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Trust - - - - In the automotive business... trust goes both ways.


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It’s an important word; it’s one I hear a lot behind the counter at the repair shop. “I know you’ll treat me right, because I trust what you do.” Seems to be a common “comfort” word tossed around when people talk about different types of service work. I’ve always wondered how deep that level of comfort goes when it comes to solving unusual automotive problems, or when there is a communication breakdown. There’s also a level of trust the service provider has to gain too, keep in mind that trust goes both ways.


A new customer comes in the shop for some repair. They’ve been sent to the repair shop by someone they trust, such as a friend or another repair shop. This friend or repair shop has enough “trust” in my abilities, so they have no problem referring this new customer to me. But, there is still the trust that has to be built up with the new customer, and can the two of us communicate to a degree that we can get to the bottom of the trouble without any miss-communication?


This time it’s a 1985 Nissan 300z with more problems than you can shake a stick shift at. Not in the greatest condition, but for the most part it was all there. Some are cosmetic and not that serious, while some things need attention right now.


“I replaced a fuseable link with a piece of regular wire, and it will only run for about 5 minutes, and then the engine quits. Also, my wife moved the seat forward, and now it doesn’t move at all. So I need you to find out what’s wrong,” the 300z owner tells me.


I had a few questions to ask them of course, did the seat quit after, or before the fuse link blew? How do you start it once it dies? Do you have to jump it? Does it start right back up? Are there any other signs that the engine is about to die, like gauges, lights, or any rough running? All of which was described in enough detail that I “trusted” I was getting the right answers to form a hypothesis of what was going on.


The owner informed me the fuse link blew after the seat was moved, and the engine started acting up after he changed the fuse link. It sounded like a poorly fitting fuse link at this point. The next thing to do was to verify all of the information with a thorough examination of the car and the wiring diagrams. It all seemed to match the story.


By the next morning I had an estimate on the needed repairs and I got the job approved. First off… replace the non-fuse link wire with a proper one. The seat, well that was another issue. All the wires under the seat were green and rotted apart. The main positive lead was completely mangled and showed signs that it had arced across the bracket that originally held the wiring harness. One look over head explained all of the green gunk on the wires. It’s a T-top car, being an 85 model there’s no doubt that at one time or another the tops could have been off during a rain storm.


I replaced the fuseable link, and then removed the seat (not so easy since the seat doesn’t move and access to the bolts can be difficult). While I’m repairing the seat I might as well tackle the “run for 5 minutes and then stall” problem. The car ran perfectly for over two hours, while I repaired the leads to the seat and checked out the rest of the car. The only thing I saw that was a problem was the radiator cap had a cracked gasket, and as soon as the car warmed up the coolant started to leak out of the cap. Easy fix, just replace the cap.


All said and done… the car ran beautifully. I took it around the block a couple of times and didn’t find anything else serious enough to be concerned with. Oh, there’s more to do… but, it all can wait for a later date. I called the customer and told them I was done with it, and they could pick it up anytime they’d like.


Now, it’s no surprise to me that a 25+ year old car is going to have more problems. It’s not a new car, and with the experiences that I’ve had on these Z cars in the past I made sure the customer understood it as well.


The owner picked the car up the next day, and told me he had just bought the car for his wife. He also told me how much he appreciated the work I’ve done, but was concerned there was probably some major short (electrically) in the car that caused everything from the radiator cap to crack, to the seat stop working. About now, my “trust” of this guy’s original explanations of the problem is getting pretty thin. The more I tried to explain the two problems were not related the less “trust” he had in me… he “knew” it was a short. (Trust me… this guy didn’t have all four wheels on the ground.)


Usually when a customer starts to self-diagnose things a certain lack of trust starts to develop between the mechanic and the owner. This was no different. The next day I get a call from the wife. After driving a few miles the car died, then restarted, died, and restarted again. The original problem, the money they already spent, and the now “revised” problem was the topic of discussion.


“I don’t know who to trust… I think I need to find another mechanic who can find out what’s wrong with my car, or maybe I’m just going to sell it. Which do you think I should do?” You know, there’s a part of me that wants to tell him where to put this car, but then the sensible part of me says, “Bring it in, and I’ll look at “that” problem, and trust me… I can solve it now that I know the real issue.”


Several weeks later, they brought the car back, and a new fuel pump and filter took care of the problem.


Saying the wrong thing or being descriptive in the wrong way only leads to more confusion when it comes to car repair. (From both sides of the counter) There are so many factors in a car that can cause a problem and not being up front with the explanation only makes things worse.


I’ve changed my approach at the counter now. I don’t ask them, “So, what’s wrong with the car?” Instead, I ask them, “How did you arrive at the conclusion there’s something wrong? Was it after you drove the car? Was it after something was done to the car? Is it because something doesn’t work? What’s not functioning like it’s supposed to?”


You’ll have to trust me on this one; it works a lot better than just asking, “What’s wrong?”


There are times in this crazy world of automotive repair that you neither win or lose. Trust has a lot to do with it. When the customer doesn't trust you... you're done. When you don't trust the customer, well, the mechanic may have a tougher time solving the problem and getting paid for the work.

Keep those comments coming, always love to hear from everyone. Gonzo



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That's pretty much the whole point of this article. The "trust" is a two way street. Intermittent problems is one thing, failure to explain the problem correctly is another. Since the car was in no condition to take the owner for a ride to describe the problem the whole testing and evaluations were based on "He said" and I had to trust the customers explanation. Oops...my bad... should've known better. As usual, most first time customers are not likely to tell you everything, and even more likely not to tell you every detial if they have already been to another shop. They don't want to have to stand there and explain the whole thing over and over again. For some reason I think... they think all techs talk the same language... Wrong! I can't trust the last techs answers and diagnostics if he didn't fix the problem. Chances are it would only lead to a wild goose chase and never solve the problem anyway. I can't trust their judgement and I sure don't trust the last techs answers. It's back to the infamous line, "I don't know who to trust" a two sided problem for sure.



Gonzo dealing with customers and "trust" can sometimes drive you crazy. In situations like you described when there is an intermitten problem is when "trust" is destroyed. All one can do is tell them I fixed the fusable link and the seat problem and I have experienced no dying issue. Maybe that was the problem maybe not. Don't be suprised if the dying issue reappears but it didn't occur while it was here in the shop or on our test drives. We have learned to hedge more and more on all our repairs because you never know about cars.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      My son is not in the automotive industry. He is in the commercial real estate business. However, the workplace problems are the same. Recently, his frustration with the heads of the company reached an all-time high. When I asked him why he doesn’t speak up and let the leadership know how he is feeling, he responded, “Anyone who has voiced concerns or issues has been viewed as weak and incapable of doing their job. I don’t want to be viewed like that.” This is an example of a toxic work environment.
      If you are a shop owner, you are a leader. And leaders must be approachable. That means that you are willing to hear the concerns of others and have them express themselves. It also means that while you may not agree with someone’s perspective on an issue, it is their perspective, and that viewpoint needs to be recognized and respected.
      Make it known that you want to hear the opinions of others. Literally, ask for input from others. And thank those that speak up. Now, I am not saying that you need to act on every concern or opinion. That would not be realistic. But just listening may be enough. And you never know, someone in your company may have an idea that you never thought about and even improve your business.
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