What Would You Do?

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


This happened to one of my competitors last year: A lady brought in her 2001 Mitsubishi Montero because it wouldn’t pass the state’s emissions test.

The shop was having a lot of problems getting the vehicle to pass the emissions test. After spending a considerable amount of money, the customer brought the vehicle back for the second time on a Thursday. She was told that the shop couldn’t get to it until Monday. The shop is closed on weekends. That weekend, the shop’s foreman was driving the vehicle and ran a red light at an intersection that had a camera. The next week, the repairs were completed at a grand total of $2,300. The owner of the shop informed the customer she would be getting a ticket in the mail, but that the shop would take care of it.

The customer at first thought, “no big deal.” She knew shops sometimes test drive vehicles undergoing repair. But she was furious when she received the ticket in the mail and found out the violation occurred at 3 o’clock on a weekend morning, and that the foreman’s girlfriend was in the passenger front seat! The customer now wants all of her money refunded, and has even gotten the local TV station and newspaper involved.

What would you do?

• What the shop owner did – The shop owner and the foreman both wrote a handwritten apology to the customer. The shop owner then refunded the entire $2,300.

Pam Oakes

Pam Oakes

• Pam Oakes, owner, Pam’s Motor City, Fort Myers, Fla. – “First of all, why is it consumers think they can get services and products for free?

“Doesn’t matter what the industry is nowadays. Restaurants give free meals to patrons who don’t like the ‘atmosphere.’ A retail store will give your money back for an article of clothing that has previously been worn.

“The customer is always right. Right?

“And, if that customer doesn’t get his – or her – own way? It’s off to the media! It’s the 21st century’s latest version of instant judge, jury and sentencing in a public format so everyone reading or listening can put in their two cents, condemning a business without knowing both sides of the story. That’s the key: Reporting both sides of the story. Something you’re not likely to get from the media due to the mass absence of ‘get all the facts’ journalism. Today, most media outlets are more interested in ‘sensational-driven’ stories. Right or wrong.

“So, working backward from this situation, I say an adamant ‘No!’ The consumer has no right asking for money back for products that produced the intended results: a repaired vehicle (I can only imagine the corrosion and decay the tech had to deal with on 13-year-old emission components). The job was complete, right? She was given a properly operating vehicle, right? The vehicle passed its emissions test, right? So what gives her the ‘right’ to think that complaining about something entirely unassociated with the diagnosis and part replacement can zero out a repair bill – after the fact? Obviously, she didn’t feel this way – knowing that an employee triggered a red light ticket – when paying the bill? So, what changed? Finding out about the employee’s joyride with a friend in the middle of the night?


“And, this is where the fun starts …

“First of all, the repair shop did inform our customer about the red light ticket and advised that the shop would be paying for that indiscretion. Good start! But, after finding out about the vehicle theft by an employee – and yes, this is grand theft – it was the responsibility of the shop owner to file charges with local law enforcement against the noted tech in the stop light photo. It doesn’t matter if that person was scheduled to diagnose that vehicle the following Monday morning. It is what it is: grand theft. Of course, termination would coincide with the cuffing of the wrists.

“Another point: Shame on the shop owner for not securing his property and items – such as vehicles – within its borders. He (or she) really needs to get their act together and know who has after-hours access, their background, and signed documents stating that there is not access without prior owner consent.
“The owner owes the customer 110 percent support in prosecuting the ‘former tech’ and subsequent criminal and/or civil filings against the former employee.”

Bryan Kelley

Bryan Kelley

• Bryan Kelley, owner, Valley Automotive Repair and Electric, Maple Valley, Wash. – “This situation gives a black eye to the automotive industry. The customer trusted the repair shop with her vehicle and now that trust is destroyed.

“It appears the customer was not notified that an employee would be driving her vehicle home. Secondly, the technician should not have been using the vehicle for personal business. Furthermore, the technician was not upfront with the shop owner, or the shop owner was not upfront with the customer. If all of the information had been given to the customer during the first phone call, the customer probably wouldn’t be calling the news station.

“We oftentimes have one of our technicians test drive a vehicle home and back to the shop. We do this when there are difficult or intermittent concerns that we cannot identify on a standard test drive. It often saves us frustration and can save the customer financially. Whenever we do this, the customer is made aware that his or her vehicle will be going home with an employee.

“About five years ago, we had a customer’s vehicle riddled with bullets while it was parked on the street in front of our technician’s home. Had the customer not known his vehicle was being driven home by an employee, our situation might have ended the same way. Instead, we had a minor police investigation and an insurance claim to remedy the situation.

“Once the situation escalates to this point, you are completely at the mercy of the customer.

“In this scenario, I would immediately reprimand and most likely fire the employee that was driving the vehicle. I would reach out to the customer and do whatever it took to make the customer happy. If that meant refunding the entire amount, that is exactly what I would do.

“Bad situations happen, but we must find a way to remedy it and satisfy the customer before it stains our reputation.”

• How T.J. Reilly, AAM, would handle the situation: I have written before about the importance of clearly defined policies and procedures. This is clearly a prime example of what can happen.

Obviously, an apology would be in order. This is one of those times when I don’t think that you can hope to keep the customer.

If the amount were just a few hundred dollars, I would just refund the money, but $2,300 is a big figure. I don’t think a full refund is appropriate or fair, but doubt if you’d be able to negotiate anything less with the customer. I would offer to go to arbitration. If the customer is a AAA member, AAA will provide arbitration. If the shop is a member of the Better Business Bureau, the BBB will also provide arbitration.

If the customer goes to church, I would offer to plead my case before her elders or church board.

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, interim editor of AutoInc., at leonad@asashop.org.