How To Avoid The Repair Run Around

September 29, 2010

Not everyone has a good way of selecting auto mechanics. And there's every reason to be suspicious of motive when you go into a repair shop without much knowledge on your car's problem--or much experience with the service department.

How can you avoid the repair run-around? I'll walk you through an example that shows why you need to be wary, and why you need to find a trustworthy shop in the first place.

Here are the facts in the repair of a 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee with a 4.0-liter engine. It was overheating and went to auto repair shop number one for a fix. The cooling fan motor (CFM) and fan were replaced and the problem seemed to be resolved.

Then the symptoms (a rising temperature gauge and some steam wafting from the front of the car) reappeared. The owner took it to shop number two and was advised that the vehicle needed a water pump, thermostat, and a flush and fill, all of which were performed. However the symptoms persisted, and after repeated return visits, they advised the customer that they had done all they could do but suspected that the radiator was clogged up.

The owner then made arrangements for shop number three to check it out and to replace the radiator if needed. The removal and replacement of the radiator as well as the cooling fan relay (a component in the CFM circuit) are very labor-intensive and the cost of the radiator is expensive as well. The relay is not readily accessible to test, but less costly than removing the radiator for a flow test. Shop number three decided to check the relay, which it replaced to resolve the problem.

What went wrong here? Since we have no WABAC machine and since hindsight is always 20/20, we can only attempt to reconstruct this series of failures knowing that it is only conjecture. A reasonable scenario would be that the fan motor was not coming on and the replacement of it was justified. No experienced shop would let that job go down the road without making absolutely sure that the fan was coming on thermostatically and when the AC was turned on. This would mean that the relay was working.

What happened next makes this story very sad. The cooling fan relay may have subsequently failed or the temperature outside got cool enough that the radiator was cooled sufficiently without the assist of the fan. This would give the impression that the repair was successful.

Shop number two took a shotgun approach to the problem, failed to question the work previously performed and didn’t start at the beginning. This is sometimes difficult to do when backing up someone else’s repair. Most likely the work done by number two was not needed.

How could this have been avoided? You should always return to where you had work performed. This is not a selfish confrontational act, but actually something you do out of respect for the repair facility. Say something like. “I know you take pride in your work and I wanted to give you a chance to straighten this out.”

When our owner went to shop number two he should have been aware that there was an unusual problem afoot and that he should proceed with caution. When the laundry list of solutions was presented a red flag should have went up and assurances that these repairs would resolve the problem should have been obtained.

Finally, the owner should never suggest a repair, as he did to number three. To update the shop on what had been done previously is desirable, but leave the diagnosing to the experts.               

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