Unusually cheap car owners

Condensed version of the dialogue from a recent podcast

Caller: My car’s dashboard and headlights brighten and dim, cycling faster the faster I drive.
CT: That sound like an alternator problem. Have you taken it to a shop?
Caller: No. I removed the alternator and had it tested on an auto-electric shop test fixture.
CT: Result?
Caller: They say there’s nothing wrong w/the alternator.
CT: So what did you do?
Caller: I reinstalled the alternator.
CT: That’s a shame. At that point a different alternator should have been installed as a test. Drive your car back to the same shop and have them do that.
Caller: OK, but will they charge me for that?

Just curious, how do pro mechanics handle this situation? When a customer seems to think everything should be free?

When i was a service manager as a young man, I’d throw the bum out and tell him never to come back.


I’ll check your oil for free, and check and air up your tires for free. Other than that, the discussion moves to the service counter where you describe the trouble you’re having or the issue you want checked. Then I’ll say “We can get your in Thursday afternoon and it charge will be $104.87 to address your concerns”.

What happens next is up to you.

It was many years ago that I learned that not doing anything for free improved the quality of my customers.


Just to add to what asemaster said…

I tell them the same thing when they ask to borrow my tools, I say sure they are loaned out with me for a price of $$$ an hour, when would you like to borrow them??

Now a good paying customer that has a proven track record of NOT being cheap, I will throw them a bone every now and then for something simple like a cheap and easy brake light bulb if I am very busy, faster than righting up a WO sometimes… lol… and it keeps them happy and coming back spending more money for needed services…
But if all they every do is cheap oil changes and free tire rotations and when you tell them they need brakes or something and they always do it themselves, then they ain’t getting nothing for free…

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I am not in the automotive business, but from time to time, I have to deal with cheapskate customers…and politely tell them to call someone else. In fact, just about all of my customer complaints (which fortunately is a somewhat rare occurrence) are from people who wanted something for free, and I called them out on it. My manager, and the owners of the company do not like receiving customer complaints, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

According to the “80/20 Rule”, in any business, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your customers. Those are your core customers, and you better move heaven and earth to keep them satisfied. Similarly, in any business, 80% of your losses and aggravation come from 20% of your customers. Those are the unprofitable “garbage customers”, and it is actually best to chase these people away.

Unfortunately, in today’s environment of Yelp and Google Reviews, business owners and managers are too afraid of their own shadow when it comes to dealing with customers who want something for nothing, because those people will frequently post a bad review if they don’t get what they want. For me, seeing my name in a bad review is a risk I’m willing to take!

That to me is incredible. The amazing gall of some people.

So I had a buddy of mine some years back recommend this shop for rebuilding an engine I had no time or inclination to do myself. Plus it needed all the machining operations so one stop shopping was the way to go.

Speaking with the guy, I could tell he dealt with all manner of cheapskates on a daily basis. I told him I was definitely not looking to pinch pennies here. I came to you because you come highly recommended by friends I trust and so I trust your judgement. Use quality parts and if you feel something should be done to make it right, then go ahead and do it. His reaction was priceless. To have the freedom to do the job right and use his judgement without asking about every little detail. In the end, one of the best rebuilds ever. No exaggeration, we balanced dimes on edge on that thing while it was running. And if I ever needed anything later on, I went straight to the front of the queue. In my mind, this is how I would want to be treated and so how I treated him in his profession…


I’ve posted in the past my experiences with cheapskates who think because I work on my own cars I’d be happy to work on theirs for free. Yeah… That’s a hard NO.

Friends and some family members, sure.

Same issues as any good shop.


I won’t work on anyone else’s vehicles, except certain family members, for the simple reason that I am not a business, and I don’t have a shop which is zoned for commercial activity, nor do I have commercial liability insurance, etc.

If I am working on my own personal vehicle, and an accident occurs, then my homeowner’s insurance will cover property damage, and my health insurance will cover medical costs. If running an unlicensed business from home? Expect insurance to be denied, and rightly so.

And of course, if a city code enforcement officer is driving around, and sees me working on my own vehicle outside my home, no problem. That’s my legal right. If it’s someone else’s vehicle, that would be a big problem. And I have seen news articles about people being cited for running unauthorized auto repair businesses from a private home.


The mechanic I used for about 30 years, now retired, would occasionally do a small job for free, I never asked him to do that but I did appreciate it. He knew I did a lot of my own work, esp. in good weather but also knew that I had sent a lot of customers to him.

I am posting this from the other side of the service writer’s counter, as a customer. I know the mechanics time it money, if they are messing with my vehicle for free, they are not working on another customer’s car for pay…

I posted the other days about my wife’s old '85 Toyota failing inspection and taking it to the dealer for inspection.

Our Toyota dealership does not make appointments for state inspection and if you are not first in line, the wait could extend for hours… When we brought our Toyota in with the “leaky Exhaust Manifold” they put it up on a rack right away and fume tested it and when it passed, they did the state safety inspection and we were on our way in less than an hour. And it was all FREE, no charge for the using the gas sniffer and the state inspections are free for life…

I also wrote in the follow-on posting that the next morning, the wife and I brought in Hardies Sausage and Egg Biscuits for all the service writers and mechanics… I know it’s a small thing, but just flipping them some money is not as memorable as a Sausage and Egg Biscuit…

And as a final thought, we do bring in Hardies Sausage and Egg Biscuits every few months, just for fun, even when no maintenance is planned or needed. Just to remain in good standing…

We have 8 service writers and 23 technicians, that would cost about $150, no small thing.

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This dealership has 3-service writers, 1-service manager, 8-mechanics, and the salesman who sold us the 2019 Toyota… That’s 13, but we bought 15 Sausage and Egg Biscuits to be certain… The total cost was around $50.00 and we consider it well spent! That bag of Sausage and Egg Biscuits smelled so good that afterwards we drove back and got ourselves Biscuits and Gravy, Yum, Yum!!

Now, at your dealership, we might not be so generous or more selective… L :smile: L . . .

Edited update… the wife said the Sausage and Egg Biscuits were 2 for $5.00, or less than $40… for us… Your 32 Sausage and Egg Biscuits would have been about $80 here… Better to shop here…

My family has been with the same shop for 30yrs now, sometimes we get a quick repair for free or a discount on the labor. But every time we’re planning to pay something. They’ve done every brake job and major service on our cars since 1993 and have rewarded our loyalty several times. First time at this shop was the 30K service on our Mazda, Dealers gave widely different quotes but these guys were the closest shop and charged a fair price. Became the 2nd opinion shop when the dealer tried to sell us things, a few years later we started only using one shop for the family fleet. Probably not always the cheapest but the quality of their work and the service are well worth it.


I expected a dealer that offers lifetime oil changes with new vehicle sales would have grown in size during the last 40 years.

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Oh, it’s grown, not necessarily in size but in scope, The family also have another Toyota dealership in an adjacent city, plus an Acura, an Infiniti, a Honda, a Hyundai, and two Chevrolet dealerships, plus two used car lots called Value Auto Sales…