Chapter 8. Auto repair (and IT folks)

Sunday, January 17, 2016
Category: News

We love our cars; can’t live without them. Some of us have two. If you’ve ever owned a car, you’ve needed auto repair. It’s as simple as that, with all due respect, cars equal problems.

Enter the auto mechanic: typically, a man covered in grimy overalls, wielding tools. They know how to do things we have no aptitude or patience for, from fuel injectors to banging out a dent. In a way, an auto mechanic is like a surgeon. Indeed, we entrust the mechanic with our livelihoods, not to mention our very lives.

The way we communicate with our auto mechanic can mean the difference in the speed, honesty, and pricing of the work. Having a good relationship with a steady mechanic is a big asset, and will save you considerable anguish. Sow a bond between you and yours.

Getting acquainted

Prepare an easy-to-read bullet-point list of the car’s problems. At smaller service centers, we usually deal directly with the mechanic. I always pick up a cold bottle of beer on the way. This gesture appeals to a feeling of reciprocity in the OP, which can translate to more diligent service. Besides, handing over a clean beer is better than shaking a dirty hand.

At larger service chains, the relationship is less personal, and they assign the cars to mechanics who we will probably never meet. Show your car’s sicklist and explain everything in gory detail. It won’t be fun explaining this to a desk clerk, but hang in there and show patience. If something goes wrong later, it’s better they remember you as a reasonable person.

If you get to speak to the mechanic, say, “I don’t know the technical terms, but if we take a two-minute ride, I can point it all out for you.” If they insist that’s impossible, put the sicklist behind the windshield wiper. This list serves two purposes, to point the mechanic in the right direction, and deter them from working on something you hadn’t known about.

If they cannot diagnose your car before you leave, ask when you should come back (or call) for a detailed estimate, and clearly state they must not do any large-scale work without your consent. Assert that above a certain (pick a money amount), they should prepare an itemized price quote before ordering any parts or starting any work.

Major repairs

If your car needs a lot of work, it’s best to visit a few garages and get two or three written estimates. Bring a list of the parts you need. Ask about the warranty. If it’s less than six months, say, “If you can’t make it work for six months, it’s not really worth the investment, is it?” Ensure that the warranty covers both parts and labor. This means that, if the new part is defective, you should not pay again for the labor to install it.

Rule of thumb: understand the warranty before handing your keys over.

Saving money

Consider buying the spare parts yourself and having the mechanic install them This is a big money-saver, albeit more time consuming, and requires gumption. Ask, “Is it okay for me to buy the parts? My cousin is in the business and gets me a good discount.” If they don’t agree, say, “Well, that’s disappointing. What is your mark-up on parts then?” The answer should be zero – they are supposed to earn on the labor, not on parts.

Beware what you cannot see

“By the way, I noticed your ABC was loose, so I fixed that, and the whole XYZ too.” Most mechanics are honest. It has been reported, however, that some have taken advantage of a customer’s ignorance and inflated the bill. Sometimes, but not always, they actually did the additional work, and sometimes, but not always, that work was necessary. When a guy full of grease and brandishing multi-grip pliers is telling you about your car’s afflictions, it can be rather intimidating. Obviously, the best way to prevent this is by being clear in advance, and confirming mutual understanding before you leave the premises.

Call the repair shop around 11 am the next day, ask about your car’s verdict, and confirm the cost. If they’ve ordered any other parts you hadn’t anticipated, you can still stop the process before they start working on it.

After the repairs are done, get a list of everything, plus (itemized) labor charges. If the bill is higher than the estimate, get an explanation. Remind them that you specifically instructed them not to do any extra repairs without getting your prior approval, and ask them to lower the price accordingly. If they won’t, appeal to their sense of fair play: speak calmly, with a downward inflection {link}, “Come on. We agreed on a price, I called to confirm, and now you’re telling me it’s going to cost that much more. Is that fair now?” If they don’t budge, you can acquiesce or add an ‘If/then’: “I’m sorry it’s come to this, but if we can’t come to an agreement today, I’m going to inform management and the government authorities.”

It’s advisable to take a test drive before paying. Ask the mechanic or other employee to accompany you, or, if they’re too busy, leave your ID card as collateral, and drive around the block. Happy? Pay by card when possible – in case of a dispute, these transactions are easier to reverse. Some countries even have laws to protect the consumer against faulty auto repair; do the research if it comes to that.

Problem not solved!

It’s three months later, and you hear that same ugly sound coming from your engine, or the new brakes are squeaking. If you discover, at any time within the warranty period, that things are not right, return to the garage, find the mechanic who worked on the car, and ask them to take a drive. If they refuse, insist, “The only way you can know what you’ve done to my car is to drive it. This has already wasted your time and mine; let’s not stretch it out any longer than necessary.”

After they’ve seen that the car is still not fixed, express your frustration with a touch of empathy: “I understand it’s not easy to fix everything the first time, (optional: and I’m not saying it’s your fault,) but obviously we need to do it again. Can you manage it today?” Mention the warranty, and request new replacement parts.

If they are not agreeable, speak to the manager. Remind them you expect them to honor the warranty, and that you will not pay for the additional repairs. If they do not agree, escalate with an ‘If/then’: “If we do not take care of this right away, I will be forced to cancel the payment with the bank, and inform the local authorities.” You can add that your sister-in-law is a consumer lawyer who loves these cases, or that your cousin writes for the neighborhood newsletter – anything you can think of to ‘motivate’ the garage to do the right thing. They will usually give in, eventually. If not, threaten to report them to the authorities and local/social media. Then, you should probably leave, before any wrenches get raised.

Auto mechanics are manifestly important people in our lives, and it behooves us to acquire a good one we can rely on. Don’t quit looking until you find one. And make sure that beer is cold.

Computers and the I.T. crowd

I.T. folks, like auto mechanics, are a breed apart, living in a different world and speaking a different language. These lovable nerds mend the pesky computer problems we’ve created for ourselves. They know how important their assistance, and our data, is to us. They joke amongst themselves, how our problem is “between keyboard and chair.”

This power, understandably, gives them a profound sense of importance; however, they are not known for their communication skills. We must tread carefully, speak logically, feed their ego, and, perhaps most importantly, confirm understanding with (binary) ‘If/then’ statements, “So, it means if you do _________ for me, I will then be able to do _________ without any problems?”

I.T. geeks are reluctant to offer a fixed price for their work, because, it’s rarely possible to know in advance how long it will take to fix your problem. They would rather quote an hourly rate, and though you won’t have much room to negotiate, you can try to get them to impart some of their precious wisdom on to you. Ask them if you can watch them work: “Will you at least show me how to __________?” If they can provide a quick explanation, they may share some of their know-how. Ask how you can prevent the same problem from happening again. You’ll think of them fondly the next time you do it right, all by yourself. As with your mechanic, do your best to make friends with your I.T. guy/gal. You will need them again.

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