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When Trust is Broken

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The cornerstone of civilization is trust. It is the rock upon which all productive human interaction rests, the foundation of every enlightened culture and civilization that has ever existed. It is, perhaps, the only emotion we are likely to experience that is more powerful than fear.

We come to work in the morning trusting we will be compensated for our time, skill, ability and effort. We offer our products and services for sale trusting the invoice will be honored, the credit card will be paid without challenge.

Our ability to function productively as something more than just ourselves is entirely based upon our ability and willingness to depend upon one another. Trust is what allows us to interact with another human being as employee or employer, customer or vendor, husband or wife.

That may be the reason we are so devastated and disappointed when the trust we have placed in another individual or institution is shattered, especially at the hands of a friend or trusted business relationship.

When that happens—and it happens far too often in our business—you can’t help but feel as if you’ve been thrown under the bus.

Looking up from under that bus is where I found myself recently when a customer of some 30 years stood at the front counter and demanded that we refund the entire amount of their last invoice. In this case, the vehicle had a secondary air system code that was traced to the secondary air pump itself, which was subsequently replaced with a factory pump, only to have it fail again instantly and completely.

We called the dealership—a dealership we use often—a dealership we spend a fair amount of money with, only to have them tell us the pump couldn’t possibly be bad, implying that we didn’t know what we were doing. We did this, only to have them call back with an apology after they realized the “new-andimproved” pumps had a higher failure rate than the pumps they were designed to replace!

A new “old-style” pump was located, ordered and subsequently installed only to have the client return with the CEL glaring at him and the same secondary air system code. Only this time, he threatened to have a dealer check it out and said he would be back for a full refund if it turned out we had failed him. And that’s exactly what he did!

The problem was what the dealer found to be wrong with the vehicle, and that was, you guessed it, yet another secondary air pump failure. The one we had just installed, the one purchased from the same dealership parts department, the one they replaced with yet another “new-and-improved” secondary air pump, was the culprit.

That’s when we realized that we had not only been thrown under the bus, but our longtime customer had backed over us enough times to leave tread marks all across the front of my uniform. He never told the dealer’s service department that he had just had the vehicle worked on.

He never mentioned that he’d had that air pump replaced and then replaced again. He failed to mention that both pumps had been purchased from their parts department. Consequently, when their inspection and testing pointed to yet another failed pump, they did the only thing they could, suggesting he replace it.

No one noticed—or chose to notice—the pump they were replacing was brand new. It was “bad” and needed to be changed. So, after receiving the owner’s approval to proceed, they changed it. He gave this approval without hesitation, trusting he would be getting back every dime he had spent with us.

And, here is where things really went wrong.

Because we purchased the pump through the dealer’s parts department and because no one told the service advisor or the tech it had just been replaced, the parts department can’t (or, won’t) take it back, even though the vehicle owner returned it to us.

If our client had told the service advisor exactly what had transpired, he could have asked the counter man about it, the purchase would have been confirmed and there was a better than average chance that pump could have been returned for a full credit without injury or acrimony. However, because nothing was said at the time of repair, there was nothing anyone would or could do to mitigate our loss.

But, that loss isn’t what hurts the most. What hurts the most is that broken trust—a longtime relationship destroyed by a complete disregard for how things might have transpired without anyone getting hurt. What hurts the most is a dealer we’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars with deciding to walk away from what had been a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship. What hurts the most is knowing there isn’t a damned thing you can do about it.

When looking back on a situation like this, it’s easy to find a different path—see things you could have done differently. The images you see in your rearview mirror will always be crystal clear.

The real question is what do you do with what you see? Do you stop trusting, guarding yourself against the possibility of any and all future betrayals? Or, do you consider an incident like this an anomaly and continue looking for the best in people?

For me the choice is simple. I have to go on treating everyone—clients and vendors alike—the way I expect to be treated. I’ll come in every day “knowing” they will do the right thing. I have to or it isn’t worth showing up at all.

But, that doesn’t mean I won’t exercise at least a little more care when it comes to managing those relationships, even if it means taking a vehicle we just dealt with to the dealer ourselves!

Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at Contact him at

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