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Don;t Judge Other Shops without the Whole Story

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Hippocrates, an ancient Greek philosopher and physician, is recognized as the father of modern medicine and is perhaps best known for creating the Hippocratic oath; a set of ethics and a moral code of conduct that is still revered today.  

Among the many principles in the oath, doctors vow to be honest, act with integrity, and never discriminate unfairly against patients or colleagues. Essentially, a doctor will not judge the actions or diagnosis of another doctor unless there is clear evidence that a colleague is putting a patient at risk. Prejudging without knowing all the facts of a situation is not in anyone’s best interest, and it may damage someone’s reputation and the integrity of the medical profession. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in the automotive industry practiced this same code of ethics?  

About a year ago, a first-time (and one-time) customer pulled into my shop complaining of a coolant leak. After the inspection, my lead tech discovered that the water pump had failed and that the van needed hoses and belts. We also recommended a thermostat, an oil change service and coolant service. The price for the job was $910, which the customer authorized. 

Let’s fast forward to a few weeks ago: This same customer goes to a local dealership complaining of a coolant leak again. The dealership inspects the van and finds that the water pump we installed is leaking, and to replace the pump with labor would be $575.  The owner of the van commented that he had the pump replaced last year and it cost him around $900, neglecting to inform the service advisor of all the other work that was done in addition to the water pump. The service advisor at the dealership, not knowing all the facts, blurts out, “Well, it looks like you got ripped off.” 

The owner of the van, who now aligns himself with the dealership, calls me demanding a refund and is threatening to report the issue to the Department of Motor Vehicles. I called the dealer to discuss the issue. After being on hold for what felt like an eternity, I finally talked to the service manager. After hearing my side of the story, the service manager said, “So, what would you like me to do?” I said, “Do? Tell the customer the truth.” The service manager said that this was not his problem and that he cannot take sides. After going back and forth with this guy, I realized the conversation was going nowhere, so I hung up the phone. 

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Now the tough part: dealing with a confused customer who feels he was victimized. I now have to perform damage control and try to tell my side of the story. I called the customer to review the invoice and reminded him that there were added-on services and parts, other than just the water pump. The deeper I got with the explanation, the more distant the owner of the van got. He also asked how he should know he really needed all that work. After all, the other shop only condemned the water pump. 

After a lengthy discussion, I offered him a refund on the water pump only. I admitted that the pump should have lasted more than a year, and that was the only refund he would receive. The owner of the van accepted the offer. But the damage was done. I lost the trust of the customer and, to some degree, I lost faith in our industry. 

This is a case when passing judgment without knowing all the facts puts another shop, a colleague, in a very precarious position. This type of action also puts the reputation of another shop in jeopardy. Unfortunately, this scenario is not rare. Each of us can recall a similar situation. The saddest part of all is that I can’t help feeling betrayed by a fellow colleague.  

We need to be aware of what we say and be accountable for our actions. I am not suggesting we turn a blind eye to everything that goes on. But, we need to understand the damage we do to our industry if we comment on things we don’t have firsthand knowledge of.  

Our industry has enough black eyes. We all live in glass houses and need to be careful where and at whom we throw stones. When was the last time you heard of a shop owner, service advisor or technician praising another shop? You have to think about that, right? Well, maybe it’s time we start. Maybe it’s time we adopt our own Hippocratic oath. 


Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of autoshopowner.com. Reach him at jmarconi@ratchetandwrench.com.

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