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  Management Feature

'What Would You Do?'

Posted 05/01/2012
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?

Lately it seems that we’ve been getting a rash of weird comebacks. The most recent is a 1999 Subaru Outback with 180,000 miles on it that one of our good customers purchased for his daughter. The customer purchased it without having us do a prepurchase inspection.

Two hundred miles ago we installed a new timing belt, idlers, tensioner and cam seals. Now the car has been towed in because the timing belt jumped several teeth and bent all the valves. Further inspection reveals that one of the camshafts seized, causing the belt to jump. At this point, we are recommending replacing the engine.

The technician who did the work has been working almost exclusively on Subarus for more than 25 years, and rarely ever makes a mistake.

The customer wants us to warranty the entire job because he feels certain our workmanship must have caused the problem.

What would you do?

(Editor’s note: To answer that question, AutoInc. turned this month to its Tech to Tech columnists).

Jeff Bach

• Jeff Bach, owner, CRT Auto Electronics, Batavia, Ohio – “If I were faced with the dilemma, I would think of it in terms of what I would present in my defense if I were to go in front of an arbitrator.

“The fact that the car only went 200 miles after the repair would make it difficult to make a convincing argument for coincidence. Lacking any contrary evidence, I would think that the camshaft seizure would indicate a lack of lubrication, possibly due to low oil level.

“If the car had the oil changed with the other service, I would pursue having the oil tested. I think it would be a mistake to claim owner neglect if the level was low, especially so shortly after such a recent major repair.

“Given the circumstances stacked against the shop, I think the best approach would be to turn it in as an insurance claim and try to salvage the relationship with the customer. I would also try very hard to find out what actually caused the cam to seize.

“Weird comebacks are very disconcerting.”

Craig Van Batenburg

• Craig Van Batenburg, CEO, Automotive Career Development Center, Worcester, Mass. – “I would offer them choices after I used my computerized invoicing system to see what their history was at my shop. Did they follow our recommendations and were they using us for oil and filter changes over the last five years? Was this customer the type who understands how shops and cars operate? If ‘yes’ was the answer to these questions then it may be cheaper to buy the car outright and donate it to charity.

“Maybe fix the car with a 180,000-mile-old internal combustion engine (ICE) and they pay the labor. Fixing an old Subaru (and I have worked on many) is never a good idea at that mileage; just check the TSBs. Assuming this was a Legacy, Identifix rates the ICE and A/T as trouble. This vehicle has failures of the cylinder head gaskets (2.5 L engine only). Problems with the cylinder head gaskets can cause the engine to overheat, and overheating causes a multitude of other problems. We will most likely never know the root cause.

“If the customer was not loyal or was a tough customer, then I would not consider much except a documented and signed repair order so you have some legal standing if the issue becomes a legal matter.”

Brian Manley

• Brian Manley, vocational automotive instructor, Cherry Creek school district, Aurora, Colo. – “To begin, I paused at what I see as a red flag: the seized camshaft. I do not see a correlation between a timing belt and seal installation and a seized camshaft. After inspection, if the seizure can be traced to lack of lubrication or overheating – and these two items cannot be connected to something the tech did, such as causing an overheating issue by leaving a coolant hose clamp loose, or creating an oil leak by improperly installing the cam seals – then the shop should stand by its quality repair performed by a veteran, 25-year Subaru technician.

“If there is a correlation between the recent rash of weird comebacks and a possible technician issue, then I am curious if this Subaru issue can be traced to a tech who may be experiencing some life issues that can affect his quality of work.

“If this possibility is eliminated, then most reasonable people would put much faith in a 25-year veteran of Subaru repair, and if a thorough inspection exonerates the tech, then it is time to stand by your tech. If shop and tech have ASE credentials, maintain update training, and have this much Subaru experience, this speaks to the professionalism of the shop.

“I see that this customer also did not have the shop perform a prepurchase inspection. I can picture a 180,000-mile Subaru dripping oil while sitting still, and the shop could have found indicators of potential catastrophic engine failure ahead of time.

“The next phrase I focused on was ‘one of our good customers.’ If the shop and customer have a rapport and a history, then discussing the rational possibility of a failure due to hard miles – as opposed to technician mistake – should become an option.

“In reference to the above point, how much is this customer’s business worth to you and your shop? Perception is reality, and if the customer perceives that he or she is not being cared for as expected, then it could create an irreparable rift in the relationship. If after exhausting all reasonable options, the customer wants a full engine replacement and wants the shop to pay for it, then sever ties after explaining your case rationally.

“One final point: If by ‘daughter’ the customer means ‘teenage daughter,’ then I would love to plug in one of those recorders to the car’s data link connector, and see just how this old Subaru has been treated lately!”

• How T. J. Reilly handled the situation – Dale Carnegie says, “If you convince a person against their will, they’re of the same opinion still.” There was nothing I could say or do to convince this customer that we didn’t cause the timing belt to break. I tried everything. I couldn’t even get the customer to come into the shop for a little “show and tell.” I even offered to replace the engine at employee cost (parts at cost and labor 50 percent).

In the end the customer chose to have it towed to another shop where they had the engine replaced. The other shop also blamed us. At that point I gave it to my insurance company to deal with. After reviewing all the facts, my insurance company determined that we were not at fault. Even the other repair shop ended up agreeing with my insurance after all the facts were presented.

At this point, the customer has stopped pursuing us for the repairs. My willingness to give it to my insurance showed a good faith effort to the customer, which allowed my customer to rationally listen to the facts. I don’t believe this customer would have come to this conclusion if I had been the one investigating all the facts because I would have had to “... convince a person against their will...”

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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