With a Little Help from My Friends

June 1, 2015
Referrals are valuable to any business, but they shouldn’t force you to sacrifice your values

There isn’t anything more reassuring than the recognition of your peers. In almost every case, it’s more gratifying than a bag full of five-star reviews. After all, it’s from the people who do what you do and know exactly what it takes to get the job done well enough to warrant that kind of confidence.

They know the sacrifice involved. They know the commitment. And, they know the inherent risk: the danger of failure.

When your reputation, and perhaps more importantly, your performance warrants that kind of confidence and that confidence translates into referrals, there are few things that are as rewarding or feel quite so good!

So when another shop owner calls and begins a conversation with, “I’ve got a client that just moved out your way … ” or “We’ve got someone stuck out your way, can you take a look,” we answer carefully because we understand what it takes to make that kind of a call. We’ve all made that call ourselves enough times to know. And, unless it’s something we just don’t do, we almost always reply, “Thanks for thinking of us. Glad to help!”

That’s exactly what we did the other day, even though the vehicle being referred had already been to the dealer and another independent without success. There wasn’t much else I could do because the referral was coming from a shop owner I both know and respect.

The vehicle in question was a Kia Optima with just under 100,000 miles and the tendency to stall and die in the most inopportune situations—and without warning. It would generally restart, but the fact that it might quit at any time, coupled with the fact no one—not even a well-respected independent nor the dealer—could figure out why, was enough to drive the owner to reach out to his best friend: the shop owner making the call.

The shop owner’s call was followed by a call from the vehicle owner. We explained there would be a charge for the inspection and testing, independent of the work required to actually repair the vehicle, and that we would probably have to start our inspection and testing from “the beginning” for obvious reasons (obvious to me, at least!).

He agreed and brought the vehicle in.

As with almost all intermittent problems, the Optima refused to cooperate at first. It wasn’t that we couldn’t find anything wrong with the vehicle. There were lots of things to choose from: a valve cover gasket leaking so badly it had filled the camshaft position sensor connector with oil, oil running out from under the timing belt cover. The list went on and on. 

But none of these problems were sufficient enough to condemn the vehicle because the Optima was, for the most part, starting and running normally.

Finally, after multiple road tests, the vehicle began to cut out and die with sufficient regularity to isolate the “stall and die” problem. The oil leak at the
valve cover and the contaminated cam sensor connector were the root cause of the problem.

We estimated the replacement of the gasket, spark plug tube seals and camshaft position sensor, along with the removal of the timing belt cover for further inspection. We estimated replacement of the timing belt, water pump, idlers, gas charged tensioner and seals, in the event one of the seals had failed and the belt had become contaminated and needed to be replaced.

I called the client and presented our recommendations. The client informed me that the water pump and timing belt had been changed at just under 60,000 miles and “shouldn’t be a problem.” I had to agree, but that didn’t explain the river of oil running out from beneath the cover. I left the decision to proceed with removing the cover to him.

It was a significant estimate—significant enough to warrant a second call from the shop owner responsible for the referral.

In all fairness, I understand the need to understand what’s being done and why, if for no other reason than to help translate “mechanic” into ordinary English. But that was only a very small part of what that call was all about. The call’s unmistakable focus was the estimated cost of repair and why it was too high. And, in all honesty, I wasn’t prepared for that!

You see, I’ve never intervened on behalf of a client with another shop owner regarding the cost of a repair. When I asked him what he would like me to do, he replied that this customer was his closest friend and he wanted to see if he could help get him “a break.”

This might seem a bit harsh, but I told him the Kia’s owner wasn’t my best friend. And, even if he was, he wasn’t entitled to any more or less than any other first-time customer (we offer 10 percent off up to $150 for a first visit). Aside from that, we had accomplished what no one else had: We found the problem and were quite confident we could fix the car!

You see, this isn’t a hobby. It’s the way I make my living, and it’s a living that must be profitable enough to support six other families, more than a dozen suppliers and a big chunk of the automotive aftermarket.

The repair was authorized, including removal of the timing belt cover. All in all, the cost of repair was significantly less than the original estimate—an amount we would have reached regardless, because it reflected what was needed to do it once and do it right. 

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 mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at [email protected]

About the Author

Mitch Schneider

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

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