Eugene Auto Repair

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Don't Shoot The Messenger

One of the most difficult jobs in the automotive repair business is to call the customer with "the news." Much like in the medical, legal, accounting, even funeral professions, the news is often not good news. We share the facts, and by these facts we make our living. But still. Every time I call Bob the attorney(not his real name), I feel guilty about what his car needs, despite my having 30 years of experience sharing news with customers. 

There is a joke in the business called the three B's: "I didn't build it, buy it, or break it."

It was time to call Bob with a list of repairs. I had a cup of coffee and reviewed his records for the past five years. His BMW had been very good to him - with few repairs and mostly routine maintenance. Then, I called. Slightldistressed, Bob asked for details. I went over the list, including costs, and heard a big sigh. "How come every time I bring in my car," he asked, "you tell me how much money I need to spend on repairs?" I was ready for him. "Bob", I said, " I want you to know I don't make up what your car needs. I only investigate, prioritize, price the repairs and give you the news. I do make a profit on the news." After a long pause, Bob said, "As attorneys we, too, don't make the news but give you the news, and we also make a profit on the news."

It's not uncommon for customers to think that we have control over what's wrong with their cars. What a compliment! But I assure you, auto repair shops and dealerships have no control over your car's problems. Often customers ask how much the car problem will cost before we've diagnosed it. If we don't know what's wrong, how can we tell you how much - or even when it will be finished? The sad part: People will call around until they get the answer they want. Then they'll go to that auto shop, only to learn there are more repairs and costs.

Important questions for me to ask are, "How soon do you need the repairs to be done?" and "How bad are the needed repairs?" For example, if an oil pan or a shock absorber is leaking, is it bad enough that it needs to be replaced? A priority list is important, based on a scale between 1 and 5. See the scale in August '15 blog article. Gauging the extent of repairs helps to determine how soon repairs should be done: Now? Next month? Or maybe even next year?

As for newer vehicles, they are considerably complex. "Cars these days are reaching biological levels of complexity," said Chris Gerdes, a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University, in The New York Times. The sophistication of new cars has numerous benefits, such as forward-collision warning systems and automatic emergency braking that keep drivers safer. But new technology yields new risks, as well as new opportunities for malevolence. 

The unfolding scandal at Volkswagen - in which 11 million vehicles were outfitted with software that gave false emissions results - showed how a carmaker could take advantage of complex systems to flout regulations. Carmakers and consumers are also at risk. Dr. Swetak N. Patel has worked with security researchers who have shown it is possible to disable a car's brakes with an infected MP3 file inserted into a car's CD player. A hacking demonstration exposed how vulnerable new Jeep Cherokees can be. A series of software-related recalls has raised safety concerns and has cost automakers millions of dollars.

Service professionals do not create the news. We just tell the news. Don't shoot the messenger. Please be kind and understanding. 

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