Shops should not allow non-mechanics to talk on the phone

Hehe. Found this amusing. Tossed one of my cars at my (local, independent) mechanic to do the belts and get an estimate for replacing the front-of-engine seals. Mainly because I’m up to my eyeballs in other projects this summer and don’t want to take the time to do it myself.

Guy from the shop calls. I recognize the name - he usually works for their used car lot down the street. Must be filling in for someone.

They want to take the timing cover off and “see what seals are leaking.” I told him that I want an estimate for replacing all of the seals and the timing belt, because if you replace just the leaking seal the other 2 are likely to pop soon anyway, so just get it all done at once.

“I don’t really know what seals are back there.”

“… Oil pump, cam, and crankshaft.”

“The head gasket is also usually under there.”

Yeah, the pistons are in there somewhere too and I don’t want you messing with them either. :wink: If I hadn’t known who the guy was, I’d be one nervous customer letting them anywhere near my car.


Mechanic passing an intelligent question to a clueless counter person to call you to ask. Sheesh!

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This is all too common even with the full time service advisors. This has always been one of my pet peeves because it’s far too easy to create problems when miscommunication occurs.

The problem though is that most mechanics work on flat rate. This means that every minute they spend talking they are not earning one dime. Over the course of a week that chit-chat time can really dig into a paycheck. Combine chit-chat with a hundred other non-paying chores and the paycheck takes a beating.

I have no answer as to handle that problem; or at least an answer that will please everyone.


I haven’t had very many instances of other people working on my cars over the years but I did develop one habit that was met with a great deal of appreciation by every mechanic I encountered. I came up with this idea after struggling to get the service writer to accurately describe the work on the repair order. It was two sentences for crying out loud! So, I write a succinct paragraph or two about the symptoms, what may have been done prior to their involvement and any expectations I may have regarding the type of work being done. I leave this on the passenger seat for the mechanic.

The last part is as important as anything. I am not interested in saving pennies. Use your judgement when it comes to replacing parts and use quality parts. I recall one machine shop I had do some engine work. I told the guy doing the work the same thing- I trust your judgement. If you think it needs doing, do it. Use quality parts. etc. Pretty sure my job went to the front of the queue and the quality of work was outstanding with great attention to detail. The guy told me afterward how much it meant to have someone not micromanaging the job or scrutinizing every last penny.


Brilliant idea! Cuts out the clueless middle-man and gives the guy working on your car a huge leap forward to the solution.

Drives me crazy to play the “partial explanation” game with people that tell you a little, you reply, they tell you more information that changes the diagnosis, only to be changed yet again with further info.

I don’'t mind a little question and answer exchange but if the car has been modified with a bunch of incompatible “performance” parts or the engine was changed to one 2 years newer tell me up front!

Many posters to the “ask someone who owns one” fit this mold.


I’ve only met ONE and ONLY ONE service writer who knew what they were talking about.

Last year a local dealer was expanding (actually merging 3 different dealerships) and they wanted to hire 3-5 service writers. Requirements - 2 years of college majoring in Business.

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Hahaha! Just got the estimate. 2 grand just for the T-belt and the seals under it. They let the guy do the estimate, and he dutifully looked up the cost to replace each seal in the book, and then looked up the cost to replace the timing belt in the book, and added up all the book time because he doesn’t, apparently, understand that the mechanic will not take the timing belt off, replace one seal, then put the belt and cover back on, then take them back off, replace the next seal, and so forth. Should be 4.5 hours total time, and this guy wants to charge me for a day and a half.

I just told them to button it up and give it back to me. I’ll talk to the owner later when I have more time and explain how he lost work because of this dope. Unfortunately, the dope is his son, so I doubt much will be done.


This actually happened to us. My wife’s 96 Accord had a recall to replace the cam seal. So I made an appointment and asked how much extra to replace the timing belt. Price he quoted me was for a full timing belt replacement. I asked why so much since you have to remove the timing belt to get to the seals. His response…their mechanics have a special tool to remove the seals without touching the belt. I basically told him he’s an idiot. I found another dealer to do the recall and they only charged me an extra $100 for the belt.


There used to be a long time service manager here at (the time) of a GMC, Oldsmobile, Jeep dealership. This guy was an idiot to be honest. He used to bring all of his cars to me for service; go figure. It didn’t help any that anytime my wife was around he was hitting on her.

He ran ads in the local paper for service writers that read; “Service advisors needed. No automotive experience needed but must be computer proficient”.
See how that works out when a customer asks them an automotive question??? Think they will admit they don’t know? Not for a second; they will BS their way with something.


When car’s started to get to complicated for me to work on it took me awhile
but found 3 independent got to know them I tell them to fix as they would if it was there own, Never had a problem,

I think you implied the solution at the beginning of your post. “Flat rate” is the problem, so change to hourly billing. Then the mechanic bills for talking on the phone too. Many professionals bill that way, e.g. lawyers, hi tech contractors, etc.

I don’t know that mechanics would want to go that route. Once you start hourly billing, they start mandating billable hours. My wife is a patent agent. When she worked for law firms she had to bill around 1700 hours a year, and only certain activities were billable. The end result was that she worked 60 hours a week, no OT because she’s salaried, and had a heck of a time getting vacation in because there was rarely time if she was to meet her hourly goal. She’s a lot happier now that she works in corporate intellectual property and doesn’t have to fool with that headache.

Good point, there’s upsides and downsides. However some shops already bill hourly.

I learned to do this some years back from reading this suggestion from several regulars here. I always make three copies; one I hand to the service advisor, one I leave on the seat for the mechanic with FOR THE MECHANIC in bold at top of the page, and one copy I keep for myself and on which I make notes of all conversation with the service advisor. Not surprisingly, the copy handed to the service advisor rarely gets attached to the work order.

I make the printout simple, succinct, but detailed describing problems /symptoms in an easy to read / reference bulleted format, like when I’ve asked questions here with details regarding some past car issues. This document trail served me well when I had to escalate to corporate customer service a few years ago over the torque converter warranty / recall problem in the first year I had the Camry. My document trail got results from corporate.

What has been quite nice is when on several occasions the mechanic left the printout in the car with brief explanations for me about what the diagnosis was and what repair was done so that I had his version of the work performed and not merely the service writer’s scrambled (too often bs) version.


It’s all in how you approach the conversation, as. I’m sure you know. If you discuss it as a continuing education opportunity for the son, it might work. A lot also depends on whether you think the owner would appreciate your suggestions.

I can see a number of issues with straight per hour billing.

One. Most customers will take great offense at being billed say 100 dollars per hour to talk.

Two. New car dealers and warranty. Warranty doesn’t pay crap anyway and they won’t pay one penny toward warranty conversations.

Three. There are some mechanics who will spend 3 hours doing a one hour job on the car they just got paid to speak with the customer about.

Four. There are some mechanics who will spend a lot of time roaming around with a coffee cup, chit-chating with other techs, parts counter people, yapping on the cell phone, etc.

Five. The dealer or shop owner is on the hook for the per hour so they may drive the mechanics ruthlessly. No job can be done fast enough in their eyes. You worked 40 hours, turned in 60 billable hours; and you’ve got to step it up or you’re history.

There are others also but you can kind of see my point.

Aircraft mechanics bill by the hour. Own an airplane, walk into an FBO (Fixed Base Operator) have work done, and you will be billed by the hour.
At least this way, if you have stainless screws on your plane, and the A&P doesn’t have to spend hours drilling out rusted fasteners, you’ll save.

If you’re willing to assist the mechanic (some shops allow this) and are willing to remove spark plugs for cleaning (yeah we re-use them at $33 each, two plugs per cylinder) you save, etc.

I billed by the hour on many high tech gigs. If I wanted to take a leisurely 3 hours to do something I could do in 1 hour, I’d just bill one hour. If I wanted to take a break, have a cup of coffee and look up what movies were playing, I didn’t bill anything for that. I did however charge for every minute of phone calls directly involved with the work I was being paid to do. And if I worked 20 hours in a row on Sunday to finish a job that needed to be done by Monday morning, I billed for all 20 hours. The clients I was working for, if they thought I was overbilling or sluffing off, they always had the opportunity to end the contract, or choose somebody else for their next job. That’s what prevents the potential abuses of hourly billing. the main issues I had w/hourly billing had to do w/travel. On out of town travel required for the job, I’d bill from the time I left my apartment to the time I got back. I insisted this be written into the contract. The end result was that I was never required to go anywhere, which of course is what I wanted.

Actually, it was me. I’ve been advocating this for years. Here’s where it came up in '07 after your post-

Wow time flies…

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@TwinTurbo Oh my, time does fly! And my old post reminds me how early gremlins showed up in the Impala. So glad I traded it for the Camry!