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How many second chances for a mechanic?

A few days ago, the Ford Dealer that was doing a 60K mile service on my 96 Mercury Villager called to say that the rear brakes were badly rusted/worn and needed to be replaced. They said that they could barely turn the wheels by hand. (Question 1, why hadn’t they discovered this in an earlier service, before the brakes were totally gone?)

I authorized the $700+ work after waiting an extra day for parts. Upon receiving the car after the brake repairs, I heard a periodic “thumping” or “rubbing” from the passenger/rear side. I returned to the dealer, who made an appointment 1st thing the next day (Saturday). I spent 2 hours waiting for the repair, left the shop and heard the same sound/same place, maybe louder. I returned to the dealer just as they were closing. This time, I asked the service desk person to drive the car with me so that I could demo the sound. Reluctant to “leave the phone unattended”, she drove with me, agreed the sound was abnormal.

I asked if the mechanic test drove the car after the repair that day, she said yes, but only at low speeds in the parking lot. (The sounds were easier to hear when braking from 30 MPH.) I asked what the Service Desk person was going to do differently, to prevent this from happening in the future. She said there was nothing to do differently.

Question #2 Should I switch auto repair places, since this one made a mistake, and failed to correct it after another try? In addition, am I expecting too much when I expect the service person to tell me how they will prevent compounded mistakes like this in the future?



One day at work (at a BMW Dealership) I asked why we were still having the same issue when I had clearly explained how we should fix it,I was told no one asked me for my opinion on how to deal with this paticular issue (it was a work organization issue). Pretty much the same with you but backwards, the Dealer does not owe you a description on how they will do things different.

You are certainly free to buy the Dealership (or find another one to do your work).

They should not have had the first chance!

  Dealers are no better (or worse) than independent mechanics for almost anything you might need done on your car.  They will almost always charge more per hour and often more for parts and supplies.  They also tend to look at repairs a little different than the independent. 

A dealer may well recommend work that strictly may not be needed, but could be connected to the problem or maybe replace a part when a little repair would fix it ALMOST as good a new.  

There is no need to bring your car to the dealer for any service other than service that is going to be paid for by a recall or original warrantee.  During the warranty period be sure to have all required (as listed in the owner's manual) maintenance done and to document all maintenance work.

I suggest that most people would be better off finding a good independent (Not working for a chain) mechanic. 

Note: Never ever use a quick oil change place. They are fast cheap and very very bad.

First, were you an employee of the BMW dealership when you were told “no one asked for your opinion”?
If so, then whoever told you that was a piss poor manager. Improvements in the way you do business means increase in profit. Managers are responsible for maximizing profits.

Second, as a customer, I can take my business elsewhere, so anyone interested in repeat business from me better reassure me that the next time they do a job from me, I can expect a smaller chance of a screw up.
I am surprised the repair place has no interest in avoiding the same mistake in the future.

I suggested a fix that is inexpensive, but takes diligence and commitment…When a customer comes back with the same symptom immediately after a repair, make sure that you know what it is you’re trying to fix. Take a test drive with the customer, so they can demo whatever symptoms they ask you to diagnose and repair. Now you know what the symptom is and how to reproduce it. If you think you repaired the problem, but you can still reproduce it, then you didn’t repair it. Don’t let the customers do your quality assurance for you. If, more than once, a customer discovers their problem isn’t fixed after you repair it, then they lose trust in you, and you lose business.

Dear Mr. Meehan,
Thanks for the advice. I have historically used dealers, because I moved frequently, and at one time, one dealer would do warranty work on a job originally performed by another dealer (even out of state).
I neglected to rethink this strategy, when I started going to the dealer mentioned in my post.
After the dealer fixes this problem, I am going to try an independent mechanic for my next scheduled maintenance.
Thank you

I would be very interested in seeing the itemized bill for rear brake work that totaled $700. It’s hard to believe that there is that much that could be replaced.

In addition, am I expecting too much when I expect the service person to tell me how they will prevent compounded mistakes like this in the future?

Yes, you are expecting too much.

When it comes to business operations, there are two aspects: (1) what happens behind the scenes, and (2) the customer experience. Often, they are not closely related. For example, often, when something bad happens behind the scenes, a good customer service representative can manage the customer’s (your) expectations to minimize the impact of the “behind the scenes” failure. Likewise, if a mechanic goes the extra step, it matters very little if you never find out.

This is often why, when presented with “behind the scenes” issues by a customer service representative, I will ask, “What does that mean to me?” or “Why are your problems now my problems?”

Should I switch auto repair places, since this one made a mistake, and failed to correct it after another try?

Yes, you should change, but not because they made a single mistake. You should change because they obviously aren’t capable of managing your expectations and giving you the type of customer service you expect. You might not find the type of customer service you expect elsewhere, but it would be stupid to do the same thing again and expect different results (basically, Einstein’s definition of “insanity”).

I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier when in comes to automotive knowledge, but it seems to me that the Mercury Villager was a minivan not built by Ford, but built for Ford by Nissan. We had a secretary in my office that had a Mercury Villager made in the 1990’s and after failed attempts of the Ford dealer to repair her minvan, she was advised to take it to the Nissan dealer.
If this is the case, the mechanics at the Ford dealers may not have seen very many of the Villagers and perhaps the parts department at the agency may not be stocking repair parts.
I think you would be better off with a good independent shop. The independent shop may understand the Mercury Villager better than the Ford dealer. If it is indeed made by Nissan, you might want to go to a Nissan dealer as opposed to the Ford dealer.

Generally speaking the people at the service desk aren’t the ones doing the work. It’s unlikely she knew exactly what work was done the first time or the second time. You should probably look at taking your car elseware and yes were expecting too much from a service writer.

If the symptom happens at greater than parking lot speeds & the mechanic does the final road test in the parking lot only, & on top of that, the job itself is a comeback, & the service writer knew that the mechanic only road tested the car in the parking lot, then…

Well, that’s all I’m gonna say.

Rear brakes, while important, often do not get enough action to keep them fit. Brakes need to be used, and they need to used hard sometimes to keep the full ranges of the calipers lubricated.
Otherwise, a lot can go wrong. Rear calipers freeze, rotors rust out, pads wear out to skins, and until you need them it all goes unnoticed because the front brakes in most cases stop the car just fine.
I think you got new rotors and pads for your seven hundred dollar repair but no new calipers.
For seven hundred dollars you should have gotten one new caliper. Not two. So maybe you have one new one and one old one, and the old one is the problem.
Look at your bill. Talk to your dealer. You paid $700 so you deserve the problem to be fixed at that price. See if you can’t come to some kind of understanding. If they will meet you halfway, I think you are okay with this dealer. If not, lose them.

Dear Sir,
Your insight was exactly what I needed.
I expected to be told the “behind the scenes” information. I realize now that the service rep was “managing my expectations”, and continued to do so today, after the second attempt to repair the problem. I told the service rep’s boss that I would gladly accept a mechanic’s mistake, but I want to know what caused the symptoms, so that I had some reassurance that the symptoms wouldn’t reappear. His response, Sure, Sure, let’s ask.

Here’s what happened:
2 days before, I assured there was a problem by demonstrating the symptoms to the service rep, who agreed there was a problem
Today, after working with the vehicle, the service rep has me take a test drive with her boss, Service Manager.
Service Manager can’t tell me why he’s taking a test drive with me. Doesn’t know the history of the original work and problem AT ALL.
NOW I can’t reproduce the problem - IS IT FIXED?
Service Manager: "The mechanic claims he didn’t attempt a repair, simply removed the wheel, couldn’t find anything wrong with the rear brakes."
After I questioned Service Manager, Service Rep and Mechanic who worked on the brakes the previous time, I got them to agree to these facts:
Previous attempt at repair: mechanic couldn’t find any problem with rear brakes, yet when vehicle delivered to customer, original symptoms still there (Service Rep takes responsibility, says she didn’t tell mechanic correct symptoms), Service Rep confirmed original problem was still there
Today’s attempt at repair: mechanic test drove vehicle before attempt at repair, heard “something”, INSISTS the noises (symptoms triggering earlier repair attempt) WEREN’T COMING FROM THE REAR, removed the wheel(s?), inspected the brakes, COULDN’T FIND ANYTHING WRONG, test drove vehicle again, NOW symptoms gone
NO ONE knows what CAUSED the symptoms, (mechanic’s suggestion - rust in brake mechanism, “gas” trapped between the pad and rotor)
I say, if symptoms return, then I return (no agreement to do more more at no cost)

Bottom Line: Do I continue to patronize the dealer for repairs?
No, because

  1. I don’t know what caused the rubbing noises when I applied the brakes. I don’t know why the noises are gone. I don’t know if the problem is fixed.
  2. Two days ago, Service Rep assured me that I didn’t need to test drive the vehicle with the mechanic to assure the mechanic understood the problem. I didn’t. Mechanic claims noises weren’t coming from the rear of the vehicle at all. If that’s true, then why have they stopped after he did something to the rear brakes? Now, I can’t be sure the Mechanic heard the noises I needed fixed, AND I’m wondering if there is a problem with something OTHER THAN the rear brakes. So I am going to have to make an effort to drive this car and listen for any more problems- which I usually don’t drive (my wife’s).

Your right, I might not find the type of customer service I expect elsewhere, but I don’t feel I was told all the facts. I feel the mechanic’s comment that the noises weren’t even coming from the rear of the vehicle created more questions than it answered.

When I discover that I screwed up:

  1. I immediately voluntarily tell the appropriate person, rather than let them find out on their own or from someone else, OR hope nobody finds out it was me
  2. I tell this person what I’m going to do to correct the mistake
  3. I tell this person how I’m going to avoid this mistake in the future.

I am willing to accept a lot of mistakes if people do that for me. Problems that solve themselves don’t foster my trust - how do I know they’re solved?

Good Idea. As I was talking to the service manager about this issue, he said, “We don’t see a lot of Villagers this old here.”

Thanks for the insight. I didn’t expect the service writer to know all the details immediately, just to help me find out why the repair attempt failed, and why I should expect a successful repair next time

Thanks for the insight. There was also another issue that happened at the same time as the brakes which I haven’t described. The second issue made me suspicious even before the 2nd brake repair failed
See my reply to Mr. Whitey for what happened with the brake problem since the original post.

Dear Mr. Kizwiki,
Thanks for the explanation, but wouldn’t a 15K mile service catch the fact that the rear wheels are hard to turn by hand? I wonder if we couldn’t catch the problem earlier to reduce the expense of repair. I realize now I still don’t know exactly what work was done, what parts replaced. The service rep explained that the rear brakes don’t have rotors and pads, they are enclosed in a 2 part housing that prevents visual inspection without disassy.

The noise with the repaired brakes only occurred when braking from speeds over 30 MPH, the mechanic said something about braking hard during today’s pre-repair/post-repair road tests. Without any attempt at repair, the noise is gone. (see my reply to Mr. Whitey for details) Do you think the mechanic braked a lot harder than I usually do, and that changed something?

You honestly cannot expect the car to be in the same condition at 15k miles or 30k miles, or 45k miles as it is at 60k. That’s about a years worth of driving and alot can happen to a car in that amount of time. You cannot assume that the problem with the rear brakes was present well before you brought it in.