Niagara Gazette

November 21, 2013

TOM'S CORNER: Major auto repairs? Ask a service adviser for options

By Tom Torbjornsen
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Too often, during the auto repair process, service advisers do not give customers repair options. Very early in my career I failed to do so and l am thankful I had an excellent mentor that straightened me out. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Suzie Customer comes into XYZ Auto Repair because her 1998 “Zorch” is making awful noises on acceleration (reminiscent of those sounds at the racetrack when a racer’s engine blew up off shortly after leaving the line … knock-knock-knock-rattle-rattle-rattle). Mel, the mechanic, diagnoses the sound (crankshaft bearings). He gives Suzie a repair quote that’s more than the car is worth. She tells Mel that she can’t afford it, but she needs the car. Can he fix it cheaper? Mel tells Suzie he won’t do it any cheaper, because he can’t guarantee the job would last. He advises her to take the car elsewhere for repairs. Could this situation have been handled differently to help Suzie? Or is she a lost cause?

I used this example because, several years ago, I found myself in such a situation while working at a large shop as the assistant service manager. A single mother in financial dire straits came into the shop with a car that sounded like it had 12 angry trolls banging away with their hammers under the hood. I didn’t know whether to get a gun before opening the hood, or to call a priest proficient in the rite of exorcism! It turns out that her car’s engine had major damage, and it would be a costly repair. I swung into action checking out her options. As I saw it, she had four repair options:

Option 1: Rebuild the old engine: After pricing it out, this option was simply too expensive for Suzie’s budget. With the cost of parts, machine work, labor, and incidentals like wire, bolts, fluids, etc the price was way too high for her pocketbook.

Option 2: Partially rebuild the old engine: This option was a little cheaper. However, I had some legitimate concerns. For instance, if we rebuilt the lower half of the engine (crankshaft, piston rings, bearings, etc), we would still have a problem with the top end. By restoring the compression to the bottom end and not doing anything to the top, we would still end up with loss of compression because the top end had sustained the same wear as the bottom. Taking into consideration that Suzie wanted to keep the car for some time, this option was a ‘no-go.’

Option 3: Install a “new rebuilt” engine: Too costly. Period.

Option 4: Install a used engine: This option was the ticket for her.

Now my challenge was to find an engine that had mid- to low mileage, was in good shape mechanically, didn’t smoke, use oil, knock, tap or had any other problem that could/would leave her stranded (and cost a lot of bucks down the road). And it had to fall within her budget!

I found such an engine and got the job done within her price range. The car ran for a long time after the repair and Suzie was a happy customer. The solution to her problem was a result of communication. An assessment of her needs and what she could afford helped me determine the best ‘fix’ for Suzie’s car. The perfect solution mechanically is not always the best solution for the customer. Each situation is different. Various factors come in to play when deciding the direction to go for some car repairs.

Another example: Let’s say that the brakes on your car are bad. You need both front and rear brakes, and the hydraulics have worn out as well (the rubber seals within the system). Your service adviser suggests that you replace the master cylinder with a new one because the old one is showing signs of seepage. Based on his experience, when hydraulic systems are refurbished without replacing the master, the original master usually goes bad shortly after. You have more than enough money to fix the brakes, but not enough to install a new master cylinder. He tells you that he cannot guarantee the job without replacing the master with a new one. Is there any option? The service adviser could consider replacing the master with a good quality rebuilt (less money), rather than insisting that a new master must be installed.

There are all kinds of repair options that an adviser can offer to a customer. As a customer, you should ask if there are any options. If you have financial concerns, communicate them! If you are a service adviser reading this, you need to listen to your customers, ask questions, and find out how best you can meet their needs. Look at the job as if you were in the customer’s shoes. Is the car too worn out to warrant an expensive new part? How long do they intend to keep the car? Ask questions! A happy customer means repeat business and good word of mouth, and this is the best advertising you can do for your business. As the service adviser, a good relationship with your customer should be your main goal. You want customer loyalty; it cuts both ways.

A caveat for repair professionals: When exercising repair options for your customers, always confirm the quality of either used or aftermarket parts. Also, make sure that you properly prep the part. For example, if it is a used rotor, measure it with a micrometer to make sure there’s plenty of “meat” on it (if you have to machine it). In the case of a used engine, make sure you see and hear it run; make sure there are no knocks, taps, or smoke. If it’s a used electronic part, make sure it was properly stored (not exposed to weather elements/moisture, which cause oxidation). In short, treat the repair as if it were your family’s vehicle and your money that was being spent. With such a perspective, you will deliver a good quality job and you will make a customer for life!

‘Til next time ... Keep Rollin’.

“America’s Car Show” with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.

"America's Car Show" with Tom Torbjornsen airs 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 9 a.m. Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBBZ-TV.