Customer complains of brake noise, has them replaced elsewhere, seeks reimbursement

An ASA member writes:

I have a customer who has spent thousands of dollars with me during the past several years. Eighteen months ago, we installed genuine Toyota brakes on his 4Runner.

A month later, the customer returned to my shop complaining about brake noise. As standard procedure, my techs always take these types of situations for a test drive. So we went for a test drive, but we did not hear anything out of the ordinary.

Three months later, the customer returned to my shop for an oil change. At that time, he told our office assistant that he wanted the brakes checked, as well. The customer did not mention anything to my office assistant about any brake noise. After checking the brakes, my technician reported that the brakes were fine.

Curt Massoll
Curt’s Service Inc.
Oak Park, Mich.

A year later, the customer returned to my shop and complained again about what he perceived as brake noise. He did not mention at the time that he had been in my shop before for the same complaint. Following procedure, this time my technician drove it with the customer. During the test drive, my technician discovered a slightly noisy front wheel bearing, but the technician did not hear any brake noise. After consulting about the situation, we recommended that the customer allow us to replace the wheel bearing, but the customer declined.

Six months after declining to let us replace the wheel bearing, the customer returned to my shop with an invoice for a brake job that was performed by one of our competitors. The customer then requested that we reimburse him for the brake job since his brake noise was now gone.

What would you do?

We’d look back at the earlier brake inspections and show the customer the notes that contain the thickness of the pads, with actual measurements from the times we inspected them and the miles on the vehicle. We would explain that we used OE parts, let him know that we’re just as disappointed as he is that the brakes were making noise and express we always would like the opportunity to correct his problems.

But that’s hard to do if the customer doesn’t give us a chance to do it. We’d explain we have a two-year warranty on all our service work, and we’d let him know that, next time, he needs to call our 800 number. We’d have been happy to get this corrected. We’d also let him know that we have valued him as a customer for the past several years and would make a goodwill refund for the service work up to the amount that we originally charged.
I’d then make a copy of his receipt from the other shop and forward it to the warranty company for possible reimbursement to us on the customer’s behalf.

Kenny Shaffer
Shaffer Automotive
Jensen Beach, Fla.

First of all, I would not let the customer go that long with a concern – 40 months total and possibly 40,000 miles.

When customer reports a noise – especially when it’s a recheck – I road test the vehicle with them to hear what they hear. Sometimes, we may hear something they don’t. It might be a problem, but not a complaint. We go above and beyond to try to resolve the situation for the customer.

Now for the question of What Would You Do?: We have a 24-month warranty. If we can’t hear a noise, we swap out the pads to please the customer. Sometimes, brake materials will make a noise that comes and goes. But one angry customer will tell 10 people; one happy customer tells no one.

If we did miss the problem, we’d reimburse them. If a customer returns and we find a problem, we give them a free oil change and tire rotation so they’ll keep coming back. Thirty-five dollars is worth it to have the customer return.

What the shop owner did

The shop owner offered the customer an in-store credit, which the customer refused.

T.J.’s thoughts

Normally, I would never reimburse a customer for work done at another shop. The customer definitely bears some responsibility for this. The customer should have contacted the shop before paying for a brake job elsewhere.

Every shop should have a service adviser procedures manual (and one for the technicians, too). If you’ve already got one, this scenario would be a good procedure to add.

When a customer comes in for a brake noise, what is your procedure? Replace with different style brake pads? Make a customer follow-up call in a week? Wait until the customer complains a second time? When a customer comes in requesting to have their brakes checked, do you ask why? Are they just curious? Are the brakes noisy? Good written procedures, along with training your staff properly, will prevent such scenarios.

Because the customer had been in on three separate occasions for brake noise, I would have reimbursed him for the brake job and fixed my procedures’ manual so that it would never happen again.