A motorist's unexpected car trouble is not necessarily a newfound, all-consuming crisis for your tire dealership or service shop.
To put it another way, an automotive emergency on the motorist's part does not and should not constitute an emergency on your part. There are sensible reasons why some repair jobs just have to wait.
This assertion may sound cold-hearted and indifferent. Colleagues in the automotive repair industry have scolded me for having a ruthless outlook.
To the contrary, this is a practical philosophy borne of broad industry experience. For example, I stated in previous columns that I worked in a traditional, full-service service station more than 50 years ago.
This business was a stone's throw from the exit of a busy interstate highway. As a result, I had a ringside view of needy vehicles that limped or coasted from that highway into our parking lot.
Many of these broken cars arrived on the "business" end of a tow truck.
I soon realized that when a breakdown interrupts a trip and/or ruins a vacation, it is pure misery — sheer aggravation — for the hapless motorist. Sometimes car trouble marooned people far from home and forced them to incur the unforeseen cost of lodging while their vehicles were being repaired.
I have been reporting on the automotive repair industry since 1976. As I have crisscrossed the country visiting tire dealers and service shops, I have seen the stranded car-owner scenario repeated many times.
Back in the late 1960s, older and wiser co-workers taught me valuable lessons about broken vehicles and stranded motorists that I still cite today.
The lessons are not about acting cruel or indifferent. Instead, these tips taught me to keep a practical, realistic perspective on the topic.
First and foremost, it is important to remember that you and your crew are not responsible for a breakdown — regardless of how serious it may be. After all, the car owner is a stranger and that vehicle is an unknown entity.
The situation would be very different if this motorist was a regular customer who routinely and faithfully invested in all the maintenance steps you recommended over the years.
All too often, a visual inspection of the broken vehicle's tires, undercarriage and engine compartment told a different story: It appeared that little or no regular maintenance had been performed on it.
What is more, there were no service records anywhere inside the car.
Second, I gradually learned that some motorists do not necessarily remember all the maintenance and repairs performed unless they have a file folder of receipts handy.
At the same time, I also discovered that a stranded motorist might be clueless about overall vehicle upkeep — especially essential maintenance.
For instance, the car owner would not be able to recall the last time someone performed a traditional lubrication and oil/filter change on the vehicle.
This discussion may have involved a car with a sloppy ball joint that had separated itself from its socket.
We did not detect a trace of chassis grease inside it. Instead, we found powdery rust and metal fragments.
Was this an unforeseen calamity? No, I respectfully submit that this frightful failure was years in the making — years without regular lubrication of the suspension joints.
Third, we living in the present cannot be responsible for general automotive ignorance or years of indifference on the part of the car owner.
I repeat: A ball joint in this stranded car had broken out of its socket. Did the car owner ever notice scary noises in the front of the car as this condition worsened?
Similarly, how much sympathy can you muster over a stranded vehicle when the radiator and coolant reservoir are empty? What can you conclude when there is no oil visible on the engine's dipstick?
The bitter truth is that many of these troublesome conditions did not occur overnight.
Fourth, if there is no time for performing essential maintenance, there always will be plenty of time to address the consequences of neglected maintenance.
Additional consequences may include a ruined trip and unwelcome hotel bills.
Fifth, competent auto repair professionals do not work at the pleasure of stranded motorists with broken vehicles.
Some people have convinced themselves that the world owes them instant gratification in all issues large and small, but the reality is that trustworthy auto repair providers may not have the staff or available bays to accommodate last-minute and potentially extensive repair jobs.
An anxious, stranded car owner may not appreciate that reliable, reputable auto repair facilities usually are very busy. And although a tire dealer or service shop operator may sympathize with the stranded motorist, rearranging a shop schedule to suit this person may not be workable.
Performing a mechanical miracle for a marooned car owner may earn your service department rave reviews on the internet, but when push comes to shove and the existing schedule is tight, your foremost obligation is satisfying existing customers.
Let the stranded soul get in line or else refer the person to another shop.
Last but not least, experience has shown that by the time catastrophic failures occur on neglected vehicles, the repairs require more time and money than anyone expected.
The bottom line is that wanting to assist a stranded motorist is one thing, but creating the time in your schedule required to diagnose and fix an unknown car properly is an entirely different matter.
Look before you leap into the stranded-soul scenario.