Without a doubt, auto repairs can get expensive. Often times a part of that expense is the labor time required to diagnose a problem, and then make the repair. Vehicles have become very complex and are designed in such a way that labor time has increased for many types of repairs. However, the biggest waste of labor time is hunting out and diagnosing a problem.
Imagine if you will, going into the doctors office and saying, “Doc, I just don’t feel right. Fix me up!” The doctor is going to run a massive series of tests to discover exactly what is wrong. On the other hand, if you said, “Doc, I experience heartburn 30 minutes after I eat and I have trouble sleeping at night”. All of a sudden the diagnosis is pinpointed to your digestive system, and a pinpointed series of tests will very quickly get to the source of the problem.
It’s really no different with vehicle problems and their repairs. If a customer tells us the car won’t start and gives us no other information, we have to exhaust an extensive series of items to find a problem. This forces us to expend much more labor time than we would if the customer would say, “When I turn the key to start the car I hear a click, but nothing happens. Also my lights dim.” This information allows us to target our diagnosis, which means less time to diagnose and a lower bill for the customer.
When you bring your vehicle in for repair, the “5 W’s” are very important: When did you first experience the problem? What happens when you experience it? Where do you experience the problem (under the car, back front, left or right side)? Who else can experience the problem? Why (or more appropriately, under what conditions) does the problem exist? A good service adviser is trained to understand and translate your descriptions for the technician, so make sure you’re as specific about the problem as you can be. Take all of the time you think necessary to fully describe your problem, and try to answer as best as you can any of the questions the service adviser might ask in return.
A grand example of the confusion that can ensue when a customer gives very basic or almost no information is the customer who brought in a VW New Beetle for repair. The complaint was that it would stop at a light for no apparent reason. After spending hours of diagnosis and over $1,500.00 worth of repairs for other obvious problems and issues, it was finely discovered that the vehicle would quit when it overheated. In fact, the lower timing cover plate (only viewable when doing a timing belt / water pump replacement) was partially melted, and the water pump vanes were partially broken – only after driving for 20 or more miles would the problem manifest itself. At that time, the engine would overheat, the temperature light would come on, and when they kept driving it, the vehicle would get so hot that it would just stop.
If the customer would have explained ALL of the conditions leading to the engine stopping, we could have quickly come to our eventual final diagnosis – a blown head gasket or cracked cylinder head leading to severe overheating resulting in the engine stopping.
Customer involvement is very key in a successful and efficient repair. After all, the person who spends the most time operating the vehicle is likely to know how the vehicle operates normally, and there is no one more qualified to answer the 5 W’s necessary to help us find the problem quickly when something goes wrong.