if "he never seen this before" he can still fix it! BTW, we used to take those tv tubes to the drug store as they too had "tube testers" and sometimes those testers made mistakes  and said the tube was good and it turned out to be bad.

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Yea, I remember them in the drug stores too, and I think a couple of grocery stores had a few.  As kids we used to go over and push all the buttons until the store manager would chase us off.  LOL   It had that futuristic space age look to the thing with all those bulb sockets and weird lights.   

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