The Truth About Cars » Customers The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 11:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Customers Hammer Time: Morning Calls Mon, 21 Jan 2013 14:00:33 +0000

Morning phone rings at the car lot…

Me: Hello?

Random Stranger: Hi there, like, I have this friend you know and he told me that you finance vehicles, and his name is Emmanuel and aahhh, like I was wondering, well, uh, do you have any Toyotas and like, do you, ummm… finance vehicles you know?

Me: I’m sorry. Who is this?

Random Stranger: My name is Lashandra and like, you know, I was really wondering whether you have any Toyotas, and like, how much can you give me if I came by with four or five hundred dollars because my friend Emmanuel…

Me: Where do you live?

Random Stranger: I live in Georgia, like, you know, I live in this state.

Me: (Laughing) I know you live in this state! Where in Georgia do you live? I only finance folks in Paulding, Cobb, and Douglas counties.

Random Stranger: Oh, I live in Fulton. Emmanuel said that you…. (three minute diatribe with 17 likes, 14 aaahhs, and 11 you knows).

Me: Do you have any coffee nearby?

Random Stranger: Why would I need coffee?

Me: I need coffee. I really need a cup of coffee. Call me back.

Random Stranger: Well, um, ahh, OK… but Emmanuel said that you (I give the phone to my confused dog and walk off.)

Craigslist always seems to bring out the weird people on a Friday morning. Or it could be Ebay on a Wednesday afternoon. Or even Autotrader on a  Monday evening. Sometimes I get the most random, scary, and gibberish driven calls you can imagine.  We’re talking about people still stuck in the outer space of their daily lives in a futile pursuit of a Planet X located in the netherworld of their cranium.

Here are a few personal examples…

The Questionnaire: “Hi there. I just have a few questions to ask you. How many miles does it have? How many owners? When was the last time you had it serviced? When was the last time you changed the oil?”

This is followed seven minutes later with…

“How often have you used the glovebox? Is the glovebox fully operational? How about the headliner? And the driver’s side cupholder. Do all the cupholders work? Do you have a Carfax? Good. How many owners?”

The Dreamer: “I see you’re selling a Harley on Ebay. Let me ask you a question. I have never been on a highway while driving a motorcycle. Do you think I can drive it up to Tennessee?”

NOTE: After explaining to her the Darwinian nature of her quest, she still ended up becoming the winning bidder. Following a two month wait, her son came down to Atlanta in a Saturn with some bungee cords. He was going to tie the Harley up on the roof and drive it back.

The Hardsell Discount SOB: “Hi there. I want to buy car! You sell it at discount?”… after explaining that I don’t negotiate over the phone and the car is listed for $10k… “You take $6000? I have cash! I have cash money!”…

NOTE: You never, ever, want to deal with these people face to face. What they will usually do is only speak in their native language and then act completely clueless when you explain to them the price. This will be done over an agonizing two hour period where you will find renewed interest in sorting out your trash bin, paying bills, and dialing in a 34-part Taco Bell survey.

The Needle-(nose): “Yeah. I saw that Mercedes window regulator you have on Craigslist for $80. I have $20 cash and I’ll take it off your hands. Will you take 20?”…

Five minutes later…”Will you take 25? No? Well call me when you’re ready to sell!”

Text, fifteen minutes later: “Cmn man! I ned it! Ur car a deesl?”

Seven texts later: “OK30. Final ofr!”

Two days later: “Stel god it?”

NOTE: This is by far the #1 reason why most dealers won’t part out a crappy car on Craigslist anymore.

The “I don’t know.”: “Hi there. I’m looking for a car.”

Me: “Great. I have plenty available. What’s your price range and what models interest you?”

IDK: “I don’t know. I’m just looking for something that is safe and reliable.”

Me: “Well, I have a 2003 Volvo S40 for $5000. It was dealer maintained since day one and I can email the Carfax and pictures if you like.”

IDK: “I don’t want a European car.”

Me: “Do you want  American, Korean, or Japanese?”

IDK: “I don’t know. I’m just looking for a car.”

Me: “Well, what price range are you looking for?”

IDK: It doesn’t matter. I’m just looking for A to B.

Me: “Well, I have an 02 Corolla. It…”

IDK: I want something bigger and newer.

NOTE: Fifteen minutes later you will find out that they want to spend no more than $5000 on a five year old car… with leather.. and it must be a Toyota Camry LE.

The Life Story! : 

Me: Hello?

“Yes, I’m calling about that 1998 Subaru Outback. You know I used to have one of those and let me tell you… those cars…”

Fifteen minutes and 1 very strong cup of coffee later…

“Well, I’m just looking. But call me if any more of those get in…”

NOTE: On a slow day the Life Story can be one of your most enjoyable customers because they actually know something about cars. The life story is more often than not a bored enthusiast who also has a long list of hobbies, random stories involving their kids, and an unusual desire for “that one car”. I even had one fly down to pick up a car from me, sight unseen.

The “I saw it on TV” Caller #22:

Me: Hello?

TV: “Wha-cha got for a thousand dollars!”

Me: “I’m sorry. What is it you’re looking for?”

TV: “I’m a wholesaler. I’m looking for a cheap thousand dollar car. I need one with a good engine and good transmission. I wholesale cars.”

Me: “Where are you out of?”

TV: “Well… umm… I live in Marietta.”

Me: “Why are you telling me you “live” in Marietta if you’re a wholesaler?”

TV: “Well, I’m just getting started.”

Me: “OK then. Where is your place? I know plenty of wholesalers out of Marietta. None of them sell thousand dollar cars out of their home.”

NOTE:  Most TV customers have visited public auctions and haven’t quite grasped the fact that cheap cars at those sales are cheap for a reason. Most cars wholesaled for $1000 these days are worth more parted out than kept together.

I usually average about two to three of these calls a month.

Every business deals with these types of customers in one form or another. So since we’re headed to the thick of another nice long three day weekend, feel free to share your stories. All the best!

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: “It’s Anything But THAT!”—Detecting the Motive Behind the Exclamation—Part Two Mon, 08 Oct 2012 10:23:00 +0000 For the most part, I’m trying to avoid the whys and wherefores behind the topics I write about in this column. I’d just as soon hear from readers as to their opinions about the reasons behind. But there are going to be exceptions to that rule, as far as my postulating about motives.

This entry (as with Part One) is one of the exceptions. I still wouldn’t mind “hearing” your thoughts, though

Once upon a time, when my little repair shop microcosm was a much safer and secure place to tread, I would rarely get a customer request for a repair procedure that was unlawful, unsafe, unprofitable, unfair, or just downright unrecommendable. And if their request was any of these, it would take very little effort on my part to dissuade them from their skewed request and get them to embrace my recommendation for properly solving their problem.

Or, did I DREAM that?

Based on a downward trend toward the lowest common denominator of customer requests, which seemed to start shortly after “once upon a time”, I’m wondering if I must HAVE dreamt it!

(As a matter of fact, I think that the next couple of entries are going to relate some of the truly infamous customer requests I have ever received.)

Staying true to theme, today’s entry really centers on my perception of a customer’s motive for making a particular request, and the lengths this customer went to get me to fulfill it.

The customer came to me with a straightforward request to replace his catalytic converters on a early-millennium Pathfinder. Not a request to run some tests to determine why his “Check Engine” light was on (which it was), or even to verify that his cat’s were in actual need of replacement.

When I asked him why he thought the cat’s were bad, he didn’t even try to answer the question, but instead countered by questioning me as to why I couldn’t just fulfill his request and get him on his way.

I informed him that firstly, it was (and I believe, still is) unlawful in the State of California to replace a cat unless it is experiencing a verifiable failure, or has been in any other way damaged internally or externally to the point of inoperability.

I also noted that the replacement units for his P/Finder were quite expensive, and if replacement didn’t solve whatever the problem was, was he going to be able to take responsibility for his request. Or was he going to attempt to make me “eat” the cost (which, based on the State Law just referred to, would have been the case) if the causal symptom wasn’t eliminated?

I reminded him that I really needed to know WHY he wanted me to replace the cat’s, before we could go any further.

He finally coughed up the fact that the “check engine” light was indeed illuminated, and the “dealer” he had taken the vehicle to had told him that the catalysts were inoperative and needed to be replaced.

When I requested a copy of the work order from the “dealer” he had gone to—so I could verify the validity of his request—he again balked, finally admitting that he didn’t have it, and that in fact, there wasn’t a work order at all!

At that point, I told him that I really couldn’t help him unless he let me perform the tests necessary, and we’d have to go from there.

He finally acquiesced, and I saw the ‘finder the next morning.

Sure enough, after interrogating the engine management system, I verified that both left and right side cats were showing “low efficiency”, potentially suggesting the need for replacement.

I decided to go a little further in my testing, and engaged my scanner’s “Troubleshooter” feature to check for vehicle-specific information about the cat failure codes that were present.

I found an interesting “surprise”: Regarding the particular year and emissions group, this ‘finder had a “service bulletin” in connection with the failure codes present. Apparently, there was a potential programming fault that could cause such failure codes when there was no actual problem with the cat’s whatsoever! The recommended course was to have an authorized dealer connect their proprietary equipment to the management system and determine if it was in need of a program update. Once, and ONLY once this procedure was completed, could the need for cat replacement be properly assessed!

I would otherwise be in violation of The Law if I replaced the cats without confirming this procedure had been done!

When I informed the customer of these facts, he seemed more upset than ever, actually saying some form of “It has to be anything but THAT!”

What made this especially puzzling, and confirmed that this customer had some sort of unfriendly “agenda” was that, by taking the course I recommended, he could be potentially saving himself quite literally THOUSANDS of dollars! The math wasn’t difficult: $200 for a check and reprogram, or more than $2000 for a cat replacement!

But, instead of thanking me profusely for the information, he was visibly displeased with the whole experience!

I never heard anything more from this “customer”, and I can only guess at what his “agenda” was.

Was he an agent for some consumer research or “watchdog” agency?

Was he just doing a little private investigation on his own?

Was he trying to score a set of free catalytic converters, at my expense?

Or was he trying to exercise his freedom of expression or “manifest destiny” by requesting a potentially unnecessary repair procedure just because he felt that, in the good ol’ U.S.A., he COULD?

I’ll probably never know.

Had I done it his way, though, I likely would have been in a world of trouble.

As an ASE Certified L1 Master Tech, Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: “It’s Anything But THAT!”—Detecting the Motive Behind the Exclamation— Part One Sat, 29 Sep 2012 10:16:39 +0000

For the most part, I’m trying to avoid the whys and wherefores behind the topics I write about in this column. I’d just as soon hear from readers as to their opinions about the reasons behind. But there are going to be exceptions to that rule, as far as my postulating about motives.

This entry is one of the exceptions.

I still wouldn’t mind hearing your thoughts, though

As I stated in my last entry, in the final analysis—in spite of the opinions voiced on the nature of their vehicles problem—the customer generally sincerely just wanted the problem remedied. There were no ulterior motives I could detect in their erroneous observations; I just appreciated that their scope of experience was limited in comparison to mine, and I took what usefulness I could out of their efforts to help.

But then, there were those occasions when I highly doubted the sincerity of the customer’s statements. In this entry, I’m going to relate a couple of those occasions to you.Customer mis-diagnosis has often related to the fuel system. I have had many people make the assumption that the fuel pump had failed, when in fact, the problem was nothing more than a lack of fuel in the tank—a fact that would often be wildly denied by the vehicles owner.

One customer seemed to have painted himself—certainly with some outside help—into a diagnostic corner. By the time he brought his problem to me—both his and his vehicles—I believe he was convinced that he truly had something unsolvable.

It was a mid-eighties Chevy van with the venerable 350 cubic inch V-8 equipped with throttle-body fuel injection (one of the most bulletproof F.I. systems in the history of the automobile, I might add).

It was experiencing long crank times before finally firing, when cold, and sluggish acceleration—worse during the warm-up process.

During the initial consultation, I mentioned that the problem sounded like it was something to do with fuel delivery and asked if he had ever had the fuel pump changed. He emphasized that he’d taken the van to numerous repair shops, including the local Chevy dealer—who had actually clamed to have tested the pump via a fuel pressure test (none of the other shops had reportedly even done this), and showed me a printout of their findings. They had entered a pressure value that indicated the fuel pump was fine.

When I questioned that finding, and stated that I was going to perform a fuel system pressure test, he got very uncomfortable with that. Some other customers might have felt similarly, perhaps because they didn’t want to pay for a procedure that had already been done; and indeed, this customer let me know that money was tight with him, too.

I emphasized that, based on the description of the symptoms, the fuel pressure test was the very first thing I was going to do, or I wasn’t going to touch his vehicle.

He relented, but not without a struggle.

Sure enough, my pressure test results indicated a pump that was operating at a steady pressure just about one-third of the required normal pressure!

When I informed him of this, he was in disbelief. I had to tell him that if fuel pump replacement didn’t cure the problem with his vehicle, I wouldn’t charge him for anything. He was very reluctant to agree to THIS, even when I low-balled him on the price of the job. He finally did approve it, but called back about an hour later to cancel the job.

It was too late.

I’d already had the fuel tank most of the way removed, and now he was facing the prospect of paying me for the diagnosis and reinstallation of the fuel tank, with the guarantee that the problem was STILL GOING TO BE THERE!

It was then that I was certain that he was actually having a big problem with the prospect of a normally operating vehicle!

What would there be to complain about NOW?

And since he couldn’t use the poorly functioning vehicle as an excuse to shirk responsibilities, what NEW story was he going to have to invent?

Now that this problem with his vehicle was going to be solved, what OTHER unknown possible problem was going to come up, next?

And would he have to go through the same agonizing process to address the new problem?

But then, the prospect of leaving money on the table—with nothing more than another mechanic’s opinion of what was wrong with his van to show for it—was not appealing, either.

I sensed some sort of a meltdown in progress, and the ensuing conversation took on the dynamic of that between a therapist and patient.

In the end, he expressed solidarity for our earlier agreement, and I was able to finish the job, with the van performing better than he could ever remember.

He seemed truly relieved; and I sensed that the fact that his van was repaired played only a small role in this. It was more like I’d helped him to reach a personal milepost. He trusted somebody’s word, in the face of numerous “obstacles”, and dared to move forward with his lifI hope he can maintain the momentum.

As an ASE Certified L1 Master Tech, Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.














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Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: “It’s Anything But THAT!”— Famous Last Words That Have Provided More Help Than Hindrance Wed, 19 Sep 2012 14:50:21 +0000

If I had a dime for every time a customer said that to me while in the process of Repair Order composition… I would have made a lot less money off the ensuing job!

I mean, the whole idea of the pre-repair consultation—at least from my point of view—was and is to get as good an idea as possible about the nature of the vehicle’s problem, so a proper repair can be performed in an expedient, efficient, and cost-effective manner.

The fact that many professional people—including those in the auto repair field—don’t take this approach, and why they don’t, will be a subject for a future entry.

In my earlier, more naïve and trusting days, when a customer would tell me what a problem WASN’T—often with an intimidating amount of conviction—I would give their assessment a fair measure of credence as I approached a solution to the problem.

It was kind of an “innocent until proven guilty” sort of dynamic.

After a couple of jobs where I would have been happy just to have made a dime on the process, I sensed what I considered at the time to be a bizarre pattern being defined.

Over the years, the pattern continued to be supported and proven, to the point that it could actually be stated as some sort of natural law, like the ebb and flow of tides, the lunar phases, or even the rising and setting of the sun:  if the customer said the problem with their vehicle was “anything but THAT”, it would, in fact, be NOTHING OTHER than that! And this fact would be further set and emphasized proportional to the amount of conviction the customer would use to make their point.

I learned not to argue the point of my ironclad “discovery” with the customer, as sometimes I would find that I had talked myself out of a job! The best method would be just to include what I thought it would take to actually get the vehicle running right (at least for demonstration purposes) in the initial estimate price. When I’d show the customer how the problem had been corrected, the perceived contradictory nature of the repair would be a little easier for me to explain, and for them to accept.

Since I’ve been covering some of my experiences with British Cars in the last several entries, I think it’s only fitting that the first germane tale I relate should be about one of them.

It was a mid-eighties Jaguar, not surprisingly. What surprised me a little was that the customer was a tech that had specialized in British Cars for some time, although mostly on older models. Examples from the “Marque of the Leaping Cat” were especially trouble-ridden during the period before the Blue Oval bailout, and I had gained some local renown for performing exceptionally well on such offerings.

While consulting with him, he of course told me about all the things he’d done to address the problem—all of the time, blood, sweat and tears. He was especially proud of the Lucas “Speedlead” spark plug wires he’d installed. In earlier times, I knew those to be the correct wire to use on the XJ-6 models, but I also knew that later models used a different version of the wire he’d installed.

When I raised this issue, he bristled, and I backed off and said that he was probably right, and that it must be something else. In any event, he knew I’d hook it up to my ignition system Oscilloscope, and I’d get a better idea then.

He was right about that, at least.

What the ‘scope pattern indicated was that the aforementioned “pattern” related to customer opinion as to the nature of the problem was again, indeed, repeating.

Apparently, the resistance value of the wire set he installed, while being ideal for earlier contact point-type ignition systems, was not allowing the electronic system this XJ was equipped with to generate the correct spark quality needed.

I installed the proper wire set, and the problem was solved!

The customer was duly pleased—our initial disagreement over the nature of the problem being forgotten. That highlights the real truth of these types of situations: the customer just wants their vehicle FIXED—opinions counting for very little in the final analysis.

Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Stay tuned for the next entry, where I will cover a couple of them.

Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.

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