Aspiring service writers may want to consider copying the interrogation technique of television's dour detective, Joe Friday.
The stone-faced lead character of the baby-boomer police drama Dragnet repeatedly emphasized that he sought "the facts and nothing but the facts" during an investigation.
Regular Tire Business readers know I have carped about service writer skills in several previous columns. But based on the reactions I get from technicians around the country, this is a topic that's always newsworthy. And it's timely because I continually encounter competent, conscientious techs who are fed up with know-it-all service writers.
Understand that I meet a lot of techs because I conduct training seminars nationwide. Their war stories about service writers' interference and incompetence are never-ending!
Matter of fact, the most-recent complaint I heard concerned a service writer at a major-brand tire dealership. This fellow insisted that a tech replace a transmission torque converter because the vehicle shuddered and surged. In a moment, I'll tell you what actually fixed this car.
Anyway, these overzealous service writers are jumping to entirely too many conclusions when they interview motorists. Ideally, they should be Joe Friday and just gather facts. But they'd rather play judge and jury as well, deciding what ails the vehicle and what repairs are needed. Their knee-jerk reactions to customers' comments and their second-guessing of the real facts cause a comedy of errors in the service department.
But there's nothing the least bit funny about the impact their incompetence has on the image of the automotive service industry. Techs lose time and money repairing the wrong problem. Meanwhile, customers understandably become angry, frustrated and distrustful when they see their hard-earned dollars wasted on the wrong repairs.
Let's quickly review the difference between gathering facts and interpreting those facts—jumping to diagnostic conclusions. In the example I just mentioned, the car shuddered or surged noticeably during light-throttle driving. In other words, it exhibited a rapid, forward-and-backward bucking motion when the driver maintained a steady cruising speed on a level road.
The bucking was severe enough to shake the entire dashboard, frighten the driver and make passengers get car sick. These points, dear readers, are facts—nothing more.
I've watched service writers collect this same information and conclude the tires need to be balanced. That's interpretation. However, training and/or experience confirm that tire imbalance symptoms are road speed-sensitive. This means that road speed alone influences a tire-imbalance symptom. It also means that engine load and transmission gear range have no impact on the symptom.
In other words, if a tire imbalance shakes the vehicle at 45 miles per hour, it will shake the vehicle at that speed whether the driver's barely touching the gas pedal or flooring the pedal.
It will shake the car with the trans in the neutral or drive positions. These are also facts that can only be obtained via a proper road test by a competent service writer or technician.
What's more, quickly tapping the brake pedal, shifting into neutral, or flooring the throttle all alter engine load.
Training and/or experience teach us that changing load has a major impact on the transmission's torque converter clutch operation.
Therefore, if changing load affects the shuddering symptom, it suggests something may be wrong with the clutch inside the transmission's torque converter. Again, these are facts gathered during a road test.
Hearing the motorist describe a vibration or shudder and concluding the problem is a bad torque converter clutch is a rank example of interpretation. Further concluding that the torque converter should be replaced is ranker yet!
In many previous columns, I've stressed that gathering an accurate vehicle history is a vital piece of detective work. Had this service writer played Joe Friday correctly, he would have quickly learned what the dealership needed to know to fix this car. The shuddering only began after a fast oil-change specialist had serviced the transmission.
Incorrect trans fluid was the culprit. Replacing this fluid with the correct ATF for the application eliminated the shuddering. Bottom line: How many Dragnet reruns must we watch before we learn this detective business?