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Honesty IS the Best Policy

When we talk about "honesty" in our business we are generally referring to robbery, pilfering, break-ins, etc, all of which are of considerable concern to our operations. But, what about our honesty toward our customers? A few years ago, a national magazine conducted a coast-to-coast survey, asking the respondents how they rated the honesty and integrity of people with whom they conducted daily business.

John Cannell

The results might surprise you because the ten worst (not necessarily in any order) were:

  1. Lawyers
  2. Politicians
  3. Bankers
  4. Insurance Companies
  5. Vehicle repair shops
  6. Automobile Dealer Service
  7. Used Car Salesmen
  8. Contractors
  9. Loan Companies
  10. Evangelists

I am not going to make any comment on this assortment, other then to state I know many people who fall into these categories whom I consider to be honest and trustworthy, and I feel certain our readers do too. You can make your own decisions with regard to the validity of this list, depending on your personal experience. Possibly, however, these vocations offer an opportunity for those of us who are less than scrupulous to take advantage of the more gullible amongst us.

Our concern should be Vehicle Repair Shops, and Dealer Shops. This is where we live. Do our customers get "ripped off"? Do we sometimes deserve a bad rep? Do certain shops actually steal from customers? Before you yell "NO" at the top of your lungs, consider the following.

Many years ago when I was the only licensed mechanic in a shop owned by my brother and I, an elderly gentleman who had just arrived from Ontario, came into the shop complaining about a "miss" in the engine of his old Dodge, which was equipped with a six cylinder flathead engine. (I said it was a few years ago!). He said he had just had an "engine job" done because of a broken connecting rod, before he left Ontario. We soon discovered his #3 cylinder was not functioning even though the spark plug was firing. A compression test revealed absolutely zero pressure coming from #3, so I suggested we remove the cylinder head, and take a look, a quick and simple procedure on flathead engines. As soon as we pulled the head free, a big surprise awaited us. The #3 cylinder had no piston, connecting rod, or push rods, and a circular piece of hardwood had been driven down the cylinder bore to seal it up. And you know what? Except for being down on power (It didn't have much to begin with) it did not run too badly!

This, my friends, constitutes out and out robbery. In this case we found and installed a good used engine for this gentleman and went with him to a local lawyer (I don't think the lawyer was on the above list), and we signed an affidavit describing what we found and what we did to fix the problem. When he got back to Ontario, an OPP officer accompanied him to the shady shop where he demanded and received most of his money back.

Now let's just suppose the foregoing did not occur, and, that I found the miss was caused by a shorted plug wire. These came in a set of six, so we installed the whole set. At the same time we pulled the spark plugs, and they showed some deterioration so in went six plugs, and everybody knows you do not put plugs in without a cap, rotor, points and condenser (Look these up online if you are too young to remember what they are!) so in they go, too. I adjust the idle and mixture, and we now have a smooth running engine. Here is the question: All he really needed in this second scenario was one plug wire, and his miss would be gone. There is little doubt his other plug wires were ready to cause trouble, and that he got what he paid for, but that day he only really needed that one wire. Did he get ripped off?

OK, let's take this a little further. Suppose it was late in the day, and he says "I'll be back tomorrow to get this fixed." Instead, he drops into another shop down the road, and has the mechanic take a look at his engine.

In the fading light, the mechanic soon sees the corona of the shorting plug wire, and after installing a spare one he just happens to have on hand, the miss is gone.

When our customer tells him that we were going to install plugs, points, condenser, rotor, cap, and a set of wires he MIGHT say, "Well that wouldn't hurt, she has a few miles on ";er," or he MIGHT say, "they were trying to rip you off, You don't need all that stuff!"


Result? In one man's mind I am no longer to be trusted, and he may recount his experience and opinion to others but, really, did I do anything wrong? YES, I did! I failed to explain to the customer what I planned to do. I should have told him that he had one bad plug wire and that I could make him up a replacement to fix his immediate problem. I would then, however, recommend a full tune-up with a complete set of plug wires so he could enjoy smooth miss-free driving.

What happened to an old car 30 years ago is immaterial. It has probably long gone to the old crusher-in-the-sky, however the lessons remain the same. With today's high-tech and complicated vehicles, it is, more than ever, essential that we ensure our customers understand what we are trying to sell them and what improvement or protection they should expect as a result. Your repeat customers return to you because they trust you. Although they may know very little about Map sensors, Idle air control motors, ECU's, C.O.P. ignition, etc., they know you do, and feel comfortable trusting their vehicle service to your shop. They do not expect you to 'load' them with unnecessary components or procedures, but they do expect you to recommend what is required to keep their car running well, along with explanations they can understand.

Many shops place the defective or worn-out parts, in a clean plastic bag, and offer them to the customer so he/she has the evidence that they got what they paid for. Often they decline, simply because they trust you. You should feel complimented, however, avoid becoming over confident.

Keep on earning that trust with every job you perform I feel certain well over 90% of the shops in this region are run by, and staffed by honest people. The few that are not just seem to disappear. And I am certain none of you use hardwood plugs for engine rebuilds.

Honesty IS the best policy.

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