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How to work with a mechanic

No, I’m not an expert on this and I’d like some coaching from the professionals who visit this site. How would you like the customer to deal with you? This includes problem description, questions they should ask, setting up a plan for evaluation, and anything else you can think of. I’d like to think that we already know how to treat you - like competent professionals who are there to help us. Even if we forget that sometimes. If I can get this straight, it should minimize surprises and maximize satisfaction. For both of us.

I too have often wondered this. Here’s one particular thing I always get confused about: in order to deal with most anything from maintenance to problem diagnosis more information is better (that is obvious on this site).

BUT, how much information is too much information? By knowing some things about cars and doing a lot of my own work I often go to the shop not only with symptoms but also with various information that should be diagnostically useful. E.g. I’ve wandered in knowing my DTCs already, and then giving whatever info I have that might be useful. Or I’ll explaining a symptom and why I think it might be related to this rather than that etc. I drive the car A LOT, EVERYDAY. I know its every sound, glitch, and feel. The guys at my shop don’t, so I figure I’m sometimes an important part of sorting things out.

But I often wonder how that can come across - as if I’m the amateur trying to tell the professional his business? People are usually polite, but so are the waiters before they spit in your soup.

For the greater part of my working life I have worked in service face to face with the customer. From airplanes, automobiles to electronics. I always expected the customer to treat me with respect and tell me what the problem was with the equipment. I have had a few go over that and try to tell me how to fix it, where i just simply gave him my tools and told him to do it. Back down very quick.

Answering questions on a site like this is different in the sense that there is no face to face communication, which can make a lot of comments appear as if one was making fun of the person and or his question. I know that I have given a lot of wrong answers because I don’t read the post completely and interpret them erroneously, but never tried to crack a comment to make someone feel as they are dumb.

I understand that a most of the people who post here know nothing or very little about mechanics and are just trying not to be taken by some shop out there,

I am rambling on to much, so I am leaving it there.

The most important thing is to find a shop where you feel good about the people. All you should have to do is describe the symptom(s) of your problems to the best of your ability. Very often your description will be adequate to give the shop a ballpark notion of what and where the problem is, because chances are, your description has been heard before.

One thing that makes a huge difference is whether or not you are talking to a service writer or an actual mechanic that will be doing the work. Service writers are often the bane of the mechanics existence, and the customers existence. All too often they are just an annoying middle man that makes false promises like “Oh don’t worry, I know we’re closing in 20 minutes but that CV axle shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to change!” Now the customer will be upset and believe me, blood will be shooting out of the eyes of us actually expected to do the work. Of course not all service writers are bad, some are really great, those who stay out of the way as much as possible.

Another thing you can do is to not watch the work being done on your vehicle. Don’t go stare at the mechanic as he is working. Doing this tells the mechanic that you don’t trust him and it will take his total attention off of your vehicle while he is thinking to himself how much he hates you standing there.

Another thing you can do is to not watch the work being done on your vehicle.

But that is how I learned about cars in the beginning. I had the work done on my car at a full service gas station, and I stood outside the bay watching. I learned a lot from watching them do oil changes, tune-ups, tire rotations, and replacing a stripped lug bolt. It wasn’t a matter of mistrust. It was a matter of curiosity.

Establishing a rapport with a mechanic can be tough. After some of the dishonest dealings I have experienced, I begin from a perspective of mistrust. With most people, I give them the benefit of the doubt. I trust them until they give me a reason not to. With mechanics, unfortunately, it is the other way around, especially if I am at a dealership.

I can see hanging out in the shop if you are carrying on a mutually enjoyable conversation with your mechanic, but most mechanics despise simply being watched. And of course it is your right to stand as close as policy allows to watch, but it isn’t going to score any points with the guy doing the work. Customers are essentially “your boss” when you are a mechanic and having your boss looking over your shoulder for an entire job is simply annoying. You sound like the exception, that you were curious, not doubting. I love the folks that actually come in and say “why are you doing it like that” or “shouldn’t you ______?”, or “I do it like this”. Please help me push your car out into the parking lot so you can fix it yourself.

In the medical world, customers (patients) like us would be tagged as hypochondriacs. Sometimes we have a hard time with people who come to the office with articles from the internet. On the other hand, an educated customer could be helpful.
Before I moved, I had a local mechanic that knew I like working on my car. He would let me bring my own parts and would let me watch him. I would usually get dirty myself and help him out. He let me fix basic stuff on other cars when he was working on mine. His fees were very reasonable too and we had fun chatting too.
Now I am at the mercy of the bigger shops with service writers. I try to be polite and at the mean time ask to talk to the tech who is going to do the diagnostic. Invariably when I am not given this opportunity, I get a BS diagnosis. The other time there was a noise from the front end of the car. The service writer said I will write check brakes and write the rest under comments. Go to pick the car up and the mech has written: Brakes are fine, no charge. I ask the SR (same guy), what happened to the noise source, he doesn’t even remember himself and sure enough the mech has not read the comments. Waste of my day and the mech’s time.

I would say two things.
One is that the car owner should not automatically expect that a repair (say poor running) can be fixed with a one part only solution. It can be a combination of things.

Two is to provide as much detail about symptoms as possible, including writing it down and leaving the note in the car. This is the disconnect I often mention when the car owner talks to the desk person who writes something down (usually very little) and the tech has to interpret what is written, which may be easily misconstrued.

As to being watched while working, that does dig into the concentration quite a bit and even more so if someone is getting in the way or asking a lot of questions. Bringing someone into the shop to explain or point out something is not a problem.

In regards to being watched, a dealer I used to work for allowed a couple of his friends into the shop to watch something being done on their cars and it was a royal pain in the.
One guy hovered around so close I was bumping into him constantly and the other was even worse.
The second was an elderly gentleman who never said a word but whistled (non-stop) for the entire 1.5 hours it took to fix the car. He not only whistled non-stop but he also whistled the same tune, “Colonel Bogey March”, the theme song from the old movie “Bridge On The River Kwai”. It’s a catchy tune but after about 15 minutes of it I was about ready to scream.

Watching I don’t mind as long as the concentration is not disturbed, but that seldom turns out to be the case.

Most mechanics get used to being watched and don’t really mind after the first four or five times. If they don’t want you there, you will see some sort of “insurance regulations” sign.

Don’t tell him that you don’t know what sort of sound the car is making, and don’t try to argue about the prices of parts unless there is a big difference between their prices and everybody else’s.

A friend of mine was complaining about prices at the dealer. He was fussy like that all the time. The mechanics, sensing trouble, refused to fix his car. Good move for them.

So he ended up spending hundreds more to do the job himself with an inexperienced helper. After replacing the head, the engine didn’t run right. He looked at the timing chain again and decided that it was correctly installed, I verified that it was.

I looked in his manual and happened to see a picture of his engine. I mentioned that his plug wires weren’t like the picture. We then arranged them like the picture and fixed the problem.

If you’re not a nuisance, they will like you enough. If you haven’t spent a lifetime being a problem, you won’t have problems now, unless you run into difficult people. There are stil bad ones out there.

Get a good mechanic you know and trust. just give them whatever info you can on the problem and they can take it from there. often times it is a common fix that can easily be diagnosed. dont be afraid to ask questions about what they are doing and why. If you have a good mechanic he will be more than willing to take the time to explain

Sometimes I do know exactly what needs to be done. On my 2002 Sienna, I had an intermittent evap failure a year or two ago. I posted at some length here, I think. I did not take it to the shop because it seldom failed, Sometimes it would fail a couple times a week. Sometimes it would go many weeks with no failure. The usual new Toyota gas cap had no effect, and there was no visible sign of damage to the hoses.

There would perhaps be a chance an experienced mechanic would have known what the problem was, but I sure couldn’t find it on the Web which was a bad sign. I had lots of experience with intermittent problems, and they can be real bears. The US Air Force may have enough money to pay me to sit for days trying to fix an intermittent $150,000 box, likewise UAL, but my retirement check doesn’t go that far.

So, I didn’t want to pay lots of money for a mechanic of unknown diagnostic ability to run tests on a car which was unlikely to fail when he had it. While I don’t have great experience on cars, I did work as a troubleshooter on high tech electronics for over 30 years, including some years on equipment which ran self-tests akin to the car OBD-II stuff in its own way. So, I certainly grasp the concepts of OBD-II even if I do not have the vast automotive experience of some of our better contributors here.

I read articles. I kept a log on when it failed.

Finally, a man on the now defunct Sienna Club reported the same exact intermittent problem. He owned two Siennas, and simply swapped parts until he found what fixed it. That happened to be the canister assembly. He said there are some low pressure valves there, and we theorized they may get sticky intermittent. This made sense based on the intermittent nature.

So, I took the car to the shop, explained to the service writer what I had done and what I found. And, that I wanted to simply have the assembly replaced, with no troubleshooting expense, that I had done it myself, and didn’t want to pay anyone to attempt to troubleshoot or verify an intermittent I had already troubleshot myself over many months.

He said they had customers who wanted that service and had me sign a guarantee waiver in case that didn’t fix it. I was more than willing; it was a reasonable precaution on their part. And, it was my own money I was spending, based on my own belief what the problem was. They were asking me to take full responsibility for my decision, and that is as good as it gets.

That was several years ago, and it has not blinked since.

As an experienced diagnostician, if I ask a mechanic to do something specific for me and he hands me the tools, I will attempt to put them where the sun never shines.

I do not like physically working on cars. I do not usually have all the tools nor experience at the repairs themselves to do high quality repairs. But, frankly, at our defense contract plant, I was also limited to diagnosing the problem, and having a government certified repair person do the actual part replacements. High quality workmanship does not always correlate with high diagnostic skills, or vice-versa.

For 31 years, I would diagnose problems, and tell a lower paid person what to do to repair the failure.

I realize that is a totally different world than most auto-mechanics live in, where one person gets to screw it all up by himself. (Just kidding.)

I presently do business with three places on my cars: 1) an independent shop; 2) an independent tire dealer and 3) a Chevrolet dealer. At the independent shop, I know the owner and technicians and am treated very well. I try to schedule appointments for service in advance at a time that is mutually convenient, and I leave the car for the day. I have had excellent work done and have sent them customers who have also been pleased. This shop isn’t the least expensive place in town, but I know that the work will be top quality. The tire store knows my needs and has gone the second mile to take care of problems. For example, I had a blowout on my Toyota 4Runner SUV. The manual says that all tires must be of the same brand. The car had Dunlop tires and this dealer didn’t handle Dunlop, but said he would get one at the best price. He called me later in the morning and said that a customer had come in and had the Dunlop tires replaced on his vehicle that were the same size as on my 4Runner. He suggested that he could sell me one of the tires that had 50% tread remaining for $35 installed and use it as the spare. I had already put the spare on to replace the tire that had blown out. I am a regular customer and this saved my quite a bit of money. At the Chevrolet dealer, I only know the service writer. However, he is quite knowledgeable and sees to it that the work is done properly. He is supporting his family and is a part time student at the university where I teach. When I take the Uplander in for an oil change, he will come into the waiting area between customers and talk to me about the courses he is taking. Last Saturday, I went in to have a new battery put in the key fob because it didn’t seem to work all the time. He suggested that it was probably the contacts on the battery–he opened it up on the spot, bent the contacts and it works fine. There was no charge.

The experience that really shook me up was at a small town Ford dealer where I bought the Windstar I used to own. The engine would die when I let my foot off the acclerator. I called the dealer and he told me to bring it in. He said they would diagnose the problem and if they had the part, I would be on my way in less than an hour. If they didn’t have the part, they had a loaner ready for me. As I was waiting for the diagonosis, a teen-age girl went up to the service counter and asked if anyone knew any geometry. Nobody seemed to want to help her, so I asked her if I could be of help. I taught mathematics for many years before I began teaching computer courses. The textbook was almost unreadable. I spent the better part of an hour figuring out what the author wanted so I could help this young lady. When I returned the loaner car the next day, I asked about the young person who I had helped. It turned out that she was the daughter of one of the managers. The manager was appreciative of the help and told me that the teacher of his daughter’s class couldn’t read the book or explain the subject, so the students were assigned problems and told to do the best they could. I found this really disturbing. I know that I shouldn’t be hard on auto professionals, when teachers and textbook authors in my field aren’t doing a good job. However, as long as I owned that Ford, I got first class treatment in the service department at that dealer.

From a customer standpoint, I try to treat them as a consultant and provide as much diagnostic info and symptoms that I can to help narrow the problem. What I have found though is that a lot of times this is ignored. Sometimes they are right and sometimes I’m right so there is always room for error on both sides.

One time that really burned me though was when trying to diagnose a miss under load. I had done most everything to find it and even overhauled the transmission. The last thing it could be was the crank sensor. The mechanic insisted it was the transmission. Got it back, no charge, couldn’t find anything but they managed to blow my lock up solenoid out. Next day I made it half way to work and the crank sensor was sheared off plus the balancer was shot. Cost me a tow, a day off, and $500 when they could have done it the day before.

I wasn’t curious enough to ask questions while the guy was working. I didn’t talk to him while he was working or otherwise distract him.

The way I look it is, if you are good at what you do, whether you are a waiter, a secretary, or a mechanic, the best employees tailor the service to match the expectations of the customer or the boss. If I get a boss who wants to micromanage me, I will let her/him make ALL the decisions, no matter how small. If I get a boss who wants me to take initiative, I will take it. If I get a boss who falls somewhere in between, I will match my work style to the management style. That is what you should be able to expect from a good employee. What I won’t do is be micromanaged AND take initiative. That expectation isn’t fair.

If a customer is willing to keep her/his mouth shut and not interfere, (s)he should be able to watch work being done on the car. Have you ever noticed some of the best restaurants have an open kitchen? Some of the best dealerships have a big window in the waiting room where you can watch what is going on in the service bays. Unless you have something to hide, this should not be an issue.