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What makes for a great customer?

What do you think makes for a great customer? We’d like to hear your thoughts! You can share them right here, in our Car Talk Community.

Yours in bridging the great mechanic-customer abyss,

Tom and Ray

Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers

Anyone with more money than time who just wants their car fixed and is willing to pay to have it done correctly. A not so great customer will ask why you couldn’t just reuse the old oil, and if he really needs brand new spark plugs, can’t you find good used ones?

From what, the customer or mechanic standpoint? From a mechanic standpoint, I’d think a great customer is one who agrees with everything the mechanic says, and orders all work done, as suggested by said mechanic, particularly when boat payments are due. Also, said customer would not argue or complain about anything, and gladly hand over blank check after blank check.

From a customer standpoint, a good customer, I guess, is one who knows what he/she is talking about, and is firm, yet polite when pointing out various services are unnecessary or unneeded, but doesn’t look at the mechanic as someone who is only trying to rip them off (unless, of course, the mechanic is… unfortunately an all too common occurrence.)

I knew a guy who talked at a dealer for so long that they refused to change the cracked head on his car. They couldn’t deal with two cracked heads at once. I’m a great customer as soon as I pay up and leave. I am willing to work with the system that’s available. I know that Sears is the most disjointed place right now, headquarters puts stuff on sale that the local store doesn’t stock. My parts came in after the expected week of waiting but they were 50% off. I’m planning to install the parts in three to six weeks. I’m happy and they make two dollars. Perfect world! Some other place sells me a wrong left rear view mirror so I drill new holes and install it, then order its twin for the other side. Better than paying a dealer for the right (correct) one. When I break another one I will know the part number but will probably roll the dice again. If everybody hired good help I would have been unemployed for the last forty years.

One who expects reasonable prices and service. They must understand that on any specific day, things may not work out as expected, but they should not work out poorly every day. They should listen to the professional, just as the mechanic should listen to them. They should be willing to pay a fair price just as the professional should be charging a fair price. They should not be trying to second guess the professional.

This is the same at the grocery store, photo studio, garage, or doctor’s office.

In general an honest, competant, and fair mechanic makes for a great customer.

And one who remembers that when a customer brings in a broken car he/she is already in the process of having a bad day…and makes allowance for that.

A great customer is a loyal one, almost a friend, who trusts the repair facility to do the proper work for a fair price in a reasonable time. The great customer will spend time with the owner and mechanics discussing the needed repairs and obtain an estimate. The customer will then leave the repairs to the shop and depart to await the call to come pick up the vehicle. If this process is repeated, and the customer is pleased with all aspects of the experience, then the customer should recommend the shop to all who inquire about repairs to their respective vehicles. The customer should also tell the repair shop owner that business is being referred to him. This creates a give-and-take situation wherein both parties gain from the experience. It doesn’t hurt to drop off a gift around the holidays.

Which one is supposed to drop off the gift?

An honest, fair, and competant shop is a gift all year around. A fair, understanding, paying customer is a gift all year around. Perhaps they should swap gifts! Naw, nevermind.

A great customer is someone who is willing to take the time to make sure the mecahnic knows what their concern is, not just drop the car off and say it isn’t runnung right, or it is noisy. Take a ride with the mechanic or service advisor and make sure you both know what the other is talking about. Then, do not have unreasonable expectations about what it will cost to fix your car. We all know car repair is expensive, be prepared to pay for the repairs you have requested.

If the great customer is shorter, that person will move the seat back so the taller mechanic (if appropriate) can fit behind the wheel. Also, a great customer has his/her car free from trash, at least in the front seats and bring the car in reasonable clean, esp in winter.
A great mechanic will realize that the owner knows what a “strange” is MORE that they do and not dismiss such seamingly unimportant concerns.

I’d suggest that a good customer with a problem to solve might be one who -if s/he is automotively challenged, like I- would come in with a set of symptoms and explain that s/he is not trying to diagnose the problem but only presenting the symptoms, and if I had an idea, might say something like: “Well, if I knew what I was talking about I would think it behaves like the starting motor is failing”, “it sounds like the kind of metal/metal screech of a belt tensioner headed south”. That, or, lacking any idea of the source, I’d fall back on tentatively proposing the old reliable ‘sympathetic vibration’ or ‘loose catalytic heat shield’ which seems to be the answer to all otherwise-unsolvable noise problems on CarTalk. c.a.

Do mechanics like to get homemade baked goods as an additional thanks? I’ve thought of giving some to mine, especially when they give me really good service - but some people don’t really like to get food from strangers. Any thoughts? Are sweets like brownies/muffins preferred to homemade bread?

To me, a great customer is one who is informed and prepared. First, make sure you like your mechanic of choice. You have to be able to talk comfortably knowing you are understood. Ask about rates beforehand so there are no surprises later. Descibe your car’s problem clearly and answer your mechnic’s questions to the best of your ability. Ask about the mechanic’s exerience with your make/model car. (I have a Ford, which is no big deal, but I chose one with 20 years of Ford experience). Find out the approximate time it will take to diagnose and fix your car’s problem. In the meantime, be prepared to get yourself a loaner car or borrow your friends just in case you hear your car has to remain in the garage because of a part that still has to come in. It happens. Be respectful of a mechanic’s skill. A good mechanic has a knowledge base that would fill an encyclopedia. Lastly, after your job is done, tip the guy a few bucks to let him know you are pleased with his work. He’ll remember you next time for sure.

From the point of view of the parts counter at a 50-year old operation:

A great customer always provides AT THE OUTSET any and all information that might be pertinent to solving their problem, such as:
-It is on fire.
-I have already tried replacing the wiring.
-I poured bleach into it.
-The part in question is out in the car.
-I smashed it with a big hammer.
-The vehicle has another symptom that may not be related.
-I got advice from Tom and Ray.

Never, under any circumstances, should you respond “Five bucks? I can order it at such and such orange store for a buck ninety eight and have it in a week!” This will lead to the traditional response, “Well when I don’t have it in stock, it’s free!” or, “Well I suggest you go buy it then!” followed by, “No, now I won’t sell it to you!”

NEVER say “I have been looking everywhere and you’re my last hope,” or “THIS one will be a REAL challenge for you.” That whooshing sound you’ll hear is the price going up. Even a fish would stay out of trouble if he kept his mouth shut.

Do a little research online, call ahead of time, and if you can, take some of the first steps toward solving your problem. If I have to make an extra effort, such as untangling the muskrat’s entrails from your alternator pulley, the price is likely to go up. Please provide advance notice if the starter you are handing me is hotter than the surface of the sun.

Support your LOCAL parts store. Parts stores buy from other parts stores. Each in turn charges a small transitional markup. This is called business. Especially for hard to find parts, every store in your town will call the same place (me) for it. If the first one tracks down the part, BUY IT. I often receive calls from ten stores in the same area looking for the same thing as the customer snoops around to save a buck or two. This officially qualifies you for a complementary quart of FIRE ANTS shipped with your order.

To reiterate: Support your local independent parts stores! They really need it! Every time you buy a part on the internet, an angel cries. If these places go out, all the people who have the knowledge will starve to death, and they aren’t exactly going to fit their knowledge on their tombstones. Except Tom and Ray–theirs will fit.

The more you work with me, the more I work with you. If you are a repeat customer who is a pleasure to work with, you will begin to receive lower prices and more stimulating conversation. Conversely, if you are a repeat customer who is consistently as pleasant as a grizzly bear with fleas, you will be charged extra and I will make it a personal project of mine to annoy your socks off.

Unsupervised children will be given an extra large cappuccino and a puppy.

You cannot belt a motor to a generator with a battery in between to make a self-sustaining system. You cannot use hydrogen from electrolysis to run an engine to create the power necessary to generate electricity for electrolysis… ad nauseam. There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. I get this at least once a week, more often in a full moon.

My grandfather and father, both parts counter guys, taught me that when a customer comes in it is not because he needs a part. It is because he has a problem. It is my job to solve that problem, so that he is happy and I can hopefully put dinner on the table. They are both directly out of their minds, but since it is hereditary I have no choice but to go with it. I think that customers appreciate that I take time to make sure they have everything they will need to finish the job, even though I am nickle-and-dime-ing them to death with the wire and grease and gaskets. I think that when I solve problems instead of just selling parts I win customers. Even if I send the customer to a competitor, he will remember me the next time he has a problem, and he will come back.

So what makes for a great customer? A person that is informed, coming to the right place with reasonable expectations and patience, who builds mutual trust with a person with their best interests in mind, and keeps coming back to a place that has earned their business. And does NOT, for any reason, ask Tom and Ray for advice. That would be crazy.

Indianapolis, Indiana

A great customer is someone who understands that they are not paying the mechanic $50 to turn a screw. They are paying the mechanic $50 to know which screw to turn, and how much to turn it.

Be as honest with them as you want them to be with you. Car mechanics is not an exact science and tolerate some misteaks, which are inevitable. Car mechanics are people too – they have bad days at home, stress on and off the job, and so forth. If you want to give a gift find out some special interest they have. Don’t demand miracles. Be reasonable and empathetic. Thank them for their work and their capability. If you don’t like them find someone else so they won’t have to put up with a bad relationship, too.

" Car mechanics is not an exact science"

There not being chickenblood involved, car mechanics is indeed an exact science. Your car is a complex system. It is technology - period.
If a mechanic doesn’t understand what’s going on, it is a reflection on him - not the car. He may replace parts that don’t need replacing or disable parts of the system to aid in narrowing the problem down but that’s just like exploratory surgery in the medical field; yet another exact science.

I’ll agree there’s no point in being nasty but the relationship you have with your mechanic is a business type relationship.

Looks Like A Discussion From 2009 Is Being Revived From The Dead. I Really Don’t Expect Tom And Ray To Use This.


One that does not think he knows more than he does and yet knows enough to communicate.

A perfect customer takes notes when the car misbehaves and describes the symptoms and when those symptoms occur. He/she might offer a suggestion if the problem has occurred previously on the customer’s or a friend’s car.

Perfect customer will also have with him the car’s repair and maintenance history so the shop can use this in its analysis. Perfect customer also asks for a close estimate and wants to authorize any other work not related to the problem.

If the repair is more than the car is worth, customer wants to be told and then decides on course of action.