Be Sure To Write It Down

Order Reprints

I would bet I am not the only shop owner who has been scrutinized over our documentation on repair orders. A recent visit from the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) in California proved we were ready for their visit. The BAR was there to discuss a complaint filed by one of our customers regarding some work we had performed on their vehicle some 18,000 miles and one year ago.

One year ago Joe Customer had his vehicle towed to us with a broken driveshaft. After inspection we found that the driveshaft was twisted into two pieces and only about a foot remained on the transmission side. The transmission extension housing was cracked and leaking fluid and there were a few dents and dings on the underside of the body. We estimated the repair and were told by Joe Customer that he had an extended warranty. The warranty company sent a claim adjuster out to inspect the damage and the claim was approved. Pictures were taken of the damage, the repair was made and the driveshaft was replaced. A new extension housing was added and the transmission was serviced.


Approximately 12 months and 18,000 miles later, Joe Customer drove in, came to the counter and said his transmission was leaking and he wanted us to take a look at it. We were booked solid that day and all of the racks were full, so we offered the customer a ride home so we could look at it just as soon as a rack became available. Joe Customer declined and stated he needed the vehicle and would bring it back the following week. We warned him that driving it could cause further damage, but he still declined, stating it wasn’t very bad. Joe Customer drove away!

About 10 days later he had his vehicle towed in for the leak, and the vehicle would not move. After inspection the technician found that the rear extension housing seal was damaged and leaking. This was because the vehicle was lowered and the driveshaft wasn’t modified (shortened) for proper clearance. Every time the vehicle bottomed, the yoke hit the rear seal, causing the leak which in turn damaged the transmission.

Everything was explained to Joe Customer, the extended warranty company was called and the adjuster was called out again. The claim was denied due to the vehicle being modified. Joe Customer was upset that the transmission had to be replaced and claimed he had never modified the vehicle. He towed the vehicle home.

Three months later, we get our visit from the BAR, investigating the complaint. The BAR representative stated that the customer thought we owed him a new transmission as we were the ones who put the driveshaft in the vehicle and we should warranty the damage. After the BAR representative went through our estimates, repair orders and invoices and discussed the complaint in great detail, he felt our actions were justified and that the complaint would be dismissed. Thorough documentation saved the day. 
Here are a few ways to protect your shop from these types of complaints:

• Take notes and document your discussions with customers. Document any discussions with customers during the diagnosis and repair process, then transfer as needed to the final invoice. Take electronic notes on the repair order right away when the customer is at the counter, before you forget!

• Take photos of damage or even causes of damage to show the customer and to keep in a file for future reference.

• Have Technicians write down and give specifics as to why a repair is needed. Keep flowcharts along with specs and readings of their diagnosis, cause, and recommended correction.

By documenting as much as you can, you’ll save time and perhaps a lot of unnecessary expenses in the event of a complaint.

B.J. Lee has worked in the automotive repair industry for more than 30 years. He is an industry consultant and trainer for and owner of Stellar Performance Inc. in 29 Palms, Calif. Contact him at

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