Savvy service personnel always approach each diagnosis with the understanding that the task may require a road test.
Furthermore, they remain alert for any clues or hints that troubleshooting may entail a road test — or perhaps even extensive road testing.
Understandably, all service personnel — from service salespeople up front to the technicians in the bays — loathe road testing because it takes time. And on any given diagnosis, it's nearly impossible to estimate how much time it will take to duplicate the symptom(s) that brought the vehicle into your bays.
For example, a symptom may reappear within two blocks of the shop. Other times, it could require 30 to 45 minutes of varied driving.
Perhaps old-fashioned luck saves the day. For instance, an unforeseen detour during your road test routes you over an unfamiliar railroad crossing.
As the vehicle traverses the tracks, the engine sputters, the dashboard warning lights come on, and the engine computer finally stores a meaningful trouble code.
(Don't let anyone kid you. When battling an intermittent electrical or electronic failure, good luck is a welcome windfall.)
With all that said now, let's recap some facts of life for folks plying their trade in a service business of some sort — including those performing automotive maintenance and repairs.
For one thing, years of experience confirm that customers remember one thing long after service personnel or contractors have finished the job: They recall if the repairs were done correctly the first time.
It doesn't matter if you're performing surgery, auto repair, carpentry, roofing, plumbing, etc. Survey customers, and you'll see that "fixed right the first time" is a top priority. Although I have stressed this point in many previous columns, I don't think I can emphasize it too much.
Take a moment to recall life before this pandemic — social or business gatherings of human beings. Another way to confirm the value of fixing it right the first time is listening to conversations at a block party, family reunion, church picnic or local business league luncheon.
Consistently, people laud service providers who have solved problems correctly the first time. On the other hand, service providers who stumbled through a job tend to be rated poorly.
This may be all the marketing information you need to embrace the philosophy of fixing a vehicle right the first time.
For another thing, experience bears out that this approach relies on an accurate diagnosis. In turn, the troubleshooting required to identify a problem consumes a certain amount of time.
The troubleshooting process may range from a brief, visual inspection to a tedious, highly detailed series of voltage tests. Worse yet, it may demand driving a vehicle until a symptom recurs.
Diagnosis begins up front
Whether you realize it or not, every successful diagnosis begins up front rather than out in the bays. As I have stressed many times in the past, the service salesperson or service manager should gather as much vehicle history as practically possible.
I have worked the service counter. Over the years, I also have observed countless interactions between motorists and service salespeople.
Concluding that personnel at a service desk automatically cull the necessary information from motorists is a false premise — simply wishful thinking.
In fact, an owner or service manager may need to coach and groom employees about collecting vehicle history and symptoms politely but effectively.
I advocate creating a personalized questionnaire and emailing it to motorists ahead of a visit. Or, print out the questionnaire and have the car owner fill it out on the spot.
A motorist may answer this questionnaire in advance or in person, but a tech should not turn a wrench on that vehicle until a service writer or manager reviews the response and, where necessary, asks appropriate follow-up questions.
Gathering vehicle history and symptoms may well predict the need for road testing. For instance, the description of a highly unusual and/or intermittent noise may point toward toad testing.
Sometimes, it also hints at the need to road test with the customer on board so he or she can verify the symptom(s) your technicians are supposed to address.
Human frailties — overlooking an important detail — may result in road testing. For example, someone fails to clarify that his car only thumps when he applies the brakes. Or perhaps it only pulls to the right when he brakes.
Or, there may be electrical-related symptoms that — contrary to what the driver told you — only occur when the vehicle crosses a fairly rough railroad crossing.
My old friend, the railroad crossing, reminds me that any intermittent symptom involving an electrical component could call for road testing. So, forewarned is forearmed.
A moment ago, I emphasized that road testing takes time. This means one or more — perhaps ongoing — updates to the customer. A repair job that requires additional time is bad news.
But typically, delaying delivery of that bad news to the customer doesn't reduce the pain it causes. Matter of fact, delayed news usually intensifies the pain.
Last but not least, unexpected road test time may upend your job scheduling for that day — not to mention the entire week.
That's because the more-difficult diagnoses, including those requiring road tests, may require the skills of your best tech(s). Typically, that tech can focus successfully on only one troubleshooting challenge at a time.
Therefore, some other jobs may have to wait. Plan accordingly — especially by updating all customers that rescheduling affects.
Believe me, they will be glad you did.