Anyone who's spent time at the service desk knows some consumers are vultures who, given the opportunity, will pick a retail service provider clean. This includes blaming a shop for existing vehicle problems and then demanding restitution for these conditions.
Tire dealers who perform automotive repairs should remember to routinely inspect a vehicle's existing condition in order to avoid needless settlements with such quarrelsome customers.
It had no reverse
A recent incident at a service center in Washington state reminded me how costly a pre-existing condition could be for trusting, unsuspecting service personnel.
A woman dropped off a late-1970's four-wheel drive truck for transmission service (changing the fluid and filter).
The owner-manager, a former technician, told me that pressing prior commitments took him out of the shop several times that day. But he remembers noticing three things as he ran to his car in a heavy rainfall.
First, the woman driving this truck passed over a parking space just a few steps from the waiting room door for a spot several car lengths away.
This briefly caught his attention because women always tried to nab those front parking spots, especially in foul weather.
He would learn later that the truck had no reverse. Likely, the woman chose the space because moving the truck from there into the shop didn't require backing up!
The other thing he noticed was the truck's threadbare appearance. Even at a glance, it was obvious to him this truck had been run hard.
But at the time, these brief observations alone didn't add up to anything significant.
A woman driving a ragged-looking truck chooses an odd parking space and enters the customer lounge. So what?
Coincidentally, this owner-manager left without hearing the woman request a trans (i.e. transmission) service for this truck. Hard-earned experience had taught him to be wary of someone requesting a trans ``tune-up'' for a vehicle that looked like it hadn't had a lick of maintenance in years.
What's more, he'd been trying to get his service staff to ask consumers why they requested engine tune-ups, trans tune-ups, wheel alignments etc. In other words: Clarify the customer's needs and expectations before spending his money.
Nonetheless, an eager-beaver service writer accepted the woman's request for a trans service and promised the truck would be ready by quitting time. Thirty minutes later, the transmission service completed, a technician realized this beat-up truck wouldn't back up.
Luckily, the owner-manager happened to return from an appointment before the service writer had a chance to telephone the owner with the bad news that her truck had no reverse.
He admitted that until he explained this potential ruse to his workers, they hadn't any inkling that the woman might be trying to fleece them for a transmission overhaul: Request a routine trans service, gamble that no one in the shop notices the trans has no reverse and act shocked and astounded at the news that the truck won't back up.
Then demand restitution by insisting that the truck's transmission worked fine until it was brought in for service!
The big bluff
``I've dealt with these conniving characters before. Sometimes they need a dose of their own medicine-in other words, bluff 'em,'' the shop owner commented.
He called the woman, explaining that his technician couldn't decide whether or not to proceed with the trans service.
Then telling the whitest of white lies, he claimed that a preliminary road test revealed the truck had no reverse. Consequently, the tech doubted that just changing the fluid and filter would fix the transmission.
Caught completely off guard, the woman stammered, ``Oh well, go ahead and try. The truck's already there.''
Not only did the shop owner avert responsibility for a pre-existing problem on the truck, he managed to get paid for a fruitless trans service his tech had already performed.
You can't fight city hall, and you certainly can't deny the fact that we live in a lawsuit-happy society.
And thanks to the misdeeds of an unscrupulous minority element in our industry, the world will always believe the consumer's allegations about auto service fraud before they'll ever believe your hapless defense.
At the same time, most consumers are honest but genuinely unaware of what goes on under the hood or out in the service bay. But the best defense against shady customers also happens to be the best offense for successful service shops: service writers and technicians who communicate well!
Learn to play the polite ``doctor'' beforehand.
Ask lots of questions about the ailment. When in doubt, always road test the vehicle first. Also watch for and note automotive ``scars'' such as noises, leaks, dents, stains, body damage and assorted mechanical mayhem.
Play doctor now or you may have to pay a lawyer later!