Communication and the Auto Repair Shop


The vast number of issues that arise between shops and consumers are directly related to communication. Good communication includes talking as well as listening. My name is Bambi, and I own Car Clinic. For years I was nervous at the thought of having to take my car to a shop. I would avoid or delay oil changes simply because I was afraid of being oversold, taken advantage of or ripped off. Auto maintenance was not a priority for me because of this fear. I practiced avoidance which left me paying more for costly break downs instead of budgeting for preventative measures. Here are some communication tips to review before your next automotive service visit. My goal is to empower you with knowledge, so you are in control at your next appointment.


There are some important questions you should ask before you hire anyone to work on your car. Choosing the right shop starts by knowing this information! You wouldn't go to a doctor without knowing s/he was qualified. Let’s be sure your primary care technician is also qualified! Car visits are just like doctor visits!

Important Questions to Ask

Are you insured if something goes wrong? Mechanics are not immune from mistakes. The mechanic working on your car should have insurance. A mistake by a mechanic could at minimum, damage your car or worse case, harm someone. Insurance covers the financial implications of those mistakes.

What is your warranty and how does it work? Some shops do not offer a warranty, some are 12 months, 24 months, 36 months, etc. Is the warranty nationwide or just local? Is it prorated after a certain amount of time? What’s important to you?

What certifications do you have? Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) is a certification program for the automotive industry. ASE technicians have passed tests to verify their knowledge in multiple car systems. Shops that require ASE certifications care about quality.

What do you do to continue your education? Cars change every year. How does this shop keep up? Does the shop invest in their staff and in their technology so that you get the best experience every visit?

You got some answers and selected your shop. Now, let’s talk about communication at drop off.

Let’s Talk about Symptoms Next!

When you bring your vehicle in to a shop for service or repair, it’s important to give the Service Advisor an accurate description of what you are experiencing with your car. You drive this car every day so no one else knows the vehicle better than you do. Think about what you experience in terms of your senses. What are you seeing? Smelling? Feeling? Hearing? The more information you can provide when you drop your car off, the more money you will save in diagnostic charges. Think about what your doctor asks when you go see them. “Tell me what you’re experiencing?” You might respond with: “Fever, chill, cough, runny nose, headache, muscle ache.” This is exactly what you want to replicate with your car.  

Determining problems on cars was easy before computers were introduced. Once a computer is introduced, diagnosing problems becomes more complicated. Complicated equals expensive. The average car today has 30 computers. Luxury cars can have over 100 electronic control modules. Do yourself a favor and take notice of the symptoms. Look at when they happen (is it cold outside or hot outside, is it raining or dry, has the car been driving in heavy traffic for a while or does it happen after it sits all night, etc). Each diagnostic test requires time and technology to complete. The more information we have, the more specific we can be on tests to run.

Example: “When pulling out of my driveway, the car makes a noise that sounds like ‘whirring’ as I make a right turn. This happens every Thursday when I have a car full of kids going to school.” Example: “I feel a vibration in my steering wheel when I put pressure on the brake pedal. This vibration gets worse at higher speeds, but it is present no matter what speed I’m going.”

Let’s recap where we are, you have selected your primary care technician (PCT) and you have described the symptoms and circumstances around those symptoms. Now it’s important to clearly communicate what your needs are.

Be Clear with Your Expectations

Setting expectations is critical if you want them to be met. This is not bossy nor is it rude. You are paying for a service and it’s important that you and the auto repair shop are on the same page. The last thing you want to do is pay for a service that does not accomplish your intended result. Some expectations that are important for you to set with regards to your vehicle are as follows:

What is your expectation for this visit? This sounds silly initially, but we have heard so many upset customers that have gone to other shops and had work completed that they did not feel they approved. Then they must pay a bill they were not prepared to pay. The best way to mitigate this concern is to clearly detail what is expected when you drop the car off. “My car needs an oil service and a tire rotation. There is a check engine light on that came on yesterday. I want to know what is causing that light and call me with the estimate before you fix anything.” The best shops will have a check in procedure where you sign at drop off. You can note what you told them at that time.

When do you need the car back? Sometimes this is a challenge because you may need the car, but the problem found with your car is serious and therefore it becomes impossible to meet your timeline. However, you should always discuss your motoring needs with your shop before repairs begin. “I need to pick up the kids at 3pm, will the car be ready by 2pm?” The best shops will have some form of loaner program for you so that immediate needs are resolved without a lot of stress or hassle.

Prioritize concerns when you have multiple symptoms that need testing. Reputable shops understand their value and charge appropriately for the time and testing required to handle each symptom. Before you leave the car with the shop, you need to understand what the cost is. If you are limited on funds, be sure to have this conversation with the shop so that the symptoms you’re most concerned with are addressed. You’ll also want to take the shop’s feedback in to consideration here. There may be times that a pressing brake safety issue needs to take precedence over the cell phone charging port in your car.

If you do not understand something at any point in your conversation with a shop– ask questions until you do understand. Never be embarrassed if you do not understand right away. Just like doctors, mechanics have great knowledge on their subject matter. We can easily forget how car smart we are – and while it is not intentional, and we try hard to avoid car repair jargon, sometimes it is challenging to explain how car DNA works. You can also ask to see the vehicle. We frequently and cheerfully take clients in to the shop and do a show and tell session. This makes our life as a primary care technician much easier because then you can see what we can see! It is always our job to help our clients understand.

Shop Owner Insights

Here are some things all shop owners would like their clients to know and understand.

Share it all! As a shop owner, I have learned that many people are afraid to tell me what happened with their car. This can stem from embarrassment, fear that it will cost more, or even fear of being taken advantage of. I can relate to each one of these fears. However, when we know all the information up front, we can accurately diagnose the car faster. There are different tests and diagnostic paths to take depending on what you tell us at drop off. You are a CRITICAL component to the diagnostic process.

Accurate contact information. Be sure to leave a good contact number where you can be reached at a moment’s notice. If for some reason you will be unavailable, it may be best to authorize repairs up to an agreed upon dollar amount when you drop it off. When we can’t reach you, it can lead to unhappy clients because work backs up causing delays for you and all the other cars after yours.

Avoid the desire to ask what is wrong before the technician has a chance to look at the car. When you go to the doctor, you do not ask the receptionist what is wrong with you. The normal process is to go through the intake procedure, have some vitals taken with the nurse and then the doctor comes in. This is the exact same process in an auto shop. You meet with the service advisor at the time of drop off to complete the paperwork and answer probing questions regarding your health history and specific symptoms you’re experiencing. That information is routed to the doctor for review, the patient (Car) is brought in, inspection and road test ensue, and the doctor makes the determination if other tests are required after the initial review. When clients try to press the nurse/receptionist for a diagnosis before the doctor has even looked at the patient, false expectations and confusion ensues. No one can know what is wrong with a car until inspection and testing has been completed. Professionals always prefer to work with facts. Once we know what is wrong, then we can offer recommendations for repair, service, or testing.

Auto Repair Work is like an ER! Cars come in with break downs unexpectedly. We do not know what parts will be needed until the patient is up on the lift. Then we must work quickly and effectively to get the patient back to 100% while attempting to balance the owner’s need to have their vehicle. We are constantly balancing the requirement to repair the car properly and your need to get the car back. Great shops always place your safety and the safety of the passengers you carry in your car above convenience factors. That’s why great shops offer loaner programs or rentals. We really appreciate clients who help by setting clear expectations with us around when they need the car and what their long-term goals are with the car.

Make a Trip to the Shop and Look at the Problem with the Mechanic: Costly repairs are frustrating and sometimes overwhelming for drivers. A good shop will want you to be as informed and educated as possible. A well-educated client is more likely to be a happy client. The shop will appreciate your involvement and you’ll better understand the repair needed.

Final Thoughts

Every driver out there has a relationship with their vehicle. What’s important in a relationship? Commitment, communication, loyalty, and that you know your partner. You want to make sure you take care of your car in sickness and health. When that dash light comes on or you hear a new noise, don’t ignore it. And the biggest mistake almost every driver I initially meet makes is what we call Shop Hop! We jump from this mechanic to that mechanic. I know, I use to do that! But don’t be a cheater! Find your primary care technician, the one you can trust, the one that meets all the necessary requirements, and the one that meets your expectations. Build that relationship long term. Think about your own tendencies as a human. Are you more giving, more loving, more willing to go the extra mile for those that you see one time or for those that are loyal to you no matter what? Shops are run by human beings who behave the same way! Loyalty always pays off!

And finally, if your shop has gone out of their way to make your experience awesome by loaning you a car, finding a huge safety issue before you break down, picking you up or dropping you off, washing your car for you, or taking extra time to show you specifically what’s going on with your car… consider becoming a raving fan online for your shop! Tell your friends. Many people make decisions today for everything from service needs to product purchases based on reviews. Take a few minutes to leave a review on Google or Yelp to express your appreciation. And cookies never hurt either.😉

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