I'm in the middle of Wisconsin, but I was in Houston three years ago to help a friend take down a paint booth in a body shop. He bought it over eBay. From there we visited his sister in Austin. He just moved her and her family up to Wisconsin a few months ago, to near Minneapolis.
As for mechanics, first you have to understand that 99 percent of them are honest and trustworthy, but the other one percent make the news, just like in any other profession. Second, they are held to much higher standards than doctors. If a doctor doesn't diagnose your illness correctly the first time, you keep going back, and paying for each visit, or you go to a different doctor. Have you ever asked for your money back from a doctor? Mechanics often need multiple attempts at solving some problems but when they don't get it right the first time we assume they're incompetent. It's also real common for a new, previously-unknown problem to show up right after a different one is repaired, and of course we assume the mechanic caused it. Experienced mechanics know about these frustrating occurrences and if they plan ahead for the unexpected, they run the risk of giving you an estimate that is much higher than from their competitors. Then we incorrectly assume they were trying to rip you off.
To make matters worse, just like with doctors, lawyers, accountants, and carpenters, mechanics speak their own language and do not communicate well with car owners. That's why there's often a service adviser in the middle to do the translating. The problem is service advisers aren't mechanics. They have to take what they don't understand from the mechanic, and translate it into something they think you can understand. When they mess that up, as they usually do, it is not an attempt to defraud. It is the result of car owners knowing very little about the machine they trust to get them back home.
I can go on with stories like these for hours. As a former instructor I was often asked to interpret repair bills. The same few people were always suspicious, and "knew" they had been ripped off, at least until I explained what likely happened, and the same few people just wanted a better understanding of what took place so they would be better informed next time.
In just three words one mechanic can share volumes of information with another mechanic about what is wrong with your car. He would have to share volumes with you to hopefully have you understand three words. It's no different than a doctor using totally different terminology with you or another doctor. One difference is you're paying for your doctor's time, and they have more leeway in taking the time to explain things in a way you can understand. Mechanics punch in and out at a time clock when they're working on your car, and that's the time you're charged for. That job is usually done, so when you show up to pick up your car, the mechanic is working on the next car. That owner doesn't want to pay for the mechanic's time to answer your questions. Sometimes that can't be avoided, but remember that adds to the time that next disgruntled customer is waiting, and it cuts into the mechanic's productivity. Couple the urge to get back to the project he's being paid to work on with his relatively poor communication skills, and it's lucky if you can get any useful information at all. (Try to talk with a carpenter when he's building a house, and you'll feel his agitation. Everything is about speed with them).
Remember too that most mechanics go through a two-year training program that only covers the basics. My Suspension and Alignment class, for example, was 180 hours long and just started these people on the road to possibly becoming an experienced specialist. You need the same training to understand what they're talking about when they describe what's wrong with your car. The best they can do is try to explain one little part that your car needs, but that part or that repair is part of a whole system that has to be understood. A doctor can't expect to cure you with a simple pill unless he understands how it will affect the rest of you.
The biggest thing you want to avoid unless absolutely necessary is accusing the mechanic or shop of dishonesty or incompetence. Once you do that, obviously they are going to be on the defensive and will do anything to justify their actions. A person's natural tendency is to argue. ("That dress is gorgeous". What, this old rag"?) What you need to do is think of your mechanic as your advocate, not your adversary. There is no benefit in them making you come back for repeat visits for the same problem. They want you to come back next time because you have a good relationship with them.
If you ask questions like, " what can I do to keep this from happening again?", Or, "is this something I caused?", It shows you value this person's opinion and experience, and that you trust them. This is what turns them into your "advocate". When I hear, "why didn't you catch this right away?", I immediately think of all the things I DID check, and I have to justify why I didn't want to cost them money chasing things I had no reason to suspect. I love explaining car repairs to owners, but not when I feel accused of incompetence.
Instead of arguing about your power steering problem not being there before the crash, simply state that fact, then ask for their advice on which shop they recommend you visit. Most body shops have specialty shops they work with all the time. In particular, almost every vehicle involved in a crash needs a four-wheel alignment, and that is an art in itself. Anyone can set adjustments to what is called for, but it's when those settings don't provide the desired results that the specialist has to figure out why and what to do about it. Some body shops have people who have cross-training in some mechanical areas but that is not common.
Where part of the problem comes in is when the body shop wrote up the estimate for the insurance company, they could only go by what they saw. They had no way of knowing about a potential intermittent steering problem. When they find additional problems when they still have the car, first they have to figure out if it was caused by the crash, then they typically contact the insurance company on your behalf to request additional dollars and time. When they can't be sure if it's crash damage, you really don't want to deal with a shop that will lie to the insurance company and say that it is. They might cover the additional repair, but you will pay for it in the long run with higher premiums. The insurance investigators are REAL good at figuring out what is and is not crash-related. Since they know some body shops try to get everything covered for their customers, they are going to be more likely to drag their feet, double-check, and deny claims. You stand a better chance if you state your case directly with the adjuster. That person may even suggest a reliable shop they've worked with before. If that shop says the repair relates to the crash, you know the insurance company will pay for it. If they say it is not related, they are going to explain how they determined that, what the real cause is, and what it will take to fix it.
Related to that, there really are some things that can happen to your car that CAN go unnoticed for years until some other, seemingly unrelated repair takes place. That's not likely what happened here, but some insignificant changes caused by installing new parts can make those problems show up. Those are hard ones to explain to car owners, and it's funny that those owners only get angry when the problem shows up after a mechanic worked on the car. They don't have the same anger when they did the repair themselves and made the new problem show up.
It's easier to take one problem at a time and explain what might have happened than to try to cover a whole list of things. Keep in mind that a lot of the things that are frustrating to you are just as frustrating to your mechanic. They don't like it when new, unexpected problems show up. Reputable shops take care of problems they caused accidentally, and those are the ones you can believe when they explain why a problem is not their fault. It can take a while to build that relationship, but when you do, chocolate chip cookies are always appreciated.
Thursday, January 9th, 2014 AT 6:14 PM