There are a few things you MUST know about automotive technicians, and the auto repair business in general…
First things first! Yes, auto repair IS a service business just like any other. However, it is NOT akin to going in for a haircut or a pedicure where you can just walk in and be served with a short wait or schedule an appointment for an exact time. Maybe getting tires installed at a tire store…maybe getting an oil change at an oil change quick lane….but not auto repair dealing with service engine/malfnction indicator lights, noises, hesitations, intermittent problems, inoperative air conditioning, no starts, stalls, etc…..those type repairs will require significant effort to find the cause of the problem….it’s simple not the same TYPE of service as a brake job.
Let’s say one day you wake up with a pain in your gut, you are peeing blood and sick as a dog….to find out what is the cause of all this will require hour upon hour of cat scans, pet scans, upper and lower GI’s, biopsies, blood tests and more tests AND THEN….FINALLY, THEN the actual procedure that will cure the problem will have to be done. If you call us and you need a front brake job, or a 30,000 mile maintenance inspection or some other preventive maintenance, it is likely we can get you in the following day and get you out in one day…..an oil change or cooling system flush requires no such diagnostic time…however, a service engine light on combined with a random hesitation will require diagnostic time…..so will a roaring noise at road speeds, or a fluid leak…or overheating…and if we already have SEVERAL of this type repair on the schedule already, it may be a day before we can even take you in…..please do not let this discourage you, it is the nature of the beast with REPAIR work, it’s simply much more complicated than MAINTENANCE work, and will be the same story at all REPUTABLE repair facilities…..if you call a shop and they are in a position with their schedule that they can immediately take in a job that may well consume hours just to find the problem and then repair correctly, they must have a pretty bad reputation….any good shop simply cannot do “walk-ins” when it comes to repair of modern vehicles.
Secondly, you must not fall victim to the asinine notion that there is some magical “machine” we can “put your car on” that will “tell us what is wrong”…..the diagnostic equipment we use is 100 times more sophisticated than that $500 device you can drive up and have connected at one of the parts stores, but even as sophisticated as our equipment is (much of it the same as used by the dealer) it is JUST A TOOL…and like a blood test, it may take hours of examining the results and after examining the results MORE tests may be required! There IS no device that “tells you what’s wrong”……that is a fallacy….and believing this can cost you HUNDREDS of unnecessary dollars…..how? Because there are ACTUALLY those folks that work on cars and call themselves technicians that ALSO think the circuit description the tool references is the part that needs changing…..this is WRONG, the information the device reads out is merely a general circuit description that set the fault code in history, but there may be 15 possible causes for that particular fault code. When you have some clown that thinks you just replace the part listed in the description and if that does not fix it, change the next part listed, and if that does not work, change the next part listed, it can cost you dearly……THAT is NOT how it works. When we look up the information the device reads out in our factory service information system, it may print out one page of 10 tests that take an hour to perform for one fault, but a different fault on a different car the service procedure printed out may be 5 pages of tests that take hours to complete just to find the problem….and when we schedule a job, there is NO WAY of knowing which will happen, an hour diagnostic routine required or a three hour diagnostic routine required. THIS is the REALITY of auto repair. So…if you need a brake job, odds are we can work you in pretty quick, but if you hear strange noises, or your car is stalling, hard to start, hesitates, or has some electrical device that is not working properly, it may be something that will take a couple days to fix…..that may not be what you want to hear, but it’s the TRUTH, not just what I need to say to get you to pick US for your repairs.
Here is a recent conversation that I have with prospective customers day in and day out, I probably repeat this stuff in my sleep….it may answer a few questions you have:
Guy on the phone: How much do you charge to run a diagnostic test?
Me: Well, you can go to a parts store and possibly get them to do a diagnostic test for free…..but that does not tell you what is wrong with the car.
Guy: What do you mean?
Me: There is a difference between a “diagnostic test” and a “diagnosis”….a BIG difference….they are two TOTALLY separate things. Connecting the diagnostic scanner to the vehicle and communicating with the vehicle’s onboard systems will retrieve a list of stored “fault codes” that the system has stored. THAT is a “diagnostic test”…..THAT is not a “diagnosis”…..THAT does not tell us what is wrong, or how much it will cost to fix or how long it will take to fix….
Guy: Why not?
Me: That “readout” is only a code description…which is an overview of the affected components in THAT particular CIRCUIT that is affected. That’s why sometimes it will mention one part or five different parts…it’s just telling you the parts that are used by the system strategy that set that particular fault code…..only one out of ten times will changing the part or parts mentioned in that description actually fix the problem. To arrive at a DIAGNOSIS we have to take those fault codes that were retrieved by the diagnostic test and look them up in the diagnostic service information for that vehicle, and it will specify a diagnostic routine that we we have to complete in order to find the cause of the fault code being set.
Guy: Well, then how much does THAT cost then?
Me: I cannot answer that question. It is not always the same. You may have one fault code stored that needs diagnosing or you may have three, or you may have five……and diagnostic routines will have to be done for all unrelated codes.
Guy: I see…..
Me: To top THAT unknown off, with EACH of these diagnostic procedures, for one code the procedure may be four little steps that take thirty minutes, but for another code the routine may be thirty steps that require accessing certain components for circuit testing…and if the components the manual tells us to access are under the carpet and require removing the seats and carpet, or behind the instrument panel, you can EASILY run into three hours just to find the problem….modern vehicles newer than a 2000 model have upwards of 14 plus computer modules that all “talk to each other” through a CAN bus communications line…..you likely have one in each door, one for the anti-lock brakes, one for the engine, one for the A/C, one for the air bags, one for the body functions like lighting and wipers and such, and one in the radio, another if you have OnStar or some such, one in the trunk, an occupant classification system module……..all vehicle, year model and options dependent.
Guy: Oh wow…….
Me: There are cases where we get a vehicle in, do the diagnostic test, perform the diagnostic routines, arrive at a diagnosis, formulate an estimate, call the customer for an authorization, procure parts, install the parts, and have the car road tested, all within a couple of hours……..HOWEVER, there are more times where we do the diagnostic test, and the diagnostic routines indicate accessing a module in all four doors…..or under the seat…..or to access a CAN bus communications junction behind the instrument panel and we have to stop there, call you and tell you it is going to take $200 just to perform the diagnostic routine that the service manual specifies……so you see…..I CANNOT tell you how much it will cost to find your problem until that preliminary test is done…..we charge $50 for that preliminary test…and THAT will give us a clue how much the diagnosis will cost and how long to expect…..
Guy: So the free test at the parts store is only that preliminary test?
Me: Yes….that only retrieves the fault codes…..we then have to look them up in the service information system, and only THEN will we have an inkling of how long and how much it will take to find the problem in order to give you an estimate of the required repair.
Guy: Well can I go get the test done for free at the parts store and bring you the results, why do you charge $50?
Me: No. Their device costs $500….mine costs more than ten times that and accesses ALL areas of the CAN network and will OFTEN give us information theirs will not….and….well…..we charge $50 because theirs costs $500 and ours costs much more……..however…..if we do the test, call you and tell you it’s going to be $150 to perform the indicated diagnostic routines, you say okay, and then I call you and say it is going to cost $500 to repair the problem plus the $150 for the testing, and you say “fix it”, we waive the $50 and you pay $650, not $700….you ONLY pay the $50 if we do the diagnostic test and look up all the code routines and call you with the price to do the actual diagnosis and you decide to just come pick it up unfixed because you don’t want us to do the required testing….
Guy: Well that’s fair.
Me: I know….I’m all about fair. Ten years ago you were lucky to get a FAIR repair done for $500 on a 3 year old car…..today, a FAIR and HONEST repair can easily hit $1000 for what presents itself as a minor problem…….but then on the flipside we get people come in thinking they need a $3500 transmission and it winds up being a $500 electronic repair…………you never know until you do the diagnostic test AND perform the diagnostic routines that the service information requires for the fault the diagnostic test reveals.
Guy: Wow. I feel like I just got a year’s education in five minutes…..WHY have a never been all told this before?
Me: Many possible reasons. Some shops lack the communication skills. Some shops, believe it or not don’t KNOW all this that that should. Look at it this way too….you need mandatory training and a license from the state to do a haircut….you need to complete training and licensing to even CALL yourself a Realtor…….but….anyone can wake up tomorrow morning and decide to open a shop…and that happens…it takes even a mechanically inclined guy a minimum of 10yrs experience to “have it” when it comes to all this stuff…and and many out there in the field have the SAME misconceptions that you did…yes there ARE guys working in shops out there and managing shops out there in the world that don’t know all this. However, probably what makes the biggest difference….I have been there…..I don’t hire service writers, because no matter HOW GOOD they are, how honest they are, how much they study and read up, or how long they worked on older technology cars in their past, they just CANNOT know this stuff…..and it’s not THEIR FAULT either…..and no matter HOW MANY meetings they sit in and are told to tell the customer this stuff, in the heat of the moment you WILL FORGET to cover all the bases unless you have actually lived the reality of it…..it is what it is…..it’s no different than asking the receptionist at the doctor’s office what is causing the pain in your chest…she is not EXPECTED to know….it’s not her function….and…..just like with the best doctor out there, even HE won’t know what is causing your pain until he runs a bunch of expensive diagnostic routines….
Guy: Man…..I feel like I owe you money just for talking to me on the phone……….
You ALSO need to know this before you choose a repair shop: You REALLY need to know that there is no “test” a technician must pass before doing work for the public…
No “internship” they must go through…
No “code” of any kind that dictates an automobile service technician’s or shop owner’s ethics like required to be able to call yourself a “Realtor”………
ALL of the certifications are VOLUNTARY and cost money…
All of the training offered is VOLUNTARY and even more expensive…
There is no mandatory “internship” or mandatory “apprenticeship” a technician must go through and pass before doing work for the public…
There is no law that sets a MINIMUM REQUIREMENT as to the amount of experience you must have AS A TECHNICIAN before opening up a shop…
Anyone can wake up in the morning and decide to work on cars or decide to open up an auto repair shop! Yes ANYONE can…and YES there are some that did just that…
Power Steering fix on a Nissan pickup, Rear Differential repair on a Nissan pickup, couple of Ford diesel engine repairs, Check Engine Light diagnosis on a Lightning, Charging System diagnosis on a Nissan Altima, Ford F350 in need of fuel injector replacement…….