The Auto Repair Industry: Consumers should be aware of how the auto repair industry works. When you bring your vehi-cle to an auto repair shop and enter the office, you’re usually greeted by a service writer. It doesn’t matter if you go to a dealership, a franchised shop (like Midas or Firestone), or a small independent shop — more often than not, the service writer is the first person you meet. The service writer acts as an intermediary between you and the repair technician. He tells the technician to inspect the car, the technician informs him what the findings are, and then he comes back to you with the findings. Some shops allow the customer to come into the repair room to see the technician’s findings, but many don’t.
The Auto Repair Industry | Beginner’s Auto Maintenance & Repair | Jeff Crawford
The service writer is evaluated by upper management, which may include the manager of the shop, a director of one or many shops, and/or the owner. The owners of large shops are not usually onsite and function mostly as investors. They’re hoping to make a return on their investment. Directors may manage multiple shops or be the head of an entire department, such as the service department at a dealership.
Since the service writer is a middleman between the customer and the technician, there are frequent communication problems that can occur. A customer may come into the shop and say that the car makes a squeaking sound when the brakes are applied. The service writer thinks it’s the brake pads, so he tells the technician to inspect the brake pads. There may be nothing wrong with the brake pads. What the service writer should have done is write down that there is a squeaking sound when the brakes are applied. Then the technician can diagnose the problem better. Similar communication issues can also occur in the other direction. The technician may explain problems or findings to the service writer and the service writer may fail to relay the information correctly to the customer.
The service writer is first and foremost a salesman, not a technician. His knowledge and understanding of how a vehi-cle works is often not any greater than the customer’s.
Some service writers can be very knowledgeable about cars; others are not. In either case, when the customer speaks to him, he will appear to understand what is wrong with the vehi-cle.
A major problem with the entire industry, from the technicians to upper management, is that everyone is paid on commission. This means that they are motivated and rewarded to increase sales and raise the price in order to make more money. The services that they suggest are often not damaging to the car; they’re just not necessary. They may say that your cooling system needs a flush when it doesn’t or they could fudge the numbers on maintenance intervals to increase the frequency of services. Maintenance services are often based on mileage, so it’s easy for a shop to say that a service is required at 30,000 miles when it actually isn’t due until 90,000 miles. By changing the interval to every 30,000 miles, they sell the service three times instead of one. This is why it is important to review the maintenance chart in the owner’s manual of the vehi-cle. Also, some repairs are needed at an earlier time than what is specified in the owner’s manual. This will be based on certain conditions which can include the weather, the driving route, the driver’s habits, and other environmental conditions where the vehi-cle is driven or parked on a regular basis.
Auto dealerships generally have a service department and a sales department which are run as two separate businesses. The sales department is actually a customer to the service department. The sales department is responsible for moving inventory (selling cars on the lot). The service department is responsible for providing services which include inspections, maintenance and repairs. The sales department is a customer to the service department because every vehicle has be inspected and serviced before it can be sold. Since the service writer is still paid by commission even when ordering services for the same dealership, he can often tell the sales department that a particular vehicle can’t be placed out on the lot unless it receives all the top services. Since the sales department wants to sell the vehicle, they have no other choice than to accept the services and pass the additional costs on to the customer. The service department is the one that determines whether a vehicle can be put on the lot, not the sales department. This arrangement can be a safeguard for the vehicles being sold and add protection to buyers. However, it also gives the services writers more control and it is often used to increase commissions.
When people take their cars to the dealership for maintenance, they are often under the impression that the dealership has a certified technician performing the repairs. Often the technicians are just kids out of high school with little training or experience. These entry-level employees are often called “lube techs” because traditionally the job only involves changing the oil. However, today some dealerships allow lube techs to perform any repair that they feel comfortable doing, even if they weren’t specifically trained for it. This saves the dealership money because the lube techs aren’t paid as much as the certified technicians.
Some shops are sincerely honest, and they do their best to provide good service. Yet, the system is still flawed. The staff is still paid by commission and the communication gap can still exist between the customer and the repair technician due to the presence of the middleman service writer.
At Crawford’s Auto Repair, we have a completely different system of management. The owners are the technicians and they don’t get paid by commission. There are no service writers. Customers have direct interaction with the technician, who inspects the vehicle. An honest and accurate estimate is given to each customer. The technician only performs the repairs after receiving permission from the customer and customers are always welcome into the repair room to observe the inspections and repairs. Also, we never try to sell unnecessary repairs or services.
This book is provided to all auto repair consumers free of charge to help them gain a better understanding of their vehicle and the auto industry in order to save money.
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