What Would You Do?March 2014

Every shop owner runs into ‘situations.’ How they handle them is important … do you agree with these fellow ASA members?


This scenario comes from a shop that wishes to not be named. “I’ve got a good customer who brought in his 2009 Ford E350 5.4 V8 van for a misfire. The van has around 150,000 miles on it. We’ve been servicing it since it was new.

“We found the No. 5 cylinder was 20 pounds low on compression, so we sold the customer a valve job. After completing the valve job, the compression was restored but we still have the same misfire.

“We spent half a day trying to diagnose the problem and another full day working with our information provider.

“We’ve wasted a day and a half for which we can’t charge the customer.

“The customer doesn’t want to pay for the valve job or the day and a half we spent doing the diagnostics because it didn’t fix the problem.

What would you do?

Becky Witt, AAM, owner, George Witt Service Inc., Lincoln, Neb.


“There’s really not enough information to answer the question.

“But first off, I think the standard for allowable variances in compression is 10 percent from the highest to the lowest. If I did a compression test on that vehicle, I’d probably expect to see 150 to 170 psi compression. Twenty pounds low makes it 130 to 150.

“It takes 100 pounds to fire, so if the compression was above 100, the cause of the misfire wouldn’t be compression.

“The shop has two choices: Toss up their hands and let it go with no charge, since they don’t appear to have done a very good job of researching why it had a misfire, or else bring in an outside expert in a further attempt to determine the cause of it. This wouldn’t involve a lot of additional money.

“As it is, they have a large bill for no reason. It’s going to be tough to collect.

“As much as we’d all like to think we can fix anything that comes in, there may be times when we find we are operating outside of our abilities.

“This might be a case for narrowing our focus, getting additional training or adding equipment to enhance what we can do.

“Personally, I believe a professional needs to be properly tooled and trained to do what they do. It’s their job to take responsibility for their recommendations. Just because they’ve spent time and replaced some parts doesn’t mean they should be paid to do so if it’s just a fishing expedition.

“There may be times when there is some uncertainty and this should be discussed with the customer in advance. Let them be the one who decides to roll the dice or not.

“Sometimes it’s better to give back the keys, say ‘no charge,’ and get back to doing what you do best, rather than waste unproductive time chasing your tail.

“Just my opinion; I could be wrong.

“Let me add to this that this is the primary reason we only service two manufacturers: Honda (and Acura) and Toyota (including Lexus and Scion). I tell people they don’t want us anywhere near any other make. We can fix those.”

John Francis Jr., AAM, owner, Francis Automotive Service, West Chester, Pa.


“I aways ask myself: ‘Did we do our best and is it the ethical decision?’ The fact that the customer has been with you since the truck was new also weighs into the decision.

“What I would do is what we are doing now in our shop. We have a 2005 Nissan Altima. It came in for no heat and coolant loss. Great customer!

“Sold him the job and when we were done the speedometer was not working. Did all the normal checks and called Identifix. We asked the customer and he has never had a problem. Whatever it is, we are fixing the speedometer at no cost. In my mind, it’s the correct thing to do. The car leaves the shop fixed!”


How T.J. Reilly, AAM, would handle the situation

I have been caught by this type of situation many, many times over the years. I think the problem comes when we think our customer is paying us to “diagnose” the problem. Diagnosing the problem always involves a conclusion. When your conclusion is wrong, then your diagnosis is also wrong.

I think it’s wrong to cheat a customer. There are very few things worse than that. I also believe it’s equally wrong to cheat your employees, your family and yourself. We all pay thousands of dollars a year for training, test equipment, and online subscriptions and resources. If we don’t get a reasonable return on this investment, we are not being honest and fair to ourselves, our employees and our family.

I believe we need to remove the word “diagnose” from our vocabulary and replace it with “test.”

This shop should have told the customer that they had a low cylinder and that they would have to remove the cylinder heads to do further testing. You don’t know for sure if you have a bad valve, a defective head gasket, or bad cylinder head until the heads are removed. Telling the customer this will fix their problem is not being honest, since you can’t know for certain.

The best way to approach this scenario is to tell the customer that he or she has a low cylinder and that the heads will have to be removed for inspection and possibly a valve job. Also, that if we do a valve job, then we will retest to see if there are additional problems. Fixing the low compression is the “first step” in the repair process.

Never sell the diagnosis, always sell the “test.” You can sell a compression test, leak-down test, injector test, vacuum leak test, computer test, component test, flow chart test, etc.

Now that this shop has already committed to selling the “diagnosis,” it will be pretty hard to sell the valve job when it didn’t fix the problem. At this point, I would try to negotiate a reduced price with the customer since the valve job did fix the compression problem. I would then sublet the rest of the job out to a mobile diagnostic service or to another shop with more experience with this specific vehicle.

Would you like to participate in an upcoming “What Would You Do?” feature by sharing your dilemma or saying how you would handle the problem? If so, just email your name, your shop name and its location to Leona Dalavai Scott, editor of AutoInc., at leonad@asashop.org.