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A Car Possessed; A Tech Obsessed

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Have you ever had a problem car that you swore was possessed by the devil? We had such a car not too long ago. And while you may shake your head in disbelief as you read this article, trust me, the events are real. In the end, though, good did triumph in a way I didn’t expect.

Two months ago, a 2012 Subaru with 100,000 miles on the clock came in with a coolant leak. There was an obvious leak at the radiator tank seam and we sold the job, along with an oil change, coolant service and a thermostat. We road tested the car; all was good.

The customer returned two weeks later stating that the coolant light came on at times. We checked out the car, could not find anything wrong but decided to replace the thermostat again.

The customer returned a few weeks after that with the coolant light on again. After a few quick tests, we found a defective cooling fan. We could not explain why the fan failed and tried to explain to the customer that things do happen and are sometimes hard to explain. Little did we know this was the tip of the iceberg.

Two weeks later, the customer called and said the coolant light came on again, but this time he had to add coolant to the overflow with no sign of coolant leaking on the ground. We towed the car back and performed an engine block test. Our fears were confirmed: The cylinder heads were leaking into the combustion chamber. No one wanted to call the customer.

My manager and I discussed the situation and decided to do the job at no charge. Whether we were responsible or not, we felt obligated to take care of a long-time customer. We had the cylinder head job done in two days, ran the car and all was well. Well, not quite.

The transmission light was now flashing and the all-wheel drive (AWD) was not transmitting power to the rear wheels. We checked the entire vehicle, followed the flowcharts, did our research and made a call to the hotline. After two days of testing, we still had not solved the problem and decided to give the customer a rental car for the weekend.

On Monday, we tried to drive the Subaru out of the bay and it would barely move. We thought it was the transmission, but the catalytic converter was clogged. Why now? How did this happen? The good news was that the converter was under factory warranty. We had the car towed to the dealer for a new converter.

THINKSTOCKA few days later, the Subaru was back at our shop. We spent a few more hours going over all the diagnostics again and decided to order a new transmission control module (TCM). We installed the new TCM, cleared the fault code and the AWD was now working fine. All good? Not yet. Now the ABS, parking brake and traction control lights were on. After more testing we determined that the ABS/brake module had failed, too. We ordered a new module, installed it and performed the initialization process. All the lights went out except the brake light was now flashing. We were ready to torch the car. How could all these events happen one after another? This car was truly possessed.

After more testing and more calls to the hotline, we concluded that the electric parking brake module had also failed. We installed a new module, hooked up the scanner, reset the fault code and turned the key off. I looked up to the sky and said, “Please Lord, I don’t ask for much.” The tech slowly turned the key and started the car … the light was off and the demon was finally released.

Usually with a comeback we hold a meeting to review what went wrong. In this case, I decided against it. I could see the emotional toll this had taken on all of us, especially my technician, Tim. I found out that Tim had spent his free time pouring over wire diagrams, technical information and researching on the Internet. Later that day, I walked over to Tim and asked how he was doing. He told me, “A lot better now, Joe. I am really sorry for what happened. I’ve never had this happen to me before. I feel bad.”

As shop owners, we focus on the monetary loss of a comeback. But how often do we consider the emotional effect it has on people? Tim cared about this problem. He took it personally and he took the problem home with him. This car may have cost me a small fortune, but to see an employee show true passion for his work made the dollars seem a lot less important. I put my hand on Tim’s shoulder and said, “Tim, we are all in this together. The fact that this bothered you so much just proves to me that I hired the right person. Thank you.”


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 j.marconi@eliteworldwide.com

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