Avoiding An Auto Repair Nightmare

April 26, 2011

The most important step you can take when getting your car repaired is the first one – dropping the car off. It is often the most rushed part of the process, since it is likely to take place on your way to work, but it is essential to get it right.

You may be tempted to drop the keys off and run. Instead of rushing out the door, make sure you've crossed these items off the list--to ensure your car gets the best attention from everyone involved:

Prepare for the visit. Go over the problems with your car when you have a moment to concentrate, and write them down. You shouldn’t worry about what terms you use when discussing how your car is behaving; just describe the malfunction to the best of your ability.

Try to be specific about the trouble you are having. If it involves a leaking fluid, note the color, location (either under the vehicle or under the hood) and when you notice it, like once the engine is warm or possibly after cooling down. If it is a noise that concerns you, it will be helpful to the shop to know if it happens while turning or while applying the brakes and if it is discernable at idle or only while the car is moving.        

Make special note of drivability problems. These are the most likely problems to stop you in your tracks--and to rack up expensive repairs. In the absence of an illuminated check engine light, these problems can only be solved efficiently when you provide detailed input. Make mental notes of when you are experiencing that loss of power or hesitation, for example. Is it accompanied by a revving engine, or does it seem like the car is going to stall out?

Give explicit instructions for repairs, when you can. What should the instructions to the repair facility look like? They should be very specific so there is no room for a “he said, she said” conversation later on, which is usually a prelude to a meltdown. Your contact phone numbers should be written down by you and given to the service writer to avoid any chance that you wouldn’t be able to be updated and consulted during the day. If you are comfortable with approving a certain threshold of expense make that part of the written instructions, as well. If it is feasible, make a copy of this note.

Show a little trust to the professionals. One important thing to remember is that it is not your job to diagnose any more than it is to repair. Your only task is to describe the symptoms so that the professionals can employ their expertise and training to solve the problem. If you offer a diagnosis you may be unwittingly accepting some degree of responsibility for the fix. This is not a problem if your instincts are correct, but can create a hassle when they are wrong.

The auto repair environment can be a communications nightmare, which is why you must make your directions clear. Once you have offered as much information as you possibly can about how your vehicle is acting, and established some ground rules for your role in the process, you've taken the first step to a successful repair.    

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