What Would You Do? – September 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 in Southern California: “A customer brought in her 2004 Toyota Camry with 145,000 miles on it for some routine maintenance, including a coolant flush. The next day we get a call from her stating she now has fluid leaking onto her driveway. My service adviser told her to have it towed in and that we would pay for the towing.

“Because the customer only lived five miles away, she opted to drive it in instead. By the time she arrived, the Camry was overheating.

“We found that our new technician somehow didn’t get the radiator cap secure because it’s no longer on the car.

“Because the car overheated, we replaced the thermostat and the radiator cap at no charge to the customer. At this point, there doesn’t appear to be any other problems.

“The customer is now concerned about future engine damage and is demanding that we give her a written warranty to cover any future damage related to the overheating.

“We had advised her not to drive it and it was obviously her fault that the car over­heated, because we asked her not to drive it.”

What would you do?

• What the shop owner did: The shop owner declined the customer’s request and the customer vowed to never return.


• Tom Piippo, AAM, owner, Tri-County Motors, Rudyard, Mich. – “This situation actually happened to us a few years ago, but the car was a Buick LeSabre with the 3800 engine.

“Even seasoned technicians can make a mistake or omission and we had left a hose clamp loose. The car had overheated twice before we had the opportunity to repair it. Our customer was also concerned about future issues caused by the overheating.

“My solution was to offer the owner four free oil changes so we could keep an eye on things while he regained confidence with his car. During the next year, while inspecting the car during an oil change, I saw a drop of coolant on the bottom of the belt tensioner. Even though this is a failure-prone part, we replaced the plastic elbows for the coolant bypass at the end of the manifold at no charge because I felt we “owned” his cooling system.

“I made this anxious owner a customer for life because of the way I took charge of the situation and saw it through to answer his concerns (his words).

“To answer the situation with the Toyota, perhaps the shop owner could do something similar. A ‘free’ oil change can be very valuable for both the shop and the customer. The shop gets to inspect the whole car at specific intervals and give service suggestions to the customer. The customer should know that the shop owner is concerned about her car, and will give it the very finest inspection he can so she gets peace of mind.

“While the shop owner may feel he is right, and has no obligation for future repairs, he now has an opportunity to make this a customer for life for the price of four gallons of oil and four oil filters. I spend more than that every week for newspaper ads, and those end up at the bottom of a birdcage.”


• James Copeland, AAM, owner, Midwest Autoworx, Columbia and Boonville, Mo. – “My knee-jerk reaction would be to point out the personal responsibilities every car driver has, and that would be to monitor your gauges or warning lights – which would alert you of a serious condition that could lead to engine damage, especially when the customer knew it was leaking.

“As far as legal exposure from a lawsuit in the future, I think the shop did nearly everything possible to take care of this customer and could explain that without offering any type of future warranty.

“On the other hand, as a business owner still striving to increase customer base and concerned about online reputation, since the engine had overheated I would attempt to salvage this situation and possibly turn it to my benefit. I would offer a free oil change and a 3,000-mile or three-month warranty on any damage due to the overheat condition – with a stipulation that the car be returned after the warranty for its next service and a reinspection of the engine. I would explain to the customer that any damage to the motor will have surfaced by this time and that any warranty repair work would be done at my shop.

“I would then contact my insurance company and document the incident so that if serious repairs are needed in the future, I could fall back on my product liability coverage. This way, we look like the hero to the customer. It is not likely any damage has been done, but if it has, then we still get to keep the customer and our reputation!”

• How T.J. Reilly, AAM, would handle the situation: First of all, every shop should have basic written procedures for technicians and the technicians should be trained on these procedures before working on customer vehicles. Anytime work is done on the cooling system, the vehicle needs to be run long enough to check for leaks and to verify that the cooling fans are cycling. This procedure would have prevented the problem from happening.

Since the problem did happen, now you have to deal with the consequences. I believe the shop owner should have agreed to the customer’s request and following is the verbiage I would have used: “ABC Automotive agrees to submit to its insurance company any future claims related to the overheating of this vehicle.” Most garagekeepers’ policies will cover this. I believe this would have made the customer happy, while the shop would only be accepting responsibility for presenting it to the shop’s insurance company.

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.