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Details - - Ask an absurd question, I might get the giggle snorts...


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Like most professions, automotive repair relies on good information. Preciseness is a must. If the manual shows a tolerance for a gear back lash or specific timing for an engine, the person holding the wrenches is going to do his/her best to obtain those values. It’s not only the values, but the descriptive nature of the components that’s just as important. If two techs are talking about a solenoid or a sensor, the terms and nomenclature are important for their conversation. This is true in just about any type of job or hobby. Getting the description of a component or procedure correct is all part of the communication. But, that doesn’t hold true with the novice or misinformed customer. Trying to sort out what is a real problem and what is not, can be a terminology battle.


I know I’m not the only one who’s had to deal with the phone call or customer at the service counter who is trying their best to describe their problem, while throwing in some term or part name that just doesn’t fit their explanation. Now, if I try to explain something to someone I always will use the full name or common name for the component. That way I feel I’m not misleading them. They may ask several times, “Now what’s that part called?” and if that happens, I’ll try a little less professional explanation. Although, from the consumer’s side of the counter all bets are off when it comes to explaining things. I’ve heard it all. From headlamps being referred to as “light diffusers”, and a timing belt as a “clocking controller”, and of course, the ever popular… “relay switch”. There are thousands of odd terms out there, far too many for me to list here.


By now, you’ve probably got some sort of grin on your face, yep, me too. My wife on the other hand, tells me I shouldn’t stand at the service counter with that quirky little smirk when this happens. Honestly, after some of the escapades I’ve had, you can’t help but laugh. Just to prove a point, one night after dinner my wife and I were talking about a subject dear to her heart…quilting. (Which I know next to nothing about.) I purposely blurted out a mixture of two different terms I’ve heard her use, all in the wrong context just to see her reaction. And, right on cue she went into full out “giggle snorts”, which nearly dropped her to the floor with laughter. That’s proof enough for me. Whenever you’re talking to a pro, and you try to sound professional and don’t… the giggle snorts are automatic.


This also includes jumping into an explanation for one problem, and then abruptly asking a question that’s completely unrelated or absurd. How do I handle these absurd questions? Easy, I have an absurd answer to go along with it. Of course, I’ll try to correct their misguided information, as long as it doesn’t go so far off base that it turns into a lesson in automotive repair rather than trying to fix their car.


Just the other day I got a call from a guy who told me this interesting story. He said after installing a new battery the headlights wouldn’t work, the park lights wouldn’t work, and it wouldn’t come out of gear. As his description of the problem continued, my little mechanic brain was already hard at work zooming through the wiring diagrams of that particular car and surmising the possible problems, when all of a sudden he blurts out an entirely unrelated question that stopped my thought process dead in its tracks.


“Do you think it’s the security system?” he asked.


Ok, good question… sort of.


A quick rethink of the theft and starting system on that type of car, I answered him, “Does it start?”


“Yes, but I can’t get it out of park.”


Knowing the circuits I could deduce it’s not the security system, so I answered his question like this, “No it’s probably not the security system. I’ll bet you have an open circuit either from something you left disconnected, a blown fuse, or fuseable link.”


“What’s a fishable link doing in my car?” (Did I say that?) That’s a new one. (I’ve got that smirk on my face again.) He kept repeating it even after I tried to correct him. For some people it’s from misguided information, or sometimes it’s a homegrown interpretation of how the car works. Sometimes they just don’t comprehend what you’re telling them. It never ceases to amaze me how many times somebody will call a component by some homemade name, or twist a problem they are having into an indescribable adventure into some weird world of automotive jargon.


Maybe it’s me… maybe I’m trying to be too precise. But, I can’t think of any other way to be, except to be as precise and to the point as I can possibly be. For example, the call I got about a 95’ Jeep that the owner claims to have ripped out “all” the wires. But, it runs fine, has a transmission problem, and the tail lights don’t work.


Aside from the short history lesson about his car, his only “actual” question was, “Do ya think it’s a coil pack?” Ok, for the layman a coil pack might as well be a widget. But, to the trained and seasoned tech the mere word “coil pack” speaks volumes. Again, that little mechanic brain of mine was trying to put together a mental picture of wires pulled out, a bad transmission, and no tail lights only to have this question about a coil pack come at me from left field. Now all I have is this “Rube Goldberg” image of what’s left of this guy’s car in my head. (For the record a coil pack is a device that produces the high voltage spark for a spark plug, and a are in pairs or multiple coils molded together to form a “pack”.)


His only question was whether or not I think it was caused by a coil pack. My answer to him, “Ah, no.” The more he explained his problem the more my diagnostic mind went into a tail spin with even more bizarre interpretations of unrelated issues. At some point it becomes a futile effort to either explain things, or try to make sense of what is going on.


Every mechanic has experienced these “questions” at some point. I for one, get a kick out of the absurdness and wacky explanations. If you can imagine spending a day deep in thought over a serious diagnostic problem with countless diagrams, software, and scanners, then end up on the phone with somebody wanting to know how much to put a helicopter landing pad on the top of their Yugo, then you can understand why your mechanic gets a case of the giggle snorts when you ask him that.


Sometimes it might be better just to tell the mechanic what the problem is and leave the diagnosing to the experts. The details are in the communication, the better the communication the fewer giggle snorts.


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Words of wisdom Gonzo, nice article. Please Mr customer, just tell me your problem...that's all we want. We will do the rest!


Reading your article reminded me a funny story (the coil pack reminded me). We had a customer come to the shop with a Ford Explorer with a misfire. We diagnosed a coil and spark plugs, common issue. When we inform the customer he becomes agitated and says, "Hey pal, what are your guys trying to pull, I just did a tune up, I replaced the points, plugs, wires, cap and rotor, the whole nine yards!


Frank, the service advisor said, "Ah, are you sure you are talking about this car, the explorer?" He said "don't touch my car, I am coming right down"


When he came to the shop we just let him scream and yell and carry on. We all watched him make a scene and kept silent.


Finally I pulled him into my office and brought him into the 21 century.


We did the job and never heard from him again.


Be carful, last I saw he was heading WEST!

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good one Frank, that's as bad as the guy who came in telling me his, "flipendoozel" went haywire. I never did find out what that was, he left in a huff because I asked him to spell it.


LOL... unbelievable...

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Most shop owners would agree that the independent auto repair industry has been too cheap for too long regarding its pricing and labor rates. However, can we keep raising our labor rates and prices until we achieve the profit we desire and need? Is it that simple?
      The first step in achieving your required gross and net profit is understanding your numbers and establishing the correct labor and part margins. The next step is to find your business's inefficiencies that impact high production levels.
      Here are a few things to consider. First, do you have the workflow processes in place that is conducive to high production? What about your shop layout? Do you have all the right tools and equipment? Do you have a continuous training program in place? Are technicians waiting to use a particular scanner or waiting to access information from the shop's workstation computer?
      And lastly, are all the estimates written correctly? Is the labor correct for each job? Are you allowing extra time for rust, older vehicles, labor jobs with no parts included, and the fact that many published labor times are wrong? Let's not forget that perhaps the most significant labor loss is not charging enough labor time for testing, electrical work, and other complicated repairs.  
      Once you have determined the correct labor rate and pricing, review your entire operation. Then, tighten up on all those labor leaks and inefficiencies. Improving production and paying close attention to the labor on each job will add much-needed dollars to your bottom line.
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