What Would You Do?

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


A customer’s 1999 Honda Accord, which had 184,000 miles on it, burnt a valve. We had serviced this car over the last 100,000 miles, and it was now burning three to four quarts of oil between changes.

At 183,936 miles, we corrected a check engine light problem by cleaning out the exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) passages. We noted at that time that the compression was only 100 psi on the No. 3 cylinder. At 184,000 miles, it had 0 compression on No. 3.

The customer decided to donate the car to a charity. The charity is claiming that we dropped some carbon into the cylinder, causing the valve to burn. The customer now wants us to pay for the car that he no longer owns.

The EGR cleanout was done on the bench and not on the car.

What would you do?


David Harvath

• David Harvath, owner, D&D Automotive Services, Stevens Point, Wis. – First, I would empathize with the customer’s situation. Then, I would offer to talk to the technician who told them we burned the valve by cleaning the EGR valve to see how the tech came to that conclusion.

If the customer was hesitant about me doing that, I would explain to the customer that what we did could not have caused the engine valve to burn. I would also tell the customer that when the vehicle was in our shop and it was idling rough, we tested the engine compression, and the No. 3 cylinder at that time only had 100 psi, compared to 175 psi for each of the other three cylinders.

I would assure the customer of my techs’ qualifications and my complete confidence in their professionalism and abilities to properly repair vehicles. Then I would offer to inspect – at no charge – the next vehicle they consider buying, due to the fact that they are a longtime, valued customer.

Now, if I did not do my job as an owner and had failed to educate my customer about the bad cylinder after we had fixed the EGR valve, then the scenario is completely different and I would approach it this way:

I would apologize if we failed to inform them as to why their vehicle was running rough when it left our shop. I would also find the hard copy of the repair order, along with the tech’s notes, so I could explain the tech’s findings to the customer. I would also ask that the technician who blamed the engine valve burning on us call me so I can hear why he feels that way. I would explain to him what we did and the results of the compression test on the engine when it was in our shop.

If that isn’t acceptable to the customer, then I would apologize again for their situation but would stick to my guns about the fact that the burnt valve was not caused by anything we did. I would offer to give the customer a credit for the work we performed on their car when it already had
a burnt valve. If the customer doesn’t accept this, I would ask the customer what he or she feels is fair compensation. If it is within reason and doesn’t exceed the cost of the EGR repair, I would accept it, and try to make it right immediately with the customer.


Brad Pellman

• Brad Pellman, owner, Pellman’s Automotive, Boulder, Colo. – The fact that a charity now owns the vehicle does not change how we would warranty this situation due to the very short distance the car was driven after the EGR cleanout (64 miles). We would want to work directly with our customer so he would have to be able to get access to the vehicle.

First, we would want to get the vehicle into our shop to get to the exact cause of the burnt valve. I would agree to disassemble the head to confirm the cause at my expense, then discuss with the customer the options for repair based on the findings.

If we find that carbon from the previous repair did in fact cause the burnt valve, we feel that the customer has two options:

1. Engine replacement, which we would perform at a discount to compensate for the previous repair. This is the option we would recommend based on the documented oil consumption issue.

2. Single valve repair at no cost to the customer if all the customer wants is the car returned to operational condition.

If we find no carbon in the cylinder, then we would not be responsible for any repair.

This is also a longtime customer and a vehicle we have been helping to maintain for the past 100,000 miles. It appears on the surface that something did not go right with our previous repair.  Since the customer has donated this vehicle to charity, we need to find out what his pain is. Did he get less of a tax write-off due to the burnt valve? Is he affiliated with the charity and the fact that his car wasn’t running properly caused him embarrassment? Did he take the car in to donate and they questioned the quality of our repair shop? By understanding where the customer is coming from, we can figure out how to alleviate his concerns. It would, in my opinion, be prudent to either credit him for the previous repair or ask him what kind of help he is actually looking for. A lot of times it is less than we think.

At the end of the day, you need to do what’s right. This will protect your image in the community and help to retain your customer. How much is that worth to you?

• How T.J. Reilly, AAM, handled the situation: In situations like this, it’s important to never make an immediate decision. Your emotions will often get the better of you if you do.

My service adviser had tried to explain to the customer that it wasn’t possible for carbon from the EGR cleanout to get on the valves because we do all the cleaning on the bench.

As the owner, I contacted the customer and told him how sorry I was about the situation and promised to give it to my insurance company. My insurance company fully investigated and eventually denied the claim.

My adviser then contacted the charity and spoke with the technician who worked on the vehicle. After explaining the findings of the insurance company, the technician told us that he only suggested that it “might” have caused the problem, and that with the additional information provided was sure that we were not at fault.

We then contacted the customer and explained how we had gone the extra mile by giving it to our insurance company and contacting the charity. Our customer was satisfied with everything we had done.

Third-party opinions, like your insurance company, can often be a great way to solve a dispute without hard feelings or attorneys.

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.