Friday, November 21, 2008

Mechanic etiquette: a rant of sorts?

Before I even start let me say that these are two words that are rarely used together.

To me, there's a certain etiquette that someone who is working on your vehicle should possess. Vehicles are individuals property which are easy to become attached to, most people care about their vehicle, its condition, and the image it projects about them as a person. I'm personally not so concerned with the image factor, but I'm definitely one who is attached to his vehicle. Along with this attachment comes a certain amount of pride I take in the cleanliness, upkeep, and overall maintenance of it. I know my car down to every single nut and bolt. I have everything exactly how I like it and I know the flaws and what needs to be done to correct them. If a setting or adjustment is slightly off from the last time I drove the vehicle, it does not take me long to notice.

Long story short: I don't like people touching my car.

Now, the personal amount of pride in my vehicle is something I keep in my mind when I'm working on a clients car. Little things, like getting greasy fingerprints on a wheel while remounting it, noting the initial adjustment of the drivers seat and mirrors before adjusting and driving it, ignoring any personal items someone may have in the car, absolutely everything down to the radio station the car was on when I picked it up are things that should be noted and set to their owners preferred settings upon returning a car. As a mechanic, you must also realize that when driving or road testing a car during repair, you are in a huge situation of liability if something were to happen with the car. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to drive responsibly and respectfully, taking more than necessary due caution, when road testing.

I'm writing this because I recently had a very (read: VERY) bad experience at a local tire shop. As all us lovely nor'easterns know winter is in full gear, and with that comes snow tire season. As mechanically inclined and capable as I am, I simply don't have the equipment and machinery to mount, dismount, and balance tires. Therefore, to get the snow tires mounted on my car, I had to take it to...gulp...a shop.

So, I head out to a local generic tire center with the snow's in the trunk hoping for the best. I pull into a local shop that has a pretty decent reputation from what I've heard, so at this point I'm feeling moderately confident that my simple request of dismounting and mounting new tires will be a simple enough task for them to tackle.

...or not?

I'm greeted when I work in by a rather portly fellow perched on a stool behind a desk. I can't seem to ignore the lovely faces on the three other people waiting in the office/lobby/where they keep the magazines, looking like they were in the ER waiting to hear the news about their ill grandmother. The man behind the counter is on his personal cell phone talking to his wife... which he promptly continued as he totally ignored me standing in front of him. Eventually, he finally informed her that he had 'a guy come in' and has to go. We have a brief exchange and I tell him what I would like done, so he takes my information, keys, and I'm off to join the waiting crowd.

This shop has 6 bays with lifts and from what I counted 5 mechanics on duty. Not bad, not bad. So I sit for about a half hour and play some ferocious solitaire on my cell phone (if the luck I was having at solitaire that day was any reflection of how bad the service at that garage was going to be, I would have just got up and left). All this time, nobody even looks at my car. I can see into the bays and see mechanics doodling about not really doing much. I'm semi irritated at this point, but continue the wait. Finally, about 45 minutes a man finally starts walking to my car with keys. He sits down in my car and starts it, and sits there in it running for about two minutes. I see him fooling with the gear lever, and immediately realize he doesn't know how to put the car in reverse.

As fellow manual transmission Saab owners know, the reverse lockout must be bypassed by lifting the collar under the shift knob before the car will go into gear.

The man is literally trying to force the car into reverse! I run out there and grab open the passenger door quickly and give him a look, quickly accompanied by "Having problems?" I guess I was too late... he broke the shifter. The lock ring that holds the pivot ball at the base of the shifter into place has never been that strong on the car, but this guy completely trashed it. Needless to say, I'm angry.

The car goes into the garage for the tires and I return to my seat in the death lounge. I'm fairly irritated by this point, and it only got worse when the mechanics in the bay began blasting some form of heavy metal music that I would not even judge fit for human consumption. I'm not bagging anyone's music tastes, and to each their own, but when you're working in what should be a semi professional environment, this stuff doesn't really have a place. One woman even walked out of the waiting area because she could not stand it any longer. We're not talking like Metallica or any other kind of heavy music, we're talking something 3x faster and 3x more obnoxious. Anyway, to me it just upped the annoyance level.

So the car is ready go come out of the shop when I just hear the engine revving highly and the blow off valve repeatedly opening. I immediately gave the portly shop man the most murderous look I think I could form, and yelled "SERIOUSLY, IS THAT REALLY NECESSARY?" He runs to fetch the tattooed redneck that was revving the car and gets him to stop. Wow, safe to say... I'm pissed. I guess he saw the gauges and 3" exhaust while the car was on the lift and decided he wanted to find out if it was just show or not? Either way, totally unprofessional and not called for in the least. God knows what he would have done in it if he were to test drive it.

When the manager brings the car to the office door I notice there are greasy fingerprints all over my clean super aeros... UGH! Whatever, I can deal with that. I also noticed the shop owner had a small amount of grease on his back... which didn't take long to realize came from the tattooed rednecks shirt. Great, grease on my black Aero interior. To make amends, the shop owner cut me a nice price on the mounting and balancing, and I decided to not make too much of a fuss about the shifter lever (it took about 30 seconds to fix, but that's beside the point). Needless to say, I'll be using my invisible hand and never returning there again... but is there really a better alternative?

The moral of the story is be selective about who works with your car. I don't mean this as a pander for how much better my service is compared to most, but I can say that it takes about 30 seconds of being in an average repair shop to realize why people bring there cars to me. I deal with a client directly and individually, I work promptly, I make all possible attempts to be respectful, and I genuinely care about the quality of my work and your satisfaction. I can also see how dealing with individuals at mechanic shops and garages can be intimidating. The people who are servicing your cars are in a great position of power to lie to you and cost you money... keep that in mind. Don't be afraid to ask question of a mechanic... ask for explanations, ask to be shown the problem so you can see something first hand. If a vehicle ever needs a major item of safety or importance that may not be extremely apparent to the driver I always make it a point to give a thorough yet understandable explanation of what needs done, how soon it needs done, and why. I feel like everyone should expect these things of their mechanics, therefore I strive to provide them.

Basically what I'm saying is... I've learned your average mechanic can't even figure out how to put a Saab into reverse. =)

Take care,


BAM said...

I once almost had a valet do this to my car. Even after explaining about having to lift up on the rather clearly marked collar to put the car into reverse so you can get the key out of the ignition. I walked out to get my car after dinner and wait 15 minutes for the guy to pull the car out of the garage I went in search of my car and found the guy still trying to back out of the slot. Apparently he never even locked my car because he couldn't get the key out. Needless to say I refuse to valet my car anymore, I can walk.


maheswari said...

Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u Exhaust specialists