Dropping your car off to the auto repair shop is often a hurried experience because everyone tries to fit one more thing into their trip to work. So preparing for the visit can reduce the stress and possibly bring you closer to your ultimate goal of getting the car fixed right the first time.
Think about the interview, and that’s what it should be like- a probing Q&A between you and the service writer. If there’s a leak he should be asking what color the drip is, where it’s located on the car and when it occurs. If your complaint has a noise connected to it, the quiz should be about the location, engine or wheels, and if it’s heard when the engine is cold or hot, and yes even a request for your rendition of the noise, as silly as it may sound. So there’s the first step of preparation.
Next describe the problem beyond its physical attributes. Be specific, the brakes aren’t just feeling “funny”, they’re dragging (feeling like they’re always on) or they’re grabbing (holding and then releasing) or the pedal goes to the floor. If it’s a drivability problem, be prepared to explain the circumstances under which it happens. There’s a big difference between a vehicle that hesitates going up hills and one that almost stalls when stopped at a traffic light. If your temperature gauge is fluctuating, you should be able to relate the range the needle travels and how that is different from what you consider normal.
Never underestimate the destructive power of miscommunication in an auto repair setting. So have all your contact information at the ready and emphasize your availability and the need for all repairs over a certain dollar threshold to be approved by you. Make good on your promise of being receptive to the repair facility’s call. That call is a subject for another time.
You, of course, are the customer and anyone working on your car should respect it regardless of its age or condition. However, the more you show those working on your car that you value it by presenting it for repair in clean condition, the more respect it will be shown during the repair process. While your vehicle doesn’t have to look like it was just detailed, it shouldn’t give the impression that its other function, beyond transportation, is its use as an oversized and mobile ashtray or trash can.
Finally, the most important point about dropping your car off for repair--don’t diagnose. There are two schools of thought about this. Mine is that your job is to present the facts and the repairer’s job is to come up with a fix. Once he diagnoses the problem, he’s owns it and all the glory or loathing that goes with it.
The other point of view came to light recently when an industry e-mail service warned service dealers to be prepared to see customers armed with information obtained from online diagnosis sites. My position would be that knowledge is power and that any information, whether it’s acquired on the internet or from your neighbor, can serve as a check against overzealous sales efforts. Regardless, it can only make you better prepared.