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The problem with car mechanics

May 6, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Many people have had problems with car mechanics. These problems usually involve the time taken to make a repair, or the price charged for the repair, or unsatisfactory results of repair attempts, or some combination of the above.

Many times the customer was right and the conflict was the mechanic's fault, because of incompetency or even dishonesty. Sometimes it goes the other way. Sometimes the customer had expectations with which the mechanic simply could not comply, either technically, financially or physically. That almost always stems from a problem with communication, and many mechanics are not very good at communicating, so in a way, it's still their fault.

When a man comes in and asks, "how much" to put brake pads on his vehicle, the scene is being set. Let's say the mechanic replies with a number for the labor charge. The man then wants the cheapest brake pads available, and maybe he'll pick them up himself. If the mechanic concedes, the scene begins to unfold. If he works cheaply enough to satisfy this customer, he gets the job, changes the brake pads and sends the car out.

Then the man comes back complaining about brake squealing noises. He's unhappy with the job he got. In this case, the mechanic should have made it clear that cheap brake pads are likely to be noisy, and not resurfacing the rotors almost guarantees that they will be noisy. Failing to communicate these facts to the customer has resulted in an unhappy customer. But what if he had tried to explain this and the customer shouted him down with, "I don't need any of that stuff, I just want the pads changed." Now whose fault is it? Human nature, being as it is, I can tell you that the above customer will never admit fault. He will continue to "bad-mouth" the mechanic to all of his friends who will listen.

People expect strange things from mechanics. I once saw an offer to get the Wall Street Journal for free for six months, so I signed up for it, and began putting them in our waiting room. I had a man stand up and declare: "If you have to read The Wall Street Journal to do business here, I can't afford this place!", and he stomped out. Maybe we should have supermarket tabloids about Elvis mating with aliens. A woman once told me she would never trust a mechanic who had clean fingernails. I nearly stopped washing my hands. For many years I wore a white shirt as part of my work uniform. People kept remarking how I "must not do much work" in the shop, because the shirt was usually clean. It's called: "Not getting the shirt in contact with dirty things." But I gave up. I wear a dark blue shirt now, so people can't tell that I do even less than ever in the shop. (Did I say that out loud?)

These communication conflicts between customer and service provider are the main focus of these articles and of the book that compiles them. If more people understood the workings of a mechanic shop, there should be fewer conflicts. Knowing how the work is done and understanding some of the problems faced by mechanics should help. At least I hope so. We'll do our part by not getting too clean.

--Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, or at the DeHays Automotive office, 17617 Broadway Ave., Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to or



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