'What Would You Do?'
Every shop owner runs into 'situations.'
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?
This situation happened to me many years ago:
This customer had been bringing his 1987 Honda Civic to us since he purchased it new. He had us do all the oil changes and factory-recommended services. The Civic now had 94,000 miles on it, and was blowing white smoke out of the tailpipe.
The customer had obviously driven it too long that way because the head was now warped and had to be sent out. Prior to the head gasket blowing (this was somewhat common on this year/model Civic), the engine had not been running hot, the customer said, so we had no reason to suspect the radiator might be plugged - considering the vehicle's history. There was no water in the oil and no oil contamination in the coolant. In addition, you could not visibly see the radiator core because the filler neck had an elbow design.
After we got the engine back together, we test drove the vehicle. The electric fans cycled properly and the car ran cool. When the customer drove it home (15 miles), he noticed the engine was running noticeably warmer than it did before.
We then sent the radiator to the radiator shop and discovered that it was partially plugged. We suspect the radiator had crystallized while it sat empty during the head resurfacing.
The customer paid for the head gasket work, but didn't think he should have to pay for the radiator repair because he wasn't having an overheating problem before the head gasket went out. We must have done something, he believed, to cause the radiator to become plugged.
What would you do?
• Kandie Jennings, AAM, owner, Tom's Automotive Service, Seattle - "Unfortunately, in this type of situation, if you don't give him the repair you will most likely lose a longtime client. I'd explain the circumstances, that it really wasn't our fault, but because we value him as a client we are going to take care of it for him. Sometimes, when it costs us money it will save us money in the long run!"
• Bill Moss, AAM, owner, Ferris Automotive Inc., Warrenton, Va.; and director, ASA's Mechanical Division - "With a long-term customer in a situation like this, I think you have to (should) take care of them. In this case, you have a relationship with the client, and that is very valuable. I have always operated under the premise that you don't make your money on individual repair orders, you make your money on relationships.
"The radiator issue was essentially unforeseeable, so take the hit and move on. I usually show the charge for the covered item on the repair order and then apply a discount, so the customer can see the value you are allowing.
"On overheat repair orders, we often use a disclaimer that basically states that despite a satisfactory, post-repair test drive, undetected issues may arise in the weeks following our repairs. We discuss this with the client, and emphasize the stress that is put on modern plastic cooling system components in an overheat situation.
"I know the Honda in this 'What would you do?' exercise apparently did not overheat prior to repairs, but having a discussion about potential issues arising after major repairs is often a good practice. It is an opportunity to explain to the customer that you used your experience and knowledge to affect their repairs as economically as possible.
"You can expose them to the fact that, sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances or failures, but that after your test drive (be sure your repair order shows arriving and departing odometer readings), there were no symptoms requiring attention."
• How T.J. Reilly, AAM, handled it - "After speaking to some other ASA shop owners, I realized I should always recommend a radiator rod-out anytime a head gasket has to be replaced. It was my poor shop policies that caused this customer to have to return for additional repairs. Because of this, I agreed to do the additional repairs at half price.
"In retrospect, I should have done it for free because our leaving the radiator empty for a week, allowing it to crystallize, was definitely a contributing factor. Also, we lost the customer. He never did business with me again.
"Today, I don't require my customers to have the radiator serviced, but I do always recommend it. If they choose not to service the radiator, then I choose not to offer any warranty on the head gasket."
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