In my last column, I began explaining how a detailed vehicle history helps solve tough diagnoses quicker and more accurately. I'll wrap up that discussion here. Last time, I left off by urging you to request whatever work orders, diagnostic reports and tester printouts the motorist may have. This paper trail can provide invaluable test data as well as lists of what parts already have been replaced. Although this material isn't infallible, it may still provide a wealth of information to you and your technicians.
Whether it concerns health, a house, a car or personal finances, some people are natural record keepers. When someone asks your dealership to solve a problem another shop could not, don't hesitate to ask that motorist for whatever records he or she has on the vehicle.
I've leaned heavily on the doctor/ technician analogy during this discussion because it's so appropriate. Medical professionals eagerly seek patient information from each other. Automotive doctors should do likewise. Consider this process to be an invaluable form of on-the-job training.
You see, whenever a motorist brings your dealership a car that another shop didn't fix, something was overlooked. If something was overlooked, there's a lesson to be learned from it.
What's more, mature technicians broaden their knowledge by learning from someone else's oversight or mistake.
In all fairness, paperwork from other service shops may provide little useful history simply because it's so vague. For example, I've seen plenty of work orders bearing nothing more than two- or three-word descriptions, such as "do tune-up," "analyze engine," "check engine." Great! Exactly what constitutes a tune-up or engine analysis at that shop or dealership? What in the world does "check engine" really mean?
On the other hand, some service personnel miss the boat here because their big egos prevent them from ever looking at another tech's work.
A detailed work order or a diagnostic printout from another shop's analyzer may offer crucial clues to solving a seemingly tough problem.
The consumer has the paperwork, and it's yours for the asking. But a hardheaded, shortsighted tech ignores it because he believes no one's diagnostic reports are valid but his own!
In my experience, one good clue can put you on the path to a solution. Even an incomplete diagnostic report may contain the lone clue a thinking tech needs to do his work, so keep an open mind here.
Who's the boss?
Obstinate motorists often lament that the last repair shop checked everything but failed to fix their car.
I prefer to respond that if they had, in fact, checked everything, the vehicle would already be fixed. For that reason, many savvy service managers I know politely insist on checking or rechecking the basics first.
Experience shows that, 90 percent of the time, thoroughly covering the fundamentals fixes the vehicle the first time. Therefore, these managers explain that the only way they know the basics have been covered is to assume nothing and cover them from square one onward.
At this juncture, it's critical that you tactfully keep control of the job. Some car owners will dispute your decision to recheck the basics. They are reluctant to pay for another "basic analysis" because they already paid the last service shop supposedly to do the same thing! (Mind you now, this vehicle still isn't fixed, is it?)
I've seen far too many cases where the diagnostic report the motorist handed me shows normal test results simply because an inexperienced or unskilled tech didn't perform the tests correctly. Don't let this motorist boss you around by trying to define the repair process. Stand your ground by having your techs check the fundamentals. Service personnel who allow consumers to dictate the repair always live to regret it.
New, rebuilt or used?
Last but not least, you may need to validate a parts replacement. For example, the work order states that certain parts already were replaced. If so, what brand of part was installed? Is it a brand you trust?
This is particularly important for remanufactured goods. Some "reman" products contain improvements that literally make them better than new, while the only improvements on some of the Brand X stuff is a coat of silver paint.