An old adage tells us the road to hell is always paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, the saying also sums up many ill-fated, in-depth automotive diagnoses.
The only smart way to approach a detailed diagnosis on a problem vehicle is to back up your good intentions with solid ground rules. Sensible rules, born of experience, will keep your service department from taking the road to ruin on behalf of an undeserving motorist.
More and more tire dealers have embraced automotive services as a way to grow their businesses. Most dealers begin by performing the simplest maintenance services and relatively basic undercar repairs that complement tire sales. Some then graduate to underhood services such as driveability work, starting/charging system repairs, emission diagnosis etc.
Several years pass and before the owner realizes it, customers perceive his dealership to be a one-stop automotive service center. Like it or not, their expectations of the service department are much higher than they were in the ``tires-only'' days. And the dealership's techs gain confidence as they take on and conquer the more-challenging kinds of repair jobs.
But sooner or later, this growth mires them in those proverbial ``jobs from hell''-the seemingly endless diagnoses from which they can't extract themselves. A service writer or manager has committed them to solving a problem that requires more time and money they anyone imagined.
Suppose a motorist asks you to tackle a problem you suspect is going to be something out of the ordinary. It doesn't matter if it's electrical trouble, an underhood systems failure or an undercar problem. The first rule here is to get something I call the basic commitment.
When a customer makes this basic commitment, he or she agrees to two things. The first is to pay your dealership's standard diagnostic fee for performing a basic but very thorough analysis of the affected system(s) or circuit(s). Never get buffaloed by their assertions that their ``regular mechanic'' or their ex-mechanic brother-in-law checked everything. If a competent person had already ``checked everything,'' then the vehicle would already be fixed, wouldn't it?
Don't fall for that line of baloney! Until your techs do an unhurried, thorough analysis, you don't know where you stand.
The second part of this commitment is agreeing to an hourly diagnostic labor rate if the job goes beyond a thorough, routine analysis. Of course, promise the customer you'll phone with an hourly update on the job. Otherwise, why commit your resources if the motorist isn't willing to pay for your knowledge? Doctors and lawyers don't do it and you shouldn't either.
The next rule of the involved diagnosis is realizing that you don't have to take every bastard repair job that rolls in. It's one thing to do a favor for a regular customer who's having a genuinely tough time with an elusive and annoying or dangerous car problem. But too often I see service writers and managers overpromising their capabilities to strangers.
The only reason these strangers are present is that no one else in town wants to tackle their problem.
Before you overcommit, ask yourself: What are your chances of converting this whining tightwad on the other side of the service desk into a regular customer? Is he or she really the kind of clientele you're trying to attract? Do they truly value your talent? Personal experience and countless observations have convinced me that the answer is often a big NO!
The third rule is to price the diagnostic work realistically. Sharp, experienced techs know that many of these in-depth diagnoses lead to a loose connection or a frayed wire. That means several hours to find the problem and mere minutes to fix it. Therefore, there may not be any real parts profit in these jobs. Some savvy shop owners adjust diagnostic labor fees accordingly.
The fourth rule is to leave the tech alone if and when you do commit to diagnosing a tough problem. I have watched many managers make difficult jobs much tougher than necessary simply because they keep interrupting the tech working on the vehicle.
Good diagnosticians get into a mental groove or a working rhythm when they're working on a car. Problem-solving requires concentration. Every time you distract or interrupt them, you break this concentration and you risk derailing their train of thought. Leave `em alone and the process will go much quicker and smoother.