Studies reveal that 70% of auto repair technicians are ill-qualified to work on your car. They lack training, understanding, and the experience to properly maintain your vehicle. 70% is a staggering number. It doesn’t end with the mechanic though. In fact, problems often begin with your service advisor – the person you sit down with at a dealer or repair shop to discuss your concerns. The turnover rate of service advisors is as high as 80% in some dealers. This means you’ll sit down with an inexperienced amateur to discuss your auto needs. In other words, before a mechanic even works on your car, you’re in trouble.

A recent example at a local Honda dealership illustrates just how much you can be steered in the wrong direction. The vehicle went in for its first oil change at the manufacturer’s recommended service interval of 7,500 miles. The owner requested that the tires be rotated. The service advisor stated that it was much too early and was not needed until 10,000 miles. The owner pointed out that the vehicle would not need service again for another 7,500 miles and that would mean the tires wouldn’t get rotated until 15,000 miles. The advisor brushed it off, stating that, after all, it was up to him and that it was “never too early to rotate your tires.”

Which is it? Can one go 10,000 miles or even 15,000 miles on this particular model without a tire rotation? Or is it too early? Should one rotate their car’s tires every 100 miles? As you can see, the client was not being “advised” properly. Fortunately, he understood basic car maintenance enough to point out the illogical rational to the advisor. In this particular case, the tire manufacturer’s recommendation was every 5,000 miles for rotation.

The misinformation didn’t stop there. The car repair customer also noted that the vehicle was intermittently not starting when very cold. Using a common automotive term, the client stated that the starter “missed” (i.e., it was not engaging). Not picking up on this term, the advisor started to talk about a weak battery – a very unlikely possibility for a 2009 vehicle with only 7,500 mile on it. When the customer explained the scenario again and even made the sound a starter makes when it “misses,” the advisor stated that they would need the vehicle over night to check it on a cold morning. This is indeed protocol. One must first reproduce the problem before proceeding. However, an industry veteran knows that cars don’t always cooperate. Given the client’s description, the vehicle almost certainly has a bad starter and will very likely leave the driver stranded when it fails completely.

What to do? The customer knew the dealer would unlikely be able to reproduce the concern, as the condition was intermittent, and he would thus waste his time. So the owner asked if there were any known conditions (recalls or TSBs – Technical Service Bulletins). The advisor quickly said there were none.

In fact, there was a TSB related to a no start condition. The advisor had access to the information at his finger tips, but was too ignorant and/or too lazy to check. While ultimately the starting issue did not match the client’s concerns, it would have been appropriate to check for known conditions. Moreover, the advisor should have formally written the customer’s concern on the repair invoice “just for the record.” In this way the starting issue could have been documented and then revisited at the next scheduled maintenance.

While the above scenario is frustrating enough, problems frequently arise when your advisor does not adequately express your vehicle’s needs to the technician. A service advisor is essentially a middle man between you and the technician. This middle man dynamic wreaks havoc all by itself, but is compounded by amateurs (This is not to say it’s better to talk directly to a technician, but that’s for another article). An amateur service advisor will not pull the necessary information from you. He or she will not ask the appropriate probing questions to ensure that they have understood your concern correctly. Nor will he or she be able to adequately translate your concerns on the repair order for the technician in clear and concise language.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to get the message across. The auto repair industry is full of amateurs. You need to be your car’s advocate. Ensure that your service advisor understands and documents all your concerns. Show them – take them for a test drive if necessary. Read the repair order before you sign it. Avoid giving unnecessary information (e.g., I was driving from my sisters after dropping off my uncle’s step brother, John, who just got out of the hospital….). Stick to the basics. While driving 20 mph (on a bumpy road) there’s a subtle rattling from the left rear of the vehicle. It sounds as if metal is clanging around. A good advisor should be able to get the Who, What, Where, and When out of you. Help the amateurs by taking the time to explain. In this way you’ll maximize your chances of getting your car fixed right the first time.