Memoirs Of An Independent Repair Shop Owner: "It's Anything But THAT!"-Detecting the Motive Behind the Exclamation- Part One

Phil Coconis
by Phil Coconis
memoirs of an independent repair shop owner it s anything but that detecting the

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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3 of 26 comments
  • Obbop Obbop on Oct 01, 2012

    I tore apart my banana-seat Schwinn way back when and never could get it back together again.

  • Danio3834 Danio3834 on Oct 01, 2012

    Every day I thank myself for spending many years and countless amounts of money learning how to diagnose and repair vehicles. I can't even imagine being a "normal" person and driving the cars I drive without being either 1. Perpetually vehicle off road or 2. Perpetually broke. Now with a hoist in the shop in the back yard, I don't even have the excuse of "ugh that's hard to get at" or "it's too cold out" to pay someone to work on my cars. I'm lucky I love the business and I love the products otherwise my life would be pure hell.

    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on Nov 09, 2012

      I separate building and and a lift is on my Christmas list (Christmas 2015 at least).

  • SCE to AUX This is not a race worth winning.
  • JMII These would sell better if they came with a service to drop it off (with new tires and brakes) at which ever track you decided to visit per weekend. While its small it still doesn't fit on a private jet and there aren't many tracks close to where your yacht can be docked. 1st world problems here.
  • JMII Its an SUV so I am shocked they don't already offer it.
  • Analoggrotto As we Tesla owners receive our life energy from the greatest son of the gods of all time, Elon Musk; His cherubs and His nephilim may remove whatever they wish from us for unto him we owe all for our superiority above all the rest of humanity.
  • Kcflyer Nice to see California giving NY some competition to be the worst run state in the union.