Service personnel should watch out for motorists who do not provide valid vehicle history prior to diagnosis and repair.
Politely, professionally and persistently remind customers that the more detailed of a history they provide, the more precisely technicians can troubleshoot their vehicles' problems.
Previously I have stressed that an accurate vehicle history — including all its symptoms — ultimately saves customers money because it reduces diagnostic time.
Sadly, though, many motorists miss the connection between a valid vehicle history and an accurate diagnosis.
Worse yet, they may not recognize the relationship between a precise diagnosis and a successful repair. One factor builds upon another.
For years, service personnel — from salespeople at the front counter to technicians in the bays — have quizzed me about a car owner's inability or unwillingness to disclose a vehicle's performance and repair history.
My answer is to consider human nature. People may be reluctant to reveal their automotive ignorance or to disclose unwise decisions about previous maintenance and repairs on a vehicle.
In other words, they may be too embarrassed or self-conscious to discuss it readily with service salespeople.
For example, as long as an engine starts and a vehicle moves forward, some people will drive it. In fact, they may drive that car until it quits.
If the vehicle begins making noises, this breed of motorist turns up the radio volume.
Or, suppose the car begins to shudder or vibrate. If that happens, a driver may speed up or slow down to a point where the problem is least obvious — and keep driving as if nothing is wrong.
For all you know, this motorist still may be steamed about the last person — perhaps a shade-tree mechanic — who bungled a repair. The car owner thought this guy was capable but turned out to be inept.
Perhaps this "wrench-turner" created a new problem in addition to the original one. Stranger things have happened.
Nonetheless, these emotionally wounded motorists potentially are new and loyal customers. Consider them to be regulars that you have not persuaded yet.
Here, the immediate "persuasion" required is coaxing the car owner to reveal his or her vehicle's dirty little secrets.
Collecting relevant vehicle history is one of the skills service salespeople can use to earn their keep at a tire dealership or service shop.
I have traveled extensively, reporting on the auto repair industry as well as presenting training seminars. Apparently there is no shortage of firsthand accounts of motorists' odd, highly guarded behavior.
To be fair, however, some service salespeople have told me that they have not encountered these types of customers yet.
Regular readers may recall that I cut my automotive teeth in the era of full-service gas stations. I will share some experiences from those days.
One of my service-station jobs was at a busy facility that happened to have an expansive parking lot. Customers' cars usually were lined up along the far edge of this parking lot.
Anyway, we called automotive technicians "mechanics" back in those days. The lead mechanic and I often helped each other; one of my regular chores was shuttling cars in and out of the bays and setting up a lift for each one.
During one hectic workday, I retrieved a car sitting at the end of the station's parking lot. Supposedly, the car was running poorly.
As soon as I started the engine, I could feel the misfiring. But I noticed something else when I backed out and headed for the bay.
I heard whump-whump-whump and felt a shudder in the right front corner of this car.
Once the car was inside the bay, we removed the right front wheel cover. The lug nuts were so loose that the wheel had been flopping back and forth.
That was a sight I never forgot. And bear in mind that the car owner had driven this vehicle about five miles from her house to the service station.
Surprisingly, no parts were destroyed. For example, each lug nut mating surface on the wheel was marred but not badly gouged.
Plus, the mechanic was able to restore the wheel stud threads with a thread-chasing tool. Then he reinstalled the wheel nuts and torqued them to specification.
Next, I road tested the car for 15 minutes. Obviously, it continued misfiring but the whump-whump noise was gone. The car tracked straight ahead and rolled smoothly.
Following a tune-up, the mechanic road tested the car again. Our boss politely made excuses as to why we wanted the car overnight; the mechanic drove it home and ran various errands with it.
When he checked wheel-nut torque the following morning, it was unchanged. Thereafter, we checked that right front wheel the next few times the customer came in for gasoline. Fortunately, there were no additional headaches with the car.
Our boss recounted the conversation he had with the owner of this car. For one thing, the owner assumed that the noise and vibration in the right front of the car was associated with the engine's misfiring.
For another, she begrudgingly admitted that her teenage son may have changed a flat tire on the car recently. But somehow she could not confirm that.
Brakes? What brakes?
Another instance where a customer neglected to mention an important bit of vehicle history involved an apparent air-conditioning failure.
I recall looking forward to this job because it would be my first opportunity to see a mechanic investigate an air conditioner that was blowing warm air.
When I tried to move the car into the bay, I was stunned. Its brake pedal, which felt mushy, nearly dropped to the floor of the car.
The mechanic and I teamed up to push this thing into the bay while our boss tried to contact the customer.
Indeed, the car owner had driven the vehicle from a nearby town to the service station. No one recalled the man saying anything about brake trouble; there was no such notation on the work order, either.
Later, our boss told us that the man seemed incredibly nonchalant about the low, spongy brake pedal. He admitted that the brake pedal had, in fact, been acting that way recently — end of discussion.
Anyway, the mechanic performed a major brake overhaul first. Later, he showed me how he located a refrigerant leak in the car's air conditioner.
For me, these are just two of the most memorable bits of overlooked vehicle history. I suspect that readers have their own examples.
I welcome your favorite tales of terrible customer oversights such as the ones discussed here. I offer a Starbucks gift card for the most outrageous example submitted.
The key takeaway is that you may not have encountered these kinds of unaware or oblivious motorists yet, but they are out there and they may test your patience.