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Multiple Answers - - - - Some people are more than a little confusing.


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Multiple Answers

You’re at the emergency room, you’re left arm is swelling up, pain relief is a priority. The initial diagnosis involves a few x-rays and checking your vital signs. The nurse writes down all the information on your chart and then places it by the door of the exam room so the doctor can read it. The doctor enters the exam room already flipping the pages of information, and takes a seat on the little stool. The doctor introduces himself, “Hello, I’m Doctor Smith,” with the formal introductions out of the way the next question is usually in regards to the information on the chart and his initial evaluation. He asks, “So, how’d ya break your arm?” Without hesitation, you go into a detailed explanation of how it all happened. In some case the story is very important to the diagnosis, while other times it’s just another one of those typical stories the doctor has probably heard before. Never the less, they’ll listen. (I think they call that “bed side” manner.) When your tests are done, the cast is applied, and you’ve got a few pain meds prescribed, it’s off you go to home sweet home.

Now what in the world does a trip to the emergency room have to do with cars? Well, nothing, and everything at the same time. If you’ve ever stood at the service counter and was asked, “So what’s wrong with the car?” you might find this interesting. Just as the doctor asked when he entered the exam room there is a few primary questions to answer at the service counter. At the emergency room it’s all about gathering pertinent information about the problem and it’s the same at the service counter. There’s no doubt even at the ER the answers to the questions can be jumbled up and misleading as they can be at the service counter.

The service writer isn’t asking, “How you broke you’re car.” But, “What’s wrong with the car.” For some people answering that question with, “It doesn’t shift, or the battery is dead every morning” isn’t possible. They somehow start in the middle and work back to the beginning of their story, and then finally to the real reason why they are there. I’m still baffled at the answers I get on these occasions, and just like the ER doctor, listening to the various replies takes a bit of patience. Sometimes I have it… sometimes I don’t.

Let’s face it; I fix cars not people. If I could ask the car directly I probably would. But, as it is, the car can’t speak. (Yet) In the meantime, standing at the service counter and deciphering the bits and pieces of information from the owner seems to be the best way. Needless to say, at times, there’s a lot of piecing together be done.

Granted, a lot of people don’t know the first thing about cars and with the internet full of suggestions and friends with more than a cursory knowledge of the modern automobile the confusion at the service counter can be overwhelming. I hear all kinds of wild and exotic solutions and explanations about car problems when I’m standing at the counter. All this random information might seem important, when in reality, most of the time, less = more.

The other day I had an encounter at the counter after asking the usual question, “What’s wrong with the car?” It was definitely one of those multiple answer and confusing explanation type of situations. I generally keep notes as people are explaining things to me. I was going to need a lot of scratch pad on this one.

The owner began with, “It doesn’t start every once in a while.”

Our conversation covered the typical reasons for an intermittent no start, which also brought up the diagnostic hassles with this type of problem, and the problems of trying to find intermittent issues.

“As long as I can duplicate the problem I can fix it,” I told him.

“Oh, you won’t have any trouble with that,” he answered, “It does it all the time.”

Now that’s interesting, before it was once in a while, now it’s all the time. I think I’m somewhere in the middle of this story right about now… I hope we get to the finale soon. Cross out intermittent and below that write “does it often” on the scratch pad.

“That’s slightly different from what you just told me. When you say all the time, do you mean once in a while or do you mean,” holding my fingers up for quotations, “all” the time?”

He answered, “What I mean is, it’s doing it more often now.”

“That’s great,” I said with a smile, “I’ll be able to find the source of the problem much easier now. Let’s get it into the shop as soon as possible and run a few tests.”

“Super, I’ll get it towed in this afternoon,” he cheerfully replied.

“Wait a minute,” I answered with a questioning tone, “Why a tow truck?”

“I’ve tried to start it every day for the past 2 weeks and it still hasn’t started. That’s what I’ve been telling you. It doesn’t start.”

I checked my scratch pad, several pages of jotted notes, turn back to page one, cross out “does it often” below it write D.O.A. It’s just another round and around story at the service counter.

I really wanted to tell this guy. “What if we started this whole conversation in reverse? So when I ask, “What’s wrong with the car?” You say, “It hasn’t started for the last 2 weeks, but before that it was intermittent at best.” I should have, but I didn’t. Would have made a whole lot more sense that way and probably would have saved a few pages of that scratch pad too.

Of course, there are the ones that have to lump everything and anything that has ever gone wrong with the car into their present story. (You’ll need a lot more paper to jot these stories down.) That simple question of what’s wrong becomes a dissertation of every little bump or bruise the car has ever had. And, they have to throw in every shop that’s worked on it and every part that’s ever been changed. Is it important? Well, kind of, but probably not as important as what’s wrong with the car now.

Ya just gotta smile, and go on. If it makes that particular customer feel better to tell every little bit about their car by all means… tell your story. Whatever way you’d like to tell it is fine with me, and it doesn’t matter about the multiple answers you have to the question or what order you want to tell them. I’ll try to keep up and sort out the important parts. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of scratch pads and pens. Will it change the outcome of the repair? Nope, not a bit. But I’m sure, just like any emergency room doctor will tell you too; these stories sure do make for an interesting day at the office.


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Just like you I find myself needing to take notes. This helps especially when I give my partner a synopsis of the problem the customer is having on a vehicle and suggest he talk to the customer before they leave. Then when they are talking to him and you would swear they are talking about a completely different vehicle and he's looking at me like "WTF? that's not what you said!" like I am crazy. Then when they leave I show him my notes that I took when they were talking to me and we just shake our heads. Somedays you just have to laugh otherwise the frustration will drive you mad!

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What's really amazing is that it's the same no matter where you go or where you're at. There's always some wacky customer needing their car repaired. I'm just glad I can share these experiences and see the reactions of everyone else from across the country.


I enjoy reading the comments.


It's just another day at the service counter.



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On the many occasions where I've been busy, already having a rough day and some dipstick comes to the counter and I ask them, "What's wrong with the car?" and they start in with, "I changed this part, and this part, and I did this and that...etc..etc..." I look them right in the eye and say to them, "So..... "THATS" what's wrong with the car!!??!!"


They usually walk out, and quite frankly... I'm glad they did... don't need a backseat mechanic trying to help... I'm pretty capable of fixing it without extra cheap ass parts thrown into the mix.

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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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