A customer agrees to expensive testing to solve his shifting problem, and then refuses to pay…

…What would you do?

The following scenario comes from an ASA member with multiple shops. A longtime, good customer with a 2001 Lincoln LS that had 68,000 miles on it came in with an oil leak. It was determined that the valve cover gaskets were leaking and the customer agreed to the repair. After the customer picked up the vehicle and drove about 12 miles, the check engine light came on and the transmission started shifting extremely hard from 1st to 2nd.

The customer brought the car back into the shop and its top technician spent the better part of a day running tests on the computer and transmission. The technician was not able to find the problem, and the customer was not charged for any testing. The shop then sent the vehicle to the Ford dealer, which spent an entire day and could not find the problem.

The shop then asked permission to take the Lincoln to a transmission shop. The transmission shop found some debris in the transmission pan and recommended that the transmission be taken apart at a cost of around $1,400.

The shop relayed this information to the customer, and the customer agreed. The transmission shop replaced some worn parts and seals but still had the same problem upon reassembly. The transmission shop spent another day testing and finally determined that it had a bad computer. The customer agreed to an additional $937 for the computer work, and the problem was finally fixed.

Now the customer is refusing to pay for anything since his vehicle didn’t have any shifting problems before the valve covers were replaced. What would you do?

What the shop owner did:

The shop owner agreed to pay for $937, the amount of the computer work, without admitting any fault. The customer agreed, but was extremely angry and vowed to never return.

Joe Jurpsek

Joe Jurpsek

Joe Jurosek, General Manager, Kinney’s Automotive Service, Hurst, Texas: “First, I would express my sympathy to the customer, and then I’d ask him to please allow me to explain my case. I would tell the customer that he was kept informed throughout the whole process and gave us authorization each time to continue. Moreover, a technician was assigned to this challenge for most of the day, which was very costly to the shop. Also, there is no reasonable correlation between the valve cover service and the computer failure. The faulty computer probably caused the transmission debris. Although subsequent car failures in the shop don’t happen every day, they do happen, nevertheless. Something else to consider: The car is 14 years old.

“The customer is responsible for the repairs.

“Having said that, I would then ask the customer what they really think is fair. And I would be prepared to get with the transmission shop (assuming they are partners with us) and see if we could make some type of concession for the ‘longtime, good customer.’

“Taking the high road is hard, but it pays off.”

Bob Parra, Owner, Mid-Cities Service Center, Euless, Texas: “There were numerous opportunities during the discovery portion of the repair. Timing is everything. If the testing shows the transmission computer, and the computer failure proves it was not caused by the gasket service, the client is more apt to pay. Show me what happened, and the undisputable truth lies in the visual damage.

Bob Parra

Bob Parra

“Valve covers are no easy task anymore. Our policy is to drive the car for at least 20 miles, sometimes 50, after the repair is complete to be sure everything is settled and there are no leaks and no surprises. This was not the case.

“The dealer missed the problem, and the transmission shop missed the problem, initially, too. The transmission computer was replaced, and the shifts returned to normal. There was a lot of time and trouble, but I will say this: A longtime client is very hard to replace these days. I believe you don’t put money ahead of the client. You take care of the client, and you let it go at no charge. You have to look at your costs on the job and determine how it will affect you over the long haul.

“Sure thing: You are correct. Most shops would say he owes the money and he needs to pay up. The client leaves for good, never comes back and tells his colleagues, friends, family and social groups. Now you have a wave of people suddenly questioning your integrity and your purpose.

“Let it go. Call the client in a week to see how everything is going and then call him in a month and ask if he is ready to replace the brakes you recommended the last time he was in. What else can he say but, “Yes”?

“Now you can go on and get back to production. Lesson learned. New finalization policies are put into place to protect your repairs with integrity, and you look into new testing equipment and schools that will help you get current with technology.”

T. J. Reilly’s thoughts: “Ever since …” If you’ve been in the automotive business for anytime at all, you’ve probably heard those words from a customer. I’m amazed at the length that this shop owner went to take care of a very ungrateful customer. Wow!

I find that when you are emotionally involved, you will often make the wrong decisions. When I have a situation like this, I will often call a couple of other shop owners to get their input. You don’t want to cheat your customer, but I think it’s equally important not to cheat your employees or your family by giving away work. It’s one thing to spend an hour of complimentary testing for customer satisfaction, but to spend an entire day is simply wrong. The likelihood of valve cover gasket replacement causing a transmission problem is about zero.

On several occasions I’ve had customers tell me their radio stopped working after we worked on their vehicle. I would always apologize and tell them to take it to a car stereo repair center, and if the stereo store says that the repairs we performed could have caused the radio to fail we will pay for the radio. I have never had a customer come back and ask me to pay for the radio (if they had, I would have). It’s much easier for a customer to believe a third party than it is for them to believe me in a situation like this.
This shop should have done the same thing. Ask the customer to take the vehicle to a transmission shop of his choosing. If it says we are responsible, we will pay for all the repairs. The fact that this shop acted as an intermediary between the dealer and the transmission shop was also a tactical error. It would have been much better if the customer had dealt directly with both of these facilities.

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