I believe it's time for owners and managers at tire dealerships and other service facilities to behave more responsibly.
Specifically, owners and managers need to take responsibility for their service departments' blunders. Doing so will improve their image and the overall image of the industry immensely. Here's why:
Last week, for the umpteenth time, I saw the underbelly of our esteemed automotive service industry. An auto parts salesman that I know well telephoned from a service shop, desperately asking for help.
This fellow sells a lot of product to this shop and one of the shop's employees had him in a bind. The most respect I can muster for this individual is ``employee.'' Sure as shootin', this guy was no technician.
When this salesman dropped in to make his routine sales call, he was lambasted about an alternator that did not fix a car's problem. To cut to the chase, the battery in a car repeatedly went dead. The employee I referred to a moment ago decided the car needed a battery, but replacing the battery didn't cure the problem.
Next, this employee figured the car needed a new alternator. After all, the alternator is supposed to keep the battery charged up, right? Almost predictably, the replacement alternator didn't help. When the car sat overnight, the battery went dead again.
The salesman did his best to both appease both the boss and the employee at this service shop. I must qualify here that unlike so many salespeople I meet, this one attends all the technical training classes possible. He told me repeatedly that if he can glean just a few technical pearls from each class, the information will serve him well out ``on the street.''
Within moments on the telephone, the salesman verified that this shop had the fundamental equipment needed to check this vehicle's battery and charging system, a traditional load tester. Fortunately for me, it was a make and model of load tester I had used many times. With the salesman holding his cellular telephone to one ear, I patiently guided him through a battery load test and then an alternator output test.
Not only did the battery pass the test with flying colors, the alternator actually performed better than expected. Specification was 90 amps of output and it produced 95.
So within minutes a near-novice had performed the two tests this employee should have done first. No ands, ifs or buts- they should have been done first. Based on my experience, how much do you want to bet there was nothing wrong with the battery and alternator the car came in with?
I explained to the salesman that by a quick process of elimination, we could now conclude that the car had a drain or draw. This means something in the car's electrical system was drawing energy out of the battery when it shouldn't be. This may be referred to as a shorted component. Explaining how to perform a battery drain test correctly could take a little more work, I told him. But at this point, he had to move on and was simply relieved that the battery and alternator weren't faulty.
The battery load test and alternator output tests have changed only very slightly since I first learned them in the late 1960s or early 1970s. And if a non-technician can learn them over the telephone, an allegedly hands-on guy can learn them, too. Furthermore, we were taught to instinctively suspect a battery drain under the conditions described earlier. This should still be instinctive to any technician worth his salt.
Later on, the salesman commented that the attitude at this shop was, ``Duh, why didn't the stuff you sold me fix this car?'' It was as if the salesman himself had talked this fellow into needlessly replacing a battery and alternator. Furthermore, this employee was neither reprimanded nor disciplined in any way. Nor was he told to take the first available electrical troubleshooting class. Afterwards, it was still (incompetent) business as usual.
Taking responsibility would mean requiring this worker to shape up via training or ship out. Taking responsibility would be looking in the mirror before blaming a vendor for a botched diagnosis. Taking responsibility would mean investing in both training and the will to learn.
But taking responsibility would ultimately result in cars fixed properly and profitably the first time. Those are the goals that will save this industry's image.