What Your Mechanic Wishes You Understood About Cost And Value

Photo of a macchiato and smartphone on table top



Take a moment and picture this…

You’re at the car repair shop and overhear a customer complaining about the price of a repair estimate. The service adviser has just presented an estimate, not for adding accessories, but for repairs that the car actually needs to perform properly, safely and reliably. The customer thinks it’s too high and isn’t being shy about saying so. He expresses his outrage over the bottom line between sips of his trenta skinny caramel triple shot caffè macchiato and texting on his new iPhone.

So what’s the problem here? It’s a misunderstanding of cost and value and happens to be one of the biggest problems for auto repair professionals. Why is a person happy to go out of their way to pay for a flavored coffee drink marked up hundreds of times more than any car repair ever is? People will pay for things they want, regardless of price or value because their desire is not monetarily based. I doubt I’d ever convince anyone they WANT mechanic work done. I don’t want it done, so why would you? The problem is car repair shops have not done a good job of clearly communicating the true value of our service.

Most people really have an incomplete idea of what automotive shops and technicians do for them and all that is required to be able to do it. Obviously we do work on cars; hot, dirty, heavy, back wrenching work. But there’s more, much more. Often we have to interpret strange tongues. Sometimes it’s hard to listen without laughing, as people try to mimic the noises their car is making. It’s even funnier when they add in motions. While we’re holding back the laughter, we also have to be analyzing every sound and motion they make and correlate those to the problem they are describing and to issues we’ve experienced but aren’t connected to what they think the issue is. Sometimes, the diagnosing isn’t that hard. It might be a common issue with a common fix. Photo of Magic 8 Ball Scan Tool Often it is not. What then? If there are any Malfunction Indicator Lights (MIL) or warning messages on, mechanics may have a good starting point. Or not. The scan tool does not guarantee a quick or absolute diagnosis. Contrary to popular misconception, we can’t “just hook it up to the computer” and fix it or even get a complete diagnosis. Very often, the Diagnostic Trouble Code(s) (DTC) indicate one problem but other faults are present that cannot be found until the initial failure is corrected. Almost as often as this happens, the car owner doesn’t understand why there are now additional repair recommendations. Why wasn’t that found from the very start? If part A makes part B work and part B activates parts C, D and E, then we have no way of knowing if B, C, D and E are functioning properly until A is fixed. It isn’t an illogical process but many people just don’t understand it. Mechanics, good ones anyway, don’t just guess and swap parts. They run diagnostic scans, interpret MILs and DTCs, perform a wide variety of tests, search Technical Service Bulletin (TSB) databases and other resources for information relevant to the complaint. Basically they’re doctors for cars except that their patients don’t talk. Technicians have to survey and assess the symptoms and work back to a cause the same as doctors do. They evaluate performance and test data without the benefit of real time feedback from their patient. Sometimes, you may think your auto repair professional is just being callused and uncaring, throwing out an estimate with a “you have no choice, you gotta fix it” attitude. To be perfectly honest, maybe they are. Just a thought, how many times would it take of having people that do not have your education, training or skill, disregard your recommendations, second guess you, or let you do the hard and most important work of properly diagnosing the problem and then watch them take it to Joe’s Discount Car Repair and Fried Pork Skins Stand to get the work done cheap before you started getting jaded? If you’re taking your car to a reputable repair facility then I can promise you those techs take it personally when you question their work and their recommendations. In reality, you are questioning their integrity, ability and/or the value of their efforts.

Everyone knows about the technical aspects of our work but you probably haven’t considered what it is we really do for you. How big an investment is your car? It’s much more than just the money spent to buy and care for it. How do you get to work? Do you have your groceries delivered to the front door? Or drive yourself to the store? How do you travel when going out of town? Okay, so, when you don’t fly, how do you travel? How about your kids? How do they get to ball practice or to dance lessons or music recitals or sleepovers at the BFF’s house? Your car makes, or should make, getting there safe and easy. Do you prefer getting there without the embarrassment of a car belching clouds of smoke, rattling and banging, and screeching to a bouncing stop? Yeah, us too. Remember that old brake commercial “Don’t bother calling, we’ll hear you coming?” Speaking of stopping. What’s the value of getting there and back safely? What we really do is help you and your family live life safely, as scheduled, on time and as much as possible avoiding embarrassment by helping protect and care for your automotive investments.

Are car repairs expensive? Well, expensive compared to what? Compared to the cost of taking on a new car payment? Compared to your wife not making it to her destination and being in a crash because you didn’t want to pay the price of new brakes and rotors and had Discount Joe slap some cheap pads on instead? Compared to your daughter driving out of state to college and ending up stranded all alone on a dark state highway because you decided to just let the timing belt go a few thousand miles more till after the next semester ends and it broke? Compared to your all-star son having a flat he can’t get repaired in time to make to that really important ball camp, the one attended by scouts with scholarships to offer because you couldn’t see spending the money for recommended tires and alignment?

Photo of Ralphie during and after flat tire in A Christmas Story
The money spent to keep a vehicle in good running condition buys much more than just car service or repair. Do you value safety, peace of mind, reliability and convenience? Do you value your family? Why wouldn’t you want the best for them? These values are an integral part of every service and repair we perform. The next time you’re presented an estimate of repair and service recommendations consider the true value they represent.

Posted in Generally Speaking.