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  Management Feature

'What Would You Do?'

Posted 9/9/2010
By T.J. Reilly, AAM

Every shop owner runs into ‘situations.’
How they handle them is important.

Editor's note: Shop owners run into "situations" all the time - situations that leave them scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to resolve the issue fairly to everyone concerned. They want to make the right decision in solving a dilemma, but things are not always black and white. Sometimes there are gray areas. Following is a good example of just such a dilemma. What would you do?.

The scenario:

Phil Radke
Phil Radke

The following story came from Phil Radke, AAM, service manager at Burlington Automotive in Burlington, Wash.

"An out-of-town customer had his 2005 Honda Civic towed in for a no-start condition. The job was dispatched to one of our veteran technicians and a few hours later, he started on it. Another technician helped him push it into his bay, and he diagnosed it as a shorted battery. We then sold the work and that was the fix.

"The customer said he would come in the next day and pick it up. When he approached the service counter, I was greeted with, 'What happened to my bumper?' I replied that I didn't know but added, 'Let's take a look.' Sure enough, the passenger side front bumper and inner fender were just hanging there. It was obvious that it had been hit. The technician said he had noticed that it was loose and had been hit but assumed it was driven that way by the customer.

"It now started to look like the tow company might be responsible. The customer called the tow company and found out they had subcontracted the tow to another company. He then called that company and they said they would check with their driver and get back to him.

"So here is our customer, stuck with his car that looks like the bumper might fall off at freeway speeds, 30 miles from home, and he has no idea what to do next."

Dilemma: What would you do?

• Tom Piippo, Tri-County Motors, Rudyard, Mich. - "We are in the business of keeping people and their cars on the road, so that is just what we would do.

Tom Piippo
Tom Piippo

"I would have my techs do whatever temporary repairs were necessary so the customer could be on his way. If I didn't feel qualified to repair any structural damage, I would get advice from one of the body shops in the area that we do business with. In this case, it sounds like the customer called the tow company so the remedy would ultimately lie between the customer and the tow company, but I would be sure the customer is armed with the right questions, directed at the right people, to get this problem resolved.

"Had the customer called me first, and I had dispatched the tow, then I would follow through until the car was finally repaired by either the tow company or my own business because I feel the customer entrusted me with the car from the first phone call.

"By the way, I feel no need to second guess my techs as to the origin of the damage, or they wouldn't work here."

How Burlington Automotive handled the situation:

"Burlington Automotive and the customer were both fairly confident that the towing company was responsible. Even so, we put our customer in a complimentary rental car until he could get the issue resolved.

"The following week, the customer - after not getting anywhere with the tow company - contacted his insurance company, which agreed to pay for the damages. We secured the bumper and inner fender with zip ties to make the car driveable. The customer was happy with the temporary repairs and the free rental car."

How Reilly would have handled it:

"The damage could have been caused by:

"1. The customer (either the customer knew or didn't know the vehicle was damaged before it was towed).

"2. The tow truck.

"3. The technician.

"4. Another Burlington Automotive customer or vendor.

"There is absolutely no way to prove it at this point. Obviously, the profit of installing a battery won't begin to make up for the cost of a new bumper. For this very reason, most shops have a policy of walking around all incoming vehicles and noting any previous damage.

"Because the vehicle was in the care, custody and control of Burlington Automotive, I think Burlington Automotive should offer to take care of all of the damages. I also believe Burlington Automotive - not the customer - should have contacted the tow company.

"Because situations like this come up, we recently installed surveillance cameras.

"Just last month, we had a similar problem. The surveillance camera tapes showed that our customer's bumper was that way when she drove the vehicle in for service. We not only saved paying $600 for a bumper, we also saved our reputation. I don't believe our customer was trying to cheat us; she just had not noticed the damage before.

"It's always easier to come up with a solution to a problem when you are not emotionally involved. I have several friends who are shop owners that I ask for advice when I have difficult decisions to make in my shop. They often ask me for advice as well. John Beebe, owner of Burlington Automotive, is one of those friends."

T.J. Reilly T.J. Reilly, AAM – the author of this feature – is the owner of Same Day Auto Service, an ASA member-business in Clackamas, Ore. His e-mail address is


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