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  Management Feature

'What Would You Do?'

Posted 01/09/2012
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 following situation recently happened at my shop:

Two years and 23,000 miles ago, we put new front brakes on a Toyota Camry. The customer has been back several times for oil changes. The last couple of times, she mentioned she had some brake noise. After inspecting the brakes, we could not find any problem, and on the road test we didn’t hear anything. We assumed it was just an occasional chirp.

Apparently it was more than just occasional because she took her car to a tire and brake shop to have it inspected. They told her the same thing. She then took it to a competitor’s shop who told her that we hadn’t installed factory brake pads (which we had) and that was the reason they were noisy. She then paid them to do another brake job without contacting us.

On our last inspection, the brakes still had around 60 percent to 70 percent life left. Our warranty is 12 months or 12,000 miles on “wear items” and two years or 18,000 miles on all other repairs.

The customer is requesting we reimburse her for the brake job she had done at the competitor’s shop. She also made it a point to let me know she was friends with two other good customers.

What would you do?

Pam Oakes

• Pamela Oakes, president/owner, Pam’s Motor City, Fort Myers, Fla. (see story about Pam on page 22) – “They have a word for that, don’t they? I think they call it extortion …

“You know, there is nothing wrong about ‘breaking ties’ with a customer. And, this is a classic example of when to file for a divorce.

“I am going to assume that the featured shop is an ASE-Blue Seal shop. And, that the tech(s) who installed and inspected them are ASE-certified in brakes. The other thing I am going to take for granted – since this job is only two years old – is the shop still has the dealership receipt for the Camry brake pads, with corresponding purchase order.

“Now that we have the featured shop established, let’s address the ‘tire and brake’ shop. Again, we are going to presume that the second shop is qualified (remember: they said the brakes were OK).

“Next, the competitor: I am hoping they are as conscientious as the featured shop. This includes being an ASE Blue Seal shop. And, let’s hope their tech replacing the Camry brake pads was ASE-certified in brakes. (Just a quick thought: it would have been interesting if the competitor shop or tech documented – on the customer’s invoice – that the removed pads were aftermarket, not Toyota. Hmmm. But, then, we wouldn’t have a story, would we?)

“Now that we have established that everyone is on a level playing field, let’s get to the meat and potatoes: the customer in question. She took her vehicle to several qualified shops looking for an issue that may or may not have been brake related. Finally, she located a shop where she was going to get the answer she was looking for – right or wrong. She did not contact the featured shop; she acted on her own accord.

“This customer returned to the original, installing shop and requests reimbursement on an expired product-service. Then, the customer coyly reminded our featured shop that she was ‘friends with two other good customers’ in an attempt to reinforce her request for repayment. (Yeah. She’s pulled this maneuver before.) If the ‘customer-friends’ condone this type of behavior, you don’t want this mindset in your shop, as well. You are there to repair vehicles, not play games.

“Which brings us back to my opening statement: There is nothing wrong about breaking ties with a customer. Especially when the customer is using a type of extortion to get something that is not due to them – like an unqualified brake job reimbursement.

“My recommendation? Have the feature shop show the customer the Toyota receipt, then send ‘Miss Congeniality’ down the road. The featured shop’s consistent integrity with up-front service will pave the way for others to take her place on the lift.”

Mel Fries

• Mel Fries, manager, Preedy’s Tire & Automotive, Spokane, Wash. – “The first thing you need to do is to find out that the repair fixed the squeaking problem and they are satisfied with it. Second thing is make certain that the customer understands that factory brake parts had been used with the original repair, even though the competitor shop disputed that fact. Supply documented proof. Third, it’s not worth losing a customer, or potentially three, over a brake job. You could prorate the repair, but the dollars are just not enough. Refund the money. Try to keep the customer happy and returning to your shop for future repairs.

“At our shop, when there’s trouble diagnosing a problem we try to keep communicating. Going on test drives with the customer. Having them stop by when the problem is acting up, etc. With an active plan to resolve the problem, they then would not have gone to seek help at another shop and I wouldn’t be writing this response. You never know how little things like this can affect someone.”

• How T. J. Reilly handled the situation – I think sometimes we just get too busy in our shops and forget that we need to go the extra mile in trying to resolve a customer’s complaint or concerns. This was obviously a severe irritant to the customer even though we never actually heard the noise.┬áIn retrospect, we should have suggested machining the brake rotors again to remove the glazing.

Even though the customer chose to have the repairs done elsewhere without contacting us first, we ended up giving them an in-store credit for what they paid us to do the brake job 23,000 miles ago.

T.J. Reilly, AAM

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

Would you like to participate in an upcoming “What Would You Do?” feature by saying how you would handle the problem? If so, just email your name and the name of your shop and its location to Levy Joffrion, assistant editor of AutoInc., at




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