A shop manager in Castleville, Vt., writes:
“How do you guys handle cars that you get in that are total bombs? I mean cars in such rough shape, with things that have been rigged over the years, with two bald donuts, that smell like human filth and the customer looks like they just crawled out from under a rock. What is the politically correct way of handling this type of customer/car?”
Tom Ham replies:
“If the person is not totally nuts (most are not), and if they can come up with the money to fix it (most can), the estimate it accordingly. In many cases, if you blow it out the door a few days later it is at the shop up the street with a four-figure request order. So, smile and think about the gross profit.”
A Shop owner in Farmington Hills, Mich., responds:
“There are some cars that just need to be retired. Some customers just need to hear loud and clear from the professional that they are spending their money unwisely. I agree with Tom that some vehicle owners will pony up to fix their vehicle when presented with all the information they need. This is a real balancing act that each shop owner has to deal with. I have found that some customers are relieved when I inform them that it's time to ‘let go.' I use the following list to measure up a vehicle and its owner:
- Can I make this vehicle safe to drive?
- Am I going to marry this vehicle if I work on it?
- What is the value of this vehicle on Kelly Blue Book? (We print out the KBB report to show the vehicle owner.)
- What are all the issues I see with the vehicle, both safety and non-safety? What maintenance is due or overdue?
- Would I let my wife or children drive this vehicle?
“Reinforce that fixing this vehicle does not make it new. Some customers think that spending X amount of dollars fixes everything for a couple years. Fixing X does not mean that Y and Z will not present problems in the future. Y and Z could show up tomorrow.
“Only after communicating all of the options to a customer can he/she make an informed decision about their vehicle. Sometimes, their informed decision may not agree with our opinion. That would be the ‘crazy' customer.”
The questions and responses are posted on the Automotive Management Network website, which is operated by Deb and Tom Ham, owners of Auto Centric (formerly Ham's Automotive) in Grand Rapids, Mich. The comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.