Communication: The Auto Repair Minefield

August 9, 2010

Communicating in a car repair environment can be like an extended stay at the Tower of Babble. Not only is the vocabulary list technically challenging, its extensive use of acronyms makes an extended conversation nearly useless unless you can decode unrelated vowels and consonants strung together with seemingly no rhyme or reason.

It is not surprising then that this lack of a mutually understandable language leads to a host of break downs in customer service. When you encounter a service writer telling you, “There’s a problem with the EGR valve that is causing the MIL to come on. It is not unusual on these TBI equipped vehicles, but don’t be concerned because we stock OEM parts and we’ll have you out of here quicker than you can say M.A.P. sensor.” there isn’t much you can do but nod your head in agreement.

When this happens you need to slow the offender down so you can grasp what he is talking about. A translation might sound something like this, “A valve that sends a portion of unburned exhaust gases back to your engine to be reprocessed is faulty and it is causing the malfunction indicator lamp or check engine light to come on. We’ll replace the valve with one manufactured by the company that produced your car.”

But deciphering the auto speak is not the only linguistic hurdle that you might have to overcome. There are commonly misused terms that cause trouble for consumers. These words which are generic in nature can cost you a lot money and aggravation. Two words that you should never use in an auto repair environment are Tune Up and Overhaul.

Tune Up uttered by an unsuspecting car owner usually means an adjustment as in, “My car runs rough when I start out from traffic lights, I would like it tuned up.” The person probably did not intend to give the auto repair facility the Ok to do possibly hundreds of dollars worth of work to correct the drive-ability problem without even knowing if a “tune-up” would fix the problem. But that is exactly what he did. It would be better to describe the problem and ask to be called with a diagnosis.

If the coolant in your radiator is extremely dirty you shouldn’t say, “My cooling system is filthy I think it needs an overhaul.” When you return to pick up your car you might find that the thermostat, cooling hoses and possibly the radiator itself were replaced. A better way to handle this request would be to ask for the cooling system to be flushed.

Words can be a minefield at car repair shops, both the ones you hear and the ones you speak. Try to anticipate the worst interpretation and beware of the shop that takes advantage your tongue’s missteps.

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