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Monday, April 04, 2011

Eight Rules to Follow For a Good Service Experience

You buy a car only once every 4 or 5 years, but you should service your car at least two or three times a year. Car dealers make more money from servicing and repairing cars than selling them. The man who takes your order you when you drive into a service lane is paid on commission just like the salesman who sold you your car. His title may be service advisor, service writer, or assistant service manager, but he’s really a salesman. The more service or repairs he sells you, the more money he earns. Follow these eight easy to follow rules and you will not get “taken to the cleaners” and still get the service necessary to keep your car running well. (1) Always ask for a written estimate. Florida law gives you the right to receive a written estimate for your service and repairs. If the estimate exceeds the actual amount by greater than 10%, you don’t have to pay that overage. Be sure that you get a written, not verbal estimate. If you’re contacted later and told there is additional work that should be done, ask that they put that in writing too. If you’re not in the dealership, ask them to text or email this before you approve it. (2) Insist that the technician or service advisor test drives your car with you. If you have a drivability problem, meaning squeaks, rattles, pulling, vibration, inadequate braking, etc., always insist that you accompany the tech (preferably) or service advisor on a test drive so that he can be an eye witness to your complaint. Repeat this test drive after the work has been completed. Descriptions of drivability problems are often miscommunicated verbally and in writing. The service advisor and the technicians will usually not offer the test drive because it’s time consuming and they’re both paid on commission. It’s up to you to insist. (3) Request the best technician to work on your car. Most service departments have several techs who can work on your car. Some are better than others, just like doctors, lawyers, and hair stylists. Why should your car be repaired or serviced by the guy that happens to be waiting for the next job? The first time you visit a service department, ask who their top tech is. He usually has been working their longer, attended more schools, and holds more ASE certification ratings. The service advisors and the service manager know exactly who these guys are and usually will be glad to tell you, especially if it determines whether or not they will keep you as service customer. (4) Request the best service advisor. You choose your service advisor pretty much the same way you choose your technician…experience, training, certifications, etc. There’s an additional measurement that’s very important with a service advisor…customer satisfaction score. All manufacturers that I know of, grade service advisors on how well they individually treat their customers. The sum of these scores is the dealer’s scorecard to the factory and very important to him. You have to ask for this score, it’s not usually made public. Once you’ve picked your technician and service advisor, you’re going to have to make an appointment to be sure that they are available on the day and time you bring your car in. Having both of them handle your service will require some flexibility on your part and may require longer for the work to be completed. But this is a small price to pay for the work to be done right the first time and for the work to be something that was truly necessary. (5) Get competitive estimates on repair work. Repair work is work that you don’t regularly require…your air conditioner, radio, or transmission is broken is what you have to be careful about. Dealers typically price oil changes, tire rotations and balance, and front end alignments competitively. Repair work, because you’re not familiar with the price is where you have to watch out. When you get your first estimate on an expensive repair, get at least two more from two other service departments. Often times, the mere act of shopping the original price will cause the first estimator to lower his. In fact, if you feel comfortable with your service department that gave you the first estimate because you like the tech and the service advisor, offer to let them repair your car if they will meet the lower price. (6) Know which maintenance is recommended by your car’s manufacturer. If you don’t read anything else in your car’s owner’s manual, read what the manufacturer recommends for maintenance. Service departments typically recommend far more maintenance than the manufacturer does. Usually they don’t tell you this unless you ask, hoping that you will assume that their recommended maintenance is the same. Manufacturers will usually say that for extreme or unusual operating conditions (stop and go driving, very high or low temperatures, etc), additional maintenance may be required. You must be the judge of this, but for a rule of thumb you can’t go too far wrong following the manufacturer’s recommendations. (7) Have your car’s VIN checked occasionally for manufacturer’s bulletins. Every dealer should run your vehicle’s vehicle identification number at least once a year to be sure there are no outstanding recall campaigns or technical advisory bulletins. In fact, if you require a repair, you should always ask them to check to see if it may be covered by the factory when it would otherwise be out of warranty. Sometimes dealers are prohibited by the manufacturer from telling their customer about a bulletin unless the customer asks. There are so many of bulletins that come out all of the time that many dealers are overwhelmed. If you are having your car fixed at an independent shop, you should be very careful about this because independent shops would have no knowledge of these. (8) Don’t take no for an answer when your car is out of warranty. If your car is just one day or one mile out of warranty, it will usually be covered anyway. This principle applies to a few hundred miles and a few months too. But you have to ask and often insist. Performing free work out of warranty is referred to as “goodwill”. Some dealers have the ability to do this and all manufacturers do. If the dealer tells you “no”, ask him to contact the factory service representative.

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