Trusting an Auto Repair Facility

February 25, 2009

The issue of trust and Automotive Repair Shops has been in the news for years.  I live in the SF Bay Area and about every 6 months one of the major, network-affiliated TV stations will do an undercover sting-like "expose" about Auto Repair Shops "ripping off" the public.

AutoNation conducted a poll and found that for over 70% of the consumers called the number one complaint was a lack of trust in the process of having their vehicle serviced and repaired. 

So, what is the best way to enhance people trust of repair shops?  Is it to pass a law that allows the consumer to take back his/her vehicle after service or repair without paying the bill until there is a court hearing, like the  State of Kansas has recently done?

I suggest another solution.  It's a set of questions that any customer, male or female, young or old, can personally ask a repair shop or service department.  I will also give the reasoning behind each question.


Question 1: Do your Service Writers and/or Service Managers get paid on commission or are they paid hourly or by salary?

This is a huge issue because if the Service Writer/Manager is paid only from a commission or percentage of their sales, then the motive to sell what is fast and easy becomes a dominating factor.  The actual needs of the customer gets lost.  Whether or not the vehicle gets the proper service and repair becomes an after thought.  I have worked in more than one dealership where there was a special bonus commission for any "tune-up" that was sold.  This meant that many problems that needed real diagnosis were glossed over with a "tune-up" and often came back on the end of a tow truck with a very distraught customer.  If the shop or service department is really concerned about being ethical and listening to a customer's needs, they almost always pay the service writers and managers a salary.  If there is a bonus program, it is usually for the highest customer satisfaction index or CSI.


Question 2: Can I speak to the technician in person and have him/her explain in simple terms and show me what is wrong with my car or what needs service?

This is critical.  First, if you do not have access to the technician when requested, this is a huge problem.  I have worked in 48-technician dealerships where the customer could come into the shop (usually with the service writer), and I would courteously show and tell them the "why and wherefore" of the repair.  If the technician can't clearly explain what they are doing and why they are doing it, then they don't really understand the vehicle and the repair themselves.  There is a good chance that they are guessing and this will become painfully evident as they scuffle to explain what they are doing.  Also, if a service department doesn't allow access to the technicians, then they are usually too profit driven to take five minutes away from one technician's productivity or their shop is too messy and too unsafe for an average person to walk through.

About the Author

Daniel Dillon is an automotive expert at RepairPal, the leading online source of auto repair resources and estimates. With many ASE Master certified mechanics on staff who have decades of experience, RepairPal knows all the fine points of car repair.

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