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 shop owner had just hired a new apprentice technician. The technician was supposed to change the automatic transmission oil in a 2-year-old Honda that only had 30,000 miles on it. After the customer picked up the car, the customer brought it right back, complaining about the way the car shifted.

Upon inspection, it was discovered that the technician had inadvertently put engine oil in the transmission instead of transmission oil.

The shop then did a complete transmission flush and road tested it. They told the customer that everything would be fine and that there wouldn’t be any damage. They even told the customer that they would guarantee the transmission against any failure related to the previous installation of engine oil into the transmission as long as the customer owned the car.
The customer was not satisfied and requested that the transmission be replaced.

What would you do?

What the shop owner did:

Because there was nothing wrong with the transmission, the shop owner couldn’t justify the cost of replacing it. The shop owner asked the customer if he could just buy the car from him. After agreeing on a fair market price, the shop purchased the Honda. A month later, the shop sold the car to another customer who didn’t care about the mishap.

Sid Moore

Sid Moore

• Sid Moore, owner, Christian Brothers Automotive, Maumelle, Ark. – “This is a difficult situation for both the customer and the automotive repair shop owner, and I can certainly empathize with both parties in this transaction. I can understand the owner of the vehicle wanting to have that feeling of security by knowing his or her vehicle will be dependable. The shop owner also wants to make sure they do all they can, within reason, to make sure the customer does have a reliable vehicle.

“I believe the shop owner has made a fair offer to protect the customer in the event of a transmission failure by providing a personal guarantee; however, this does not seem to be satisfactory to the customer.

“In conjunction with the guarantee, the shop might consider providing the customer with a free transmission flush every 30,000 miles for as long as they own the vehicle. A reputable flush supplier such as Valvoline, Wynns, BG, etc., will provide the customer with a lifetime warranty, nationwide, at any shop, against any transmission problem. This is a far better protection plan and would most likely provide greater consumer resale value than simply installing a replacement transmission.

“While I understand the customer’s need to feel like they have received an instant solution by having a replacement transmission installed, the greater value would come from a lifetime guaranty. In any scenario, no matter whether a Honda dealer installs the transmission or the shop installs the transmission, the warranty on a replacement transmission may be less than the original factory drive-train warranty. From a resale, warranty, and long-term dependability standpoint, installing the correct fluid and providing a flush every 30,000 miles should provide better protection than replacing the transmission.

“This is also a great reminder about the value of a proper test drive before and after servicing every vehicle. My suggestion regarding test drives is that any vehicle receiving more than a waiting oil change should receive a test drive afterward. Properly test driving a vehicle will help ensure everything has been repaired or serviced correctly and will also help ensure there is nothing else that needs to be brought to the attention of the customer. A proper test drive could have possibly discovered this issue before the vehicle was driven very far and then the customer could have been notified immediately. The shop could inform the customer that the wrong type of fluid was installed, that it was discovered quickly, and all traces of the incorrect fluid were cleaned out of the system. Catching this mistake before the customer experienced the transmission shifting issues may have reduced the customer’s concerns about the transmission’s reliability.

“All of this being said, when a mistake is made, there should always be an attempt to come to some type of reasonable resolution. If the customer is firm that he wants a replacement transmission, after explaining the situation and offering a lifetime solution of protection, I would probably just go ahead and put one in. I am not saying other shops must go to this extent, but personally that is what I would do based on the information I have. Depending upon the cost, the shop may choose to pay for it, or the shop may want to run it through the shop’s insurance. Also, having not been present for everything involved with this transaction, I am only commenting based on a ‘bird’s eye view.’”

Monte Crooks

Monte Crooks

• Monte Crooks, office manager/service consultant, Certified Transmissions Inc., Prescott, Ariz. – “First of all, engine motor oil in a transmission is not an immediate death sentence for it, and the shop’s offer of a lifetime transmission warranty is very generous.

“Granted, engine oil viscosity is much more slippery than the lighter weight transmission fluid, and will make a transmission shift differently than what the vehicle owner is accustomed to feeling. Also, left in too long, engine oil will be detrimental to the surface material of a transmission’s clutches. The motor oil should be removed and replaced with new transmission fluid as soon as possible. This being said, it was still a mistake made by shop personnel.

“Yes, an apprentice placed engine motor oil into the vehicle’s transmission. Wrong fluid is not what this scenario is all about. The moral of this story is about honesty and honestly dealing with a shop’s customers. In any given situation, each individual in a successful shop must approach every aspect of daily life honestly. No hesitation, no second guessing if it is the right thing to do. Be honest – and deal honestly – with customers and with each other. Then, even if it is painful and/or embarrassing, the right action will be taken.

“In the above example, it is hard to imagine letting an apprentice work exclusively on his or her own, without a master tech inspecting the work. For the sake of this scenario, the mistake happened. Because it happened, the negative effect upon the customer’s vehicle must be acknowledged and made right. Even if it required removing and rebuilding the transmission assembly at the shop’s expense, it must be done in order to do right by the customer and the shop’s collective conscience. This is the only way to prove and maintain the shop’s integrity and reputation, but also that of each individual involved with the shop. It is what we would do at Certified Transmissions Inc.”

• What T.J. Reilly, AAM, would have done: I believe what this shop owner did was nothing short of genius. I personally would have never thought of buying the car from the customer.

This was a true win-win situation. When dealing with customer issues, it’s important that everybody wins whenever possible. When you go the extra mile for your customer, it will almost always pay you future dividends in customer referrals and customer loyalty.

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.