What makes a good service advisor?


To the techs out there. What qualities did you find most important for a service advisor to have. I realise there may be more than on. What qualities were least appreciated? For management the same questions. Do bussiness administration skills help make a top earning service advisor? I have all my own list of qualities that I feel are important I am seeking opinions. Thanks


It all comes down to that old fashioned term that most of society has forgotten about: honesty. I once worked in an independant shop which I had to leave suddenly because the owner/shop forman demanded “upsell” for every customer that walked in. I could not keep up with his dishonesty schemes. The next shop I worked at had the lowest labor rate per hour in the city and strictly prohibited any repairs that weren’t necessary - the owner actually fired mechanics who tried to dictate “upselling.” Long story short, I retired at the age of 43 and now only work when I want to. We made more money from bulk business as opposed to makeing a lot of money off of first time customers (Victimizing the consumer). I recently made a trip back home to P&M automotive in Salem Oregon and the poor guy is still working his butt off and is much more balder…oops, did I say the name of the shop out loud?


To me, it boils down to 2 things. One is fairly decent mechanical knowledge. The advisor does not have to be a top pro technician or anything like that but should have a very good understanding of what makes mechanical things tick. They should be able to talk with a customer, test drive the car, etc. and be able to at least make an educated guess at the problem.
The other thing is integrity. It’s one thing if an advisor cannot explain a problem technically but some of that Star Trek BS should never be used. If the advisor cannot explain something then have the tech put it into a few basic sentences noted on the back of the repair order.

The former could be very well illustrated by our local GMC/Jeep dealer. Their service manager (recently retired) would run ads in the paper to hire service advisors and a warranty clerk. The ads would always state “2 years of college required, computer proficient, and no mechanical knowledge or aptitude needed”. This is exactly what they would hire too.
JMHO, but this is NOT the type of person one wants in a position of trying to explain a car problem to the car’s owner.
I often mention a disconnect between the tech and the car owner; this is a classic example of it.


I worked as a service adviser at 2 different Sears shops when I was in college. One of the shops was in Tuscaloosa, Al, the other in Knoxville, TN. To be good as a service adviser it’s tough. The shop manager’s attitude makes a world of difference. We had a good shop in Tuscaloosa. Much smaller than the Knoxville shop, but the mechanics were non union which was a good thing, and the shop manager wasn’t a crook. He wanted us to sell, but wasn’t overly concerned about selling certain products.

Knoxville was a whole other ball of wax. The shop manager at the time was a crook. He’d get bonuses or something for selling a certain number of whatever parts in a month. At one time it was coil springs. He wanted us to sell 10 sets of coil springs a week. Really, not something there’s that much of a need for. I remember one SA selling a set to an older lady telling her they couldn’t change her oil because the coil spring was weak and in the way. The boss thought that was a good idea, I thought it was crooked and wouldn’t participate in that stuff.

In Tuscaloosa, I pretty much ran the shop. If I had mechanics that would work with me I’d make them money and keep them happy. On the other hand, if they screwed around with me I’d starve them out of the shop by filling their bin with oil changes, batteries and tires which they didn’t make much money on. The ones that would work got the $$ jobs. The S/A needs to be mechanically inclined. You have to be able to test drive it, look it over, whatever and figure out what’s wrong with it, get the parts in and have it ready for the mechanic to repair. You don’t want one of your better mechanics sitting on his thumbs waiting on parts for 20 minutes when he could be working on a car making both of you money.

Selling is part of the S/A’s job. I always had the attitude that I could make enough money selling people what they needed and I didn’t need to attempt to sell someone something they didn’t need. For the longest time, Sears wouldn’t make me full time, so I’d clock out and work on commission only as much as I wanted to and always did just fine that way. Rainy days, I’d sell a ton of windshield wipers. Hot days, we’d charge a lot of air conditioners. I sold my share of tires, shocks, struts, etc. Front end alignments, tire balancing, brakes etc.

The worst cussing I ever got from a customer down there was over a hose fitting. This guy was on a business trip from somewhere and had a hose fitting break on the back of the engine. I put one of the better mechanics on it, and ended up working on it myself for a while. It took about half an hour to get the fitting off of the engine and I called Napa to get one, they didn’t have it, neither did Western Auto. Even called the Ford dealer and they had one in Memphis for $75 and could have it there in 2 days. I got to looking at the fitting and decided that it wasn’t worth $75 and probably a hose house would have something that would work. I tossed it on the seat of my truck and went to the hydraulic hose shop and got it fixed up cheap, cost me $10 cash because they wouldn’t do a PO for Sears. When I got back to Sears, the guy was raising sand because his car wasn’t done yet. I got right on it and put it back together with help from my mechanic. I asked the mechanic what he needed for the job and we decided on $100 labor. I gave the customer a bill for $100 labor and my receipt where I’d bought his hose fitting and explained he owed Sears $100 for the labor and me $10 for the part. They guy went ballistic. He wasn’t about to pay me for the part and $100 labor was way too much. I explained that it took right at 2 hours to physically remove/replace the part, plus I spent 30 minutes on the phone with 3 parts stores and the Ford dealer trying to locate the part which was only available through Ford and our dealer cost on it was $75 not to mention the mark up Sears puts on that. Then there’s the 40 minutes or so I spent driving across town to the hydraulic shop and waiting while they fixed up the hose and that Sears didn’t have an account with that shop and that’s why I had to pay for the part out of my own pocket. The shop manager tried to explain that we’d done him a favor as best we could and sorry that it took the better part of 3.5 hours to get him back on the road, but that was the best that could have been done given the alternative was to wait on Ford to get a part from Memphis. He went on to the store manager and she knocked his labor bill down to $50 and wouldn’t make him give me the 10 bucks I’d spent to get his part. I bought my mechanic diner at Dreamland BBQ and we learned a lesson. The nicer you try to be to people and the more accommodating you try to be, the worse they’ll try to screw you over.

Knoxville was a Union shop and that’s a very bad thing IMO for an auto garage. Where in Tuscaloosa, mechanics would work with me in Knoxville they were as apt to tell me to fly a kite as they were to fix a car. In Tuscaloosa I kept a small box of tools with me and went under the assumption that if it took me less time to explain to the mechanic what was wrong and how to fix it, I’d just do it myself. I had changed a many of a battery down there myself because the battery techs were generally lazy and wouldn’t work. It only takes about 3 minutes on most cars once you get used to it. I’d get one of the mechanics that was doing a good job for me to initial the work and he’d get 5 bucks on me. Made him happy and if I happened to find a brake job, shocks, struts or CVC joint in the process, all the much better. In a union shop everyone has a prescribed job and from my view of it, nobody wanted to do anything. You could have a day with tires lined up around the parking lot and if only 2 techs rated to change tires were on duty the rest would sit on their thumbs and do nothing. People would get tired of waiting and drive over to Tire America or Sams. The union also protected the sorry worthless techs that couldn’t and wouldn’t work. I got in trouble once for turning an oil filter off. The customer asked why there were 5 mechanics seemingly holding a vigil over his car that was only getting an oil change. I walked back to check on it and they didn’t have a filter wrench to get the filter off. I looked on the tag and saw it was last changed at a quick lube across the parking lot and said, “They don’t have any wrenches you don’t have” and reached down and turned the filter off by hand. They got mad and reported me to the union steward for working on a car.

A service adviser primary job is to keep everyone happy. The mechanics work for you or against you, and you have to know how to get them on your side and understand that not all of them are created equal. A good mechanic is worth a lot to you a poor one isn’t worth diddly. You have to keep the customer happy. They all want theirs fixed yesterday. You also have to keep the shop manager/owner happy and making money. You also have to make money yourself.



As was said, the two most essential qualities are honesty and mechanical knowledge–especially if that knowledge relates to the specific make of vehicle being serviced at that facility. Unfortunately, as we all know, these qualities seem to be in very short supply nowadays.

Another quality that is nice, although not essential, is to know the customers by name. When I walk into my local Subaru dealership, the Service Manager and the Parts Manager both greet me by name. If I wander into the showroom, the woman who sold me two cars calls me by name, which is remarkable since my present car was bought from her in December, 2001!

If the employees know you by name, besides making it a more personal experience, I believe that they are less likely to try to “upsell” you–and in fact, they do not try to do it with me. Actually, I see little upselling at that dealership in general, but they definitely don’t even attempt it with me.

When I am ready to leave after dropping the car off for service, the Service Manager pulls my loaner car up to the door of the Service Dept. for me, and it is left idling, so that the heater or A/C is already running. The last time that I was there, after seeing that I was on crutches, he even suggested that I take a Forester, rather than a Legacy sedan, since it would be easier for me to get in and out of.

All-in-all, very decent people to deal with, in addition to them having good mechanical knowledge and in addition to them apparently being honest. Is it any wonder that I will probably buy my next car from them also?


As was said, the two most essential qualities are honesty and mechanical knowledge

These are probably the MOST essential qualities. My wifes 96 Accord had a recall to replace the cam seals. Since the car was due for a timing belt change when I set up the appointment for the cam seal I inquired how much EXTRA they’d charge to replace the belt. Service Managers response…“Same price with or without the cam seal.” I said why’s that?? Since you have to remove the belt to get to the cam seal. His response “We have this special tool so you don’t have to remove the timing belt.” WHAT AN IDIOT.

When I dropped the car off two weeks later…he was dumbfounded why I didn’t want them to replace the timing belt.


I hear the honesty part loud and clear. After 20yrs at different dealerships I know the honesty part is a dead dog before the doors are up. The question is what degree of dishonesty can you live with remember The Last Boy Scout was just a movie. The advisors lie the management lies the customers lie and yes some mechanics lie (dont forget the sales dept lies)


Like your family doctor, a good service advisor should first and foremost LISTEN TO WHAT YOU BELIEVE YOUR PROBLEM IS! And take down the symptoms as reported by you.

There is a Chevrolet dealer down the road from me and even if I bring in a typed page describing the symptoms, the service manager refuses to clip it to the work order!! This guy has a standard number of “work packages” with standard prices, and if one package does not work, they’ll try the next one at your expense.

Once I had a heater core failure(windshield steaming up, sour smell),and he refused to listem to me. I left halfway through him writing up a complete cooling system diagnosis and service. Over the phone my own mechanic told me it was the heater core and quoted me within $2 what the final cost would be.

There is an automotive repair chain on the same road that does the same thing, except their “service advisors” are told to try to get the bill up to about $500 a level which clients can afford on their credit card and not get angry and threaten to sue.

Sears automotive is famous for doing unnecessary work and have also beeen convicted of charging for work not even done!


Interesting read, Skip. Thanks for that.