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Check engine light dilemma

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Have you ever solved a check engine problem only to have the customer return a few days later with the light on again, but this time for a different code? We have all been down this road.


To avoid customers issues we explain how the on board computer works and tell them that because the check engine was on, other tests have been blocked by the car's computer. This means that if there is another problem, the computer will only check it after this problem is solved. As a result, the check engine light may return if there is another problem.


No matter how hard you try to explain this to a customer (and we also state this on the invoice) the customer has a tough time understanding it. All they see is the "same" check engine light and naturally assume it's the same problem.


How are you handling this issue?



I've got a few of my stories that relate to this subject. The usual problem is that the light comes back on but the car drives fine. Which is generally how the car first arrived at the shop for the original check engine light problem.


What I do is apply the original diagnostics fee for 30 days and that way they have some value built in. The average complaint is that the light is on ... and you didn't do a thing. Since they never see the actual workings of the scanner or the diagnostic testing information they will always assume... you didn't do a thing. (I like your Nixon comment right about now Joe)


It is never a pleasant issue, it hardly ever goes without some sort of responce from the customer. But I call it ... "growing aligator skin" Let them chew... I'll fix the problem... I can take it. Been there, done it before.


Once the diagnostics is done and you explain to them (educate the customer) how the PCM reads the faults in order of importance and that some codes may only happen after certian other systems change their values, they seem to get it then.


Or I try the old "Ya gotta put air in the tire to find the leak... then let the air out... fix the leak... and hopefully their ain't another leak to worry about... but if there is we will have to go thru the process all over again..." This works well for those "good-ol-boys" that stagger into the shop.


As long as the customer is understanding and can be educated into the inner workings of their automobile... I usually don't have a problem. The only time I do, is when they DON"T come back and go to the "other" shop who makes it their business to run you down... and then you get that call from the customer... you know the one... (@%&^!$@^@#&* why you &*^%$*) etc... etc... I just put that aligator skin on and wait for a chance to explain. But don't forget... aligators have a pretty mean bite too....

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You seem to have a good attitude toward this issue, better than mine. I like the " leak in the tire" analogy. I will use that. What it comes down to is consumer education, but like you said, I don't want to be slammed by another shop. Plus, sometime there is not enough time in the day.



I doubt my attitude is any better than yours..I can remain calm for only so long, then, I will turn into that alligator with a nasty bite if need be. I'll "only" pleasantly talk for so long... then I give into the dark side... If you got me to that point there is two things that are for sure... 1. You ain't coming back 2. I don't want ya back.


So is it the check engine light, or, is it check your attitude... LOL

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Do you feel the time spent educating the customer pays off? Or, are some people just unrealistic toward their view on our business?



That is the 64 dollar question Joe...

I could write an article about that very question... as a matter of fact... I think I will.


My view on the educating of the customer... YES ... I think it pays off... However, sometimes I think they are only nodding their heads in agreement to avoid their other fears of the automotive industry and that is... being taken advantage of. Or, they are a repeat customer (notice I didn't say loyal) that has built up some trust with me based on their own past experiences at other shops.


These folks ... get it... understand it... accept the cause and cures of the procedures and their eventual outcomes.


Now on the "unrealistic" side of it;


By far these are the people that HAVE those fears of the automtive industry... and probably have been taken advantage of in the past. And, they are not willing to accept any answers from you or me or anybody in the business. They simply do no trust anybody. Or, they are a customer without any repeat business... ANYWHERE... and float from shop to shop with whatever work they need done, because: A. They don't know how to do it, and they can't find a friend that will work for a cold beer in their garage. B. Never want to pay for any type of repair because their own income is already used up in their own daily activities. C. Their neighbor, friend, relative... already told them.. Exactly what needs to be done, and obviously... you, me... we don't have a clue what we are doing... except how to take their money.


These folks, will never understand... and those are the ones you don't want to see come in the shop. The odds are against turning these type of people around... That's where the alligator skin works well.... but like I said before... watch out for the alligator.. he'll bite back.

Edited by Gonzo
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Joe on most late model cars you can drive the monitors to run. This will give some indication of any problems that may cause a returning check lite. My Solus gives a very detailed set of driving parameters, that if followed, will run all the first trip monitors. A great way to prevent comebacks. You can also find a lot of info in Global OBD monitors and test. I finished a Ford explorer yesterday that had no codes but a load of OBD data that indicated marginal fuel trims and evap problems. Test lead to an intermittent IAC and leaking intake seals. Repalced and road tested within the driving paratemetrs. When I went back to global info everything had passed except for an evap test which I believe is a 2 trip test. Retunerd car to customer. This morning got a call telling me the car had never ran better and no one else had been able to fix it. Dont know where it had been prior but was glad to get the call. Feels good when the call is thank you and not screw you wink.gif



Thats great Jeff, but the original question is what do you do when... you don't catch the service light problem as you did in this case. What is your reaction when the customer comes back with the service light on. This is what I'm interested in... how do you handle the customer then. Gonz

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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