Our industry has a terrible reputation, and unfortunately, that’s not the myth, that’s a true statement.
Not too long ago, I was asked by a customer, one of our local news stations, to help do an expose’ on some of the “fast lube” shops around town. This put me in a terrible position for a few reasons. For one, I really didn’t want to help perpetuate a negative image of our industry. But on the other hand, people have a right to know so they can protect themselves. It really boiled down to two questions for me.
1. What is the harm in doing this? The harm was I was helping to reinforce the negative image our industry has brought on itself. Would people see this and think “Wow, what a really nice thing it was for them to shed some light on common practices utilized by a handful of auto repair shops in order to increase their profits?” Most likely not.
2. What is the benefit in doing this? Let’s face it – the fact that you ignore a problem doesn’t make it any less real. The reputation is what it is, and unless we start to recognize, isolate and eliminate it, it will keep growing and getting worse. When bad things are left unattended, they just get worse, and I have found that pretty much applies to everything in life.
In the end, we ran with the story, and quite a few of the local “fast lube” shops were not real happy with my decision, and they didn’t mind letting me know it. I guess accountability stings sometimes.
So what is the myth?
The myth is that all shops are out to take advantage of you. For my first example, one of the most misunderstood practices in our industry is the Free Safety Inspection, where a technician looks beyond the issue you brought your car in for, then provides you a list of “recommended items”. This sometimes is perceived as an attempt to sell you additional items that you may or may not need. How many reading this have been offered a “flush” that will help prolong the life of whatever system is being flushed, but you can’t find that service anywhere in your owner’s manual? Since you may not be familiar with what they are talking about, it is real easy to feel like you are being taken advantage of.
Let me give you my best advice on this – if it feels kind of sleazy to you, it probably is. Please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to say. A reputable shop is going to offer you the same Free Safety inspection, but with a few major differences.
The biggest difference is the motive behind doing it, and I just summarized the best way to tell in my previous statement – a reputable shop is going to OFFER you the same service. If you don’t want someone looking over your car from front to back, then you shouldn’t be forced to let them. A reputable shop will ask you if you would like for them to perform the service before they do it.
Another good way to tell is the manner in which they approach you with their findings. A reputable shop says “here is what we see, what it effects, and what it cost to repair”, then let’s you make your own educated decision. A greedy shop pushes the service until you feel like running out the door, possibly even using scare tactics to try to intimidate you into buying. One of the shops covered in the expose’ I mentioned actually told a customer her transmission would blow up if she didn’t do the service. What made that extra sleazy was the fact that she JUST had the service done at the previous shop they visited! To make matters worse, the repair was authorized, and the hidden camera showed the mechanic pretending to do the service, never even hooking up the flush machine!
A final way to make sure you’re doing the right thing is to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, and nothing else, since nobody knows your car better than the people who made it. If it’s not in the owner’s manual, it doesn’t need to be done. On repairs like brakes, a little bit of research will tell you what the average is for your make and model on both mileage and cost of repair.
In the end, the most important thing is that as you drive away from the repair shop, you feel good about the transaction that just took place. If you do, you have found your shop. If you don’t, my best advice is to keep looking.