Handling a Comeback Can Be a Repair Shop's Litmus Test

May 7, 2010

There is abundant coverage of how to select a car service facility. Most of the suggestions include soliciting opinions of neighbors and friends, checking with the Better Business Bureau and trying the business out with a small job like an oil change. So wouldn’t it be nice to have a litmus test for a car repair shop.

There is such a test for a shop, but unfortunately it occurs after you have been doing business with them for awhile and something goes wrong. Yes, the real test for whether a repair facility deserves your loyalty is how well they handle the inevitable comeback.

This situation is very trying for everyone. You want your car operating properly, the technician wants to move on to something else he can make money on and the owner or manager would rather be soliciting new business. But here you are with the same problem you came in with and nothing to show for it but a paid invoice.

There are a lot of ways to handle this situation, but they are for another time. The purpose of this tidbit is to evaluate the shop’s response to your problem and in the process decide whether they are worthy of your continued support. The shop must pass a litmus test.

After saying I wasn’t going to tell you how to handle it, there must be one assumption. All emotion and attitude is off the table. Mistakes happen; an automobile is a complex machine with multiple systems, so you have to give the shop the chance to rectify the problem. Their demeanor should be professional, this is their problem not yours. Now we can move on to what you should expect.

You should expect immediate attention as far as physically possible. Your needs should be considered a priority. The shop should clear time in their schedule to accommodate you. You should not have to go to the back of the line, but also don’t expect them to open on Sunday to replace a bulb in your tail light.

You should be advised of the nature of the problem. Respect honesty. If something was left loose or a part was defective accept that explanation. However, don’t accept, “We took care of it,” as an explanation, after all, it is your car. Insist on an updated invoice or a new one so there is a record of this second encounter.

Now comes the tough part, which is who should pay for this. It all depends on the discussions you had when you approved the repair and the nature of the problem. For example, if the water pump was replaced and continues to leak, of course you shouldn’t pay. On the other hand if you were told that the radiator looked weak but that the upper radiator hose was the immediate problem and now the radiator is leaking. You better be prepared to pay since it was mentioned up front and the two parts are related.

It is not unusual for some shared participation in the cost of rectifying the problem if it lies in some gray area. In the end the success of the litmus test may lie in your gut. If after going through auto repair’s worst case scenario, you feel that you were treated fairly they probably merit your patronage. But, on the other hand, if you feel ignored, kept in the dark about the problem, and allowed no consideration in the price, your gut will make it clear that

the shop has flunked the litmus test.
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