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Save time, money on auto repairs

  • Story Highlights
  • Communication is the key to better, quicker service at an auto repair shop
  • Taking a road test with your auto mechanic could lead to a more accurate diagnosis
  • Service providers should ask specific questions about the problem
  • Repairs should not be performed on a car without approval by its owner
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By Tom Torbjornsen
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(AOL Autos) -- In today's hectic fast-paced world, it's easy to forget the importance of thorough communication in any transaction.

Assuming your car just needs a tune-up could conceal the real problem.

Assuming your car just needs a tune-up could conceal the real problem.

There is evidence of this constantly in the auto repair business.

A common part of conversation between a repair facility and a customer might be "I didn't say that!" or "You never told me it would cost that much money!"

How about "I never promised that!" and the classic, "That's not what I told you to fix!"

Why so much confusion and misunderstanding? I'll tell you why ... lack of thorough communication.

Picture this ... it's 7 a.m. on a Monday morning. You're running late, and on the way into work you have to drop the car off for service. The car just doesn't seem to be running right.

You think to yourself, "It probably needs a tune-up." Your co-worker agreed to meet you there for a ride to work, and you can't make him late too! You arrive at the shop anxious and flustered, drop the keys on the service desk, and abruptly say to the service writer, "It needs a tune-up. I'll pick it up at 5 p.m." Then out the door you run.

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Two major communication errors have occurred in this scenario. First, you assumed all that was wrong with your car was that it needed a "tune-up". With computer controlled cars nothing could be further from the truth.

Remember the self-compensating nature of the car's computer? If the engine is running poorly, it's because the computer is not functioning properly and cannot adjust itself.

The service writer made communication error number two. His job is to find out exactly what is going on with the car before letting you out of the shop. Failure to do this task will always result in poor service work.

Let's assign everyone his or her responsibilities so that the repair process can go smoothly. Mr. or Ms. Motorist, please note closely as to when the problem occurs. For instance, does it occur when the engine is hot or when it is cold? ... when turning right or left? ... when braking or accelerating? ... with the lights on or off? Did you notice the problem after gassing up yesterday? The point? ... make sure you communicate this vital information to your service provider in your own terms.

Don't try to speak in technical terms, because you might communicate inaccurate information and confuse the diagnostic process. Go for a road test. Take either your service writer or the technician working on your car and show him/her exactly what it is you want addressed. This helps take the guesswork out of the repair process and makes for accurate diagnosis and repair.

Service writers -- ask questions. The customers are there for you to solve their problems. Ask questions about when the problem started, under what specific conditions does it occur. Ask for the service history on the car, so that you can see what work has been done to this point.

Take the car out for a road test with the customer present so you can experience what they are talking about (let them know ahead of time you may want to do this so that they can plan it into their busy schedules).

Once you find out what is wrong, give your customer the repair options with prices. Make sure that you have a way to reach the customer if they leave the car at your facility. Stay in contact with your customer during the repair process, keeping them up to date on the progress. Don't perform any unauthorized repair work ... always get approval first.

If followed, these principles will render an effective repair process every time for both the customer and the repair shop. Cutting communications short to save time and immediate effort is short-sighted, and it usually results in more time, energy and money expended in the long haul.

The time it takes to communicate is a small investment for the return ... so do it.

© 2009 AOL, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Tom Torbjornsen is a veteran of 37 years in the auto service industry, an automotive journalist registered with IMPA.

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