Chapter 7. Auto repair (and IT folks)

Sunday, January 17, 2016
Category: News

If you’ve ever owned a car, you’ve needed auto repair. The two things go hand-in-hand: owning a car and paying for maintenance. We love our cars, can’t live without them. But the equation always remains: cars = problems.

Enter the auto mechanic: usually a grease-covered man in overalls carrying a big wrench. They know how to do things we have no aptitude or patience for, like opening up an engine or fixing the brakes. In a certain, slightly ironic way, an auto mechanic is like a surgeon. Indeed we trust the mechanic with our livelihoods, our families and our very lives.

Not unlike with the surgeon, 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 great asset and will save you considerable anguish. Sow a bond between you and yours.

Getting acquainted

At smaller garages, you will usually be dealing directly with the mechanic. I like to bring a cold bottle of beer. This gesture invokes a feeling of reciprocity {link} and, besides, handing over a clean beer is more pleasant than shaking a greasy hand.

At larger service chains, the relationship is less personal, and you may never even meet your mechanic. They may be too important and too busy to talk to us customers. It really doesn’t matter who you talk to. Develop a rapport with the OP; if something goes wrong later, at least they’ll remember you as friendly and reasonable.

Ask the mechanic (or have the clerk call the mechanic) to test drive the car with you, so you can point out the issues. If they refuse to do this, try to press the point, saying “I’m sorry I don’t know the words how to explain it, but I’ll be happy to show you real quick and you can hear it for yourself.” Failing that, a small bribe may mean the difference between yes and no.

Whatever you know or don’t know about cars, you’ll need to explain in as much detail as possible what’s wrong with yours. If there are several issues, prepare an easy-to-read list. Read it aloud to the mechanic or service clerk, and wait for their visible nod after each point.

If they are not able to diagnose your car before you leave, ask when you should come back for a detailed estimate, and remind them not to do any work without your consent. Mention that you will want a detailed price quote before they order any parts or start any repair work.

*Note: in some cultures, the prices are standardized and they may not want to bother making you a “detailed price quote.” Tell them that if there are multiple issues, they must inform you before they continue working on it.

Saving money

Buying the spare parts yourself and having the mechanic install them can be a big money-saver, though rather time-consuming. If you have the gumption to procure your own spare parts, ask, “Is it OK for me to buy the parts? My cousin is in the auto parts business and gives me a nice discount.” If they don’t agree, say, “Well, that’s disappointing. What is your mark-up on parts then?” The answer should be zero. You’ll need to decide whether to trust them or take your car somewhere else.

Older or larger parts can be found at junkyards at a tremendous savings. It’s almost like treasure hunting, so, if you’re feeling like Indiana Jones and don’t mind getting your hands and car dirty, by all means go visit a few junkyards. Alternatively and much more easily, you can ask the mechanic to look around for second-hand parts, though, depending on their motivation, this will take more time.

If you need major repairs

If you need a big job done, it’s best to visit a few garages and get some (written, if possible) estimates. Make a list of everything you need. This will be handy when choosing which garage to hire and, with the additional knowledge of the costs, you’ll have some negotiation leverage.

Document the situation; take photos of the part(s) in question. Make sure the timestamp in your camera is correct. If it comes down to a dispute, this will help toward proving your case.

Rule of thumb: Make sure you fully understand the warranty before handing your keys over.

Ask about the warranty. If it’s less than three months, say, “If you can’t make it work for at least three months, it’s not really worth the investment, is it?” Negotiate. Make sure it covers both parts and labor. This means that if the new part is defective, you should not need to pay again for the labor to install it.

Beware what you cannot see

Because they know how much we need them, mechanics have a tendency to bask in their own importance. Most mechanics are honest. But some mechanics take advantage of the customer’s ignorance and inflate the bill by doing unnecessary, additional work on top of the repairs we ordered. It’s not unusual to hear, upon returning to pay and pick up the car, “By the way, I noticed your ABC was cracked, so I replaced that, and the whole XYZ as well.” We can only avoid this by telling the mechanic not to make repairs without your consent.

When a guy full of grime and wielding a lug wrench is talking down at us, it can be intimidating. Obviously, the best way to prevent this by being clear in advance and confirming understanding, before they take your car apart.

After the repairs are done, get a list of everything fixed, plus (itemized) labor charges. If the bill is higher than the original estimate, get them to explain why. Remind them that you specifically instructed them not to do any extra repairs without getting your prior approval. Ask them to lower the price accordingly. If they don’t agree, try to appeal to their sense of fair play. Speak calmly, “Come on. We agreed on a price, and now you’re telling me it’s going to cost more. Is that fair now?” If they don’t budge, you can tell them that if you can’t come to an agreement today, you’re going to inform management or, if necessary, the relevant government authority.

Take a test drive before paying. Have the mechanic or other employee accompany you if possible. This may or may not be possible, depending on the culture, but you can ask!

Always pay by card (reverse transactions are easier with credit/debit cards, just in case).

Again, get to know your local legislation. Some places have laws to protect the consumer against unscrupulous auto mechanics. Different locations have different laws. Know the rules and be ready to mention them when you need to.

Problem not solved!

You paid, climbed in, excitedly turned the ignition, and now you’re driving away. If you discover now (or anytime within the warranty period), that things are still not right, return to the garage immediately. Find the mechanic who worked on the car, explain the problem and insist they take a drive with you. Use link downward inflection. If they refuse, get ready to put up a fuss: “ The only way you can hear and feel what you’ve done to my car is to drive it. This has already been a waste of time; let’s not stretch it out any longer than necessary.”

After you’ve shown that the problem is still unfixed, express your frustration with a touch of empathy: “I understand it’s not easy to fix everything the first time, 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 you don’t get satisfaction, speak to the manager. Remind them you expect them to fulfill their part of the deal and that you will not pay any additional money for the repairs. If they do not agree to honor the warranty, mention that more than the garage’s reputation is at stake, and that you can and will make sure other people will hear about this. Remain calm and use an if/then statement: “If we do not take care of this right away, I will be forced to cancel the payment and inform the local authorities about this.” You can add that your sister-in-law is a consumer lawyer who would love to take on this kind of case, or that your nephew writes for the neighborhood newsletter – anything you can think of to ‘motivate’ the garage to get working on your car.

Usually, they will give in and take your car in. Remind them that you want them to fix the problem at hand and nothing else. Otherwise, they may try to ‘find’ an additional problem to fix at additional expense. Thank them for their cooperation and bluff that you look forward to using them again. Then, at some point, find another garage to take your business to.

Computers and the I.T. crowd

I.T. folks are a breed apart, living in a different world and speaking a different language. They fix pesky computer problems we create for ourselves (they love to say how our problem is “between keyboard and chair”); they know how important their assistance, and our data, is to us.

This gives them a sense of inflated importance, and, on top of this, they are not usually very good communicators. We need to tread carefully, feed their ego, speak logically, and confirm understanding with if/then statements (“So, it means if you do _________ for me, I will then be able to do _________ without any problems?”)

I.T. people are reluctant to offer a fixed price for their work, because, as they will tell you, “it’s not possible to know in advance how long it will take to do this job.” They will rather quote an hourly rate. You won’t have much room to negotiate, but you can try to get them to teach you some of their knowledge. Ask them if you can watch them work on your computer:“Will you at least show me how to __________?” If they are able to provide a quick and painless explanation, they will likely share some of their precious know-how. Make sure to ask how to prevent the same problem from happening again – this will save you money and hassles in the future.

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