My mother, who lives in Phoenix called me about her recent vehicle repairs. Since I own a used car lot and sold her the car, a PT Cruiser, I did feel bad that her experience at a well-known auto repair chain went so bad. First, and I agreed, she paid too much for a basic tune-up and was told her oxygen sensor was bad. So she shelled out some bucks to get her car back. While she did pay too much for her repairs, as I've always told her, she could have achieved a better price if she would have worked with the technician and service writer.
In my opinion, all technicians get a bad rap for trying to sell auto parts you don't need and most consumers complain about their hefty labor time charges. I am still stymied at why this is? Not many occupations offer up this unique experience of always feeling like you're a crook. People will pay home repair experts if their hot water tank is leaking or their furnace isn't working, but often, no very often, complain about the amount of their vehicle repairs--even if it's just required maintenance like a lube-oil-filter or full-service check-up. There are ways to work with your technician to achieve results that make you happy and won't leave your auto repair guy feeling like a crook. Use these tips every time you visit your auto repair center whether it's a franchised dealership, auto repair chain, or just a plain old independent repair facility:
1. Make a list at home before you visit your mechanic and be specific about repairs or checks you want done.
2. When you arrive at your repair center, ask if you can communicate directly with your mechanic. Most service writers should be happy you request this. If they don't or refuse, find another repair center.
3. Explain exactly what your problem is and try and be specific about what the vehicle is doing or not doing. No mechanic is a crystal ball reader and all vehicles are different so don't just drop the vehicle off and expect them to figure it all out on their own.
4. Insist and go on a test drive before your technician begins the repair process especially if your vehicle is making a noise you can't describe or identify. My 80 year old father-in-law bought a new vehicle and took his vehicle to the repair facility a whopping ten times for a sound he heard repeatedly but could not identify. Instead of insisting on a pre-repair test drive, the mechanic tried his best to find the cause of the noise to no avail. Once I suggested a pre-repair test drive, the noise he was hearing was his automatic door locks that were performing as required--locking at the 17 mile-per-hour mark. Not only was my father-in-law's time wasted, the mechanic's time was as well and further, the mechanic was most likely not paid for anything other than the first visit and each time he looked at the vehicle, the repair facility where the mechanic worked probably looked at each visit as a "comeback" so he made no money on those repeated visits.
5. Understand how technicians are paid. People complain about the cost of labor. First, all good repair facilities utilize labor time guides that are given to the repair facility by the vehicle manufacturer or from an independent source such as All-Data. For example, if a labor guide says it should take one hour to fix a water pump on a specific vehicle--that is all the mechanic gets paid for. Even if it takes the mechanic two hours to fix the water pump, they only get paid for one hour of work--this is called a flat-rate hour. So, your mechanic and repair facility are not ripping you off, they are going by the guidelines provided to them that is utilized nationwide by all auto repair centers. Don't be so quick to complain about nationally recognized labor time guides.
6. Most mechanics achieve some sort of ASE (Automotive Service Excellence) certification in all or specific areas of auto repair. If your auto repair shop has an ASE Master Technician--that means they've been through grueling tests--and passed. Tests offered by ASE are not easy, so keep that in mind if your tech is ASE certified.
7. If your auto repair center is a manufacturer franchised facility, say a Ford dealership, when your vehicle is brought to the mechanic with problems and no clear solutions, all franchised dealerships rely on a computer or telephone system that connects them with the manufacturer technicial department. These departments are full of tech experts who work with the technician to fix one of their vehicles. Often, it's not your mechanic whose running the show, it's this technical department--so don't always blame the mechanic.
8. Negotiate - Yes you can ask to speak to the owner of the repair facility if you feel your repairs and the amount you owe are unfair. If you do this, remember to keep calm and discuss what you feel went wrong. Be fair when speaking and ask questions. There's a good chance the two of you can come to a negotiation that you both feel comfortable with.
9. Keep up regularly scheduled maintenance. You can ask your mechanic or read your owners manual--something most people never do. Your owner's manual will let you know when it's time for varied tune ups such as 3,000 mile checks, 30,000 mile checks, and what should be completed at each check.
10. Don't blame the mechanic if your vehicle fails and you didn't keep up with any regularly scheduled maintenance items. If you haven't changed your oil within recommended times and your engine fails, ask yourself who is at fault? It's not your mechanic so don't blame them.
The next time you take your vehicle into any auto repair facility, don't be too quick to judge or think the mechanic is going to "rip you off." Mechanics get a bad rap and they are truly educated on vehicle repair, especially if they are Master Techs. Treat a mechanic as your would your home repair expert--they are people too and really don't need the dreaded suspicion each customer comes in with. Keeping an open line of communication and asking questions is your best bet.