HOW TO TALK WITH A SHOP ABOUT AUTO REPAIR

 

If your car has a problem, you may hold the key to unlocking the solution. After all, you know your car better than anyone, and will be first to notice if its performance changes. The more information you can share with the repair shop and technician about what you are experiencing, the better prepared they will be to identify the problem in a timely and cost effective manner.
When discussing car trouble with a shop, some drivers offer a diagnosis or request a specific service operation. They may think this makes them appear knowledgeable, or hope that by asking for “just a tune-up” they can limit the repair costs. Unfortunately, this approach often results in spending money on work that has no effect on the problem. A better approach is to simply describe the symptoms your car exhibits. For example: 

Are any warning lights on?

When did you first notice the problem? Did anything unusual happen at that time?

What feels different to you? (steering pulls, brake pedal spongy, vibration, etc.)

What do you hear? (rattling backfires, screeching, etc.)

Do you notice any unusual smells? (gasoline, smoke, burning rubber, etc.)

Do you see any leaks or fluid stains where you park? What color is the fluid?

When does the problem occur? (time of day, weather conditions, vehicle load, accelerating, braking, turning, etc.)

When do you not notice the problem?

To prevent forgetting anything, it can be helpful to put your observations in writing before you head to the shop. Once there, be honest and practice full disclosure. If another shop worked on your vehicle recently, or you tried to fix the problem yourself, tell the repair shop and technician because this will affect how they approach the diagnosis.

Be precise when describing symptoms. Refer to the driver and passenger sides of the car (not left and right). Explain the symptoms in terms of your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, and feel? Avoid technical jargon unless you are sure what a term or phrase means. Here are some sample problem descriptions:

When driving over bumps, I hear a rattle under the front of the car on the passenger side.

When I apply the brakes, the steering pulls to the driver’s side and there is a grinding noise.

When driving up a hill in the rain the car begins to shake and loses power.

The car stalls at stoplights, and when I restart the engine black smoke comes from the tail pipe and there is the smell of gasoline.

Even if you fear some of your observations are silly or irrelevant, state them anyway. Something that seems minor to you could save the repair shop and technician a lot of time, and you a lot of money. Clear and thorough communication is key to resolving car problems in a timely and cost effective manner. When you do your part by sharing information, everyone benefits.
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