Yesterday I gave you guys some things to consider when decided between dealer service and aftermarket service. Well, that reminded me of a story, where the customer spent about $3000 more than they needed to.

This happened last summer(which means the details might be fuzzy). Another shop brought a 2004 VW Touareg to our dealer. They told us to replace the ECM(engine computer). We replaced the ECM and sent it back to them. An ECM replacement generally costs about $2000. We found out a few days later, that they shop also replaced the instrument cluster. They replaced that part before we replaced the ECM. That repair would cost about $1100.

A couple of days later, the customer that owns the car brought it to back to us. They were mad(at us) because it was still overheating. Well, it turns out, that was the problem all along. The shop told us they wanted the ECM replaced. They never said anything about the car overheating.

We go in and diagnose the problem. It turns out that the water pump was bad. The good thing for the customer, is they were due for timing belt maintenance anyway. On this car, the timing belt turns the water pump. This is about a $1400 job on a Touareg. We replaced the water pump, and the timing belt. Wouldn’t ya know, the car is fixed.

The customer realized that it wasn’t our fault and everything was cool, or so we thought. Another couple of days went by, and the shop that originally brought us the car called mad at us. Their issue was, the mileage reading on the Touareg was wrong.

When we replace an instrument cluster, we have to program the mileage. The cluster reading is 0 when it is new. The only way to do that is with a VW scan tool, and the knowledge on how to do it. There is a code that needs to be retrieved from the original cluster and imported to the new cluster, AND you only get 1 shot at programming. Remember that the shop replaced the cluster? Well since they didn’t have the proper equipment, they never set the mileage. The customers car had 90,xxx miles on it, but the cluster showed 4xx something.

The shop was mad at us because “We never told them to program the cluster”.  I remember the parts manager asking me about the replacement process. We talked for a while, and came to this conclusion, “NOT OUR PROBLEM”! That is actually a pretty cold response, but it is not our responsibility to make sure other shops know how to replace parts. We will supply anyone with any part, but we can not train people how to replace them. We tried to help the shop out, and sold them the replacement cluster at cost and cut them a deal on labor to replace it.

After several trips to the first shop, and several trips to my dealer, the customer finally had their car back and running properly. I think the total amount the customer spent was just shy of $4500. Had that customer just brought the Touareg to us, they would have saved ~$3000, lots of time, and the gas money they spent running back and forth.

Just remember that when another shop tells you they can “Fix it cheaper” it doesn’t mean they can fix it at all! A vehicle like a Touareg is hard enough for me to fix. I have all the resources available, plus I have had my butt kicked by more than my fair share of them. I can’t imagine trying to fix one in an aftermarket shop.

Your inside look into the world of car repair and Volkswagen Dealer service

I know this debate comes up alot. I have been doing a little research on the subject and found that most if not ALL the articles are VERY bias on the side of aftermarket shops. Now, I really don’t have a problem with folks taking their cars to a good mechanic, whether it is at a dealership, or an independent shop makes little difference to me. There are GREAT mechanics at independent shops and dealers, and some not so great.

I do work at a dealership, so OF COURSE I think its the best place to get your car serviced. Dealers spend tens of thousands of dollars every year on training mechanics, buying specialty tools, and advanced diagnostic equipment. Does that mean that a dealer will fix your car right the first time, every time? The short answer is NOPE! That is just not possible. That goes for aftermarket shops too.

The big point that I got from some of the articles I read are

Aftermarket shops are cheaper

Now, if you compare labor rates, and parts prices on paper, that can be true. Aftermarket shops can charge less. Aftermarket parts can be cheaper. Quality may or may not play a part in that, it all depends on the part. As for labor, the dollar amount is not that much different. One post said it could be $20-$40 cheaper per hour. That may be true, but I think $5-$10 is much for accurate.

Something that needs to be considered is overall cost. If an indy shop is cheaper for a repair, but doesn’t fix the car right, customers will spend more in the long run.  I have heard on several occasions people say “I only bring my car to the dealer when my mechanic can’t fix it”. Well, in my mind, you have paid someone to NOT fix your car. Now you are paying someone to fix your car. Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to pay once?

Customers will not get personal time with mechanics at the dealership

CRAP! I don’t really want to say much more than that is CRAP! I think that my perception of that statement is slightly skewed. I say my perception is skewed, because I know that a lot of dealership mechanics HATE talking to customers. That doesn’t make them bad mechanics, its just that talking to customers is not their thing. I on the other hand really enjoy talking to customers. I have always enjoyed talking to folks when they are in the dealer. My dealer really excels when it comes to personal relationships between customer and mechanics and service advisors.

Dealership mechanics are better trained

DUH! I could just leave it at that, but let me say just a little more. I do think that dealer mechanics are better trained. My dealer spends a lot to keep us as up to date as possible. We all go to training at least once a year. Dealership mechanics also work on only 1 line of car. So we tend to know the cars better.

The thing about aftermarket shop are, the mechanics have to be good. They work on every car, from every line. They usually do not have access to the level of special tools that we do at the dealership. That means they have to be more creative in the way they work. I have a lot of respect for the great mechanics at indy shops.

After all that, it really boils down to 2 things.

  1. What type of car you drive
  2. The person doing the work on the car
If you drive a Honda Civic, taking your car to an independent shop is great. There are so many Civics on the road, so more mechanics know how to work on them. Not only that, Hondas are easy to work on. If you drive a VW Touareg, take it to the dealer. They are hard vehicles to work on, there is not a lot of repair info, and almost every job needs a special tool.(Not just the mechanic) 😉
The more important thing is really the mechanic working on the car. If the mechanic is good, it doesn’t really matter what the front of the building says. Taking the time to get to know your mechanic and your service advisor is critical.
I think this will be a topic I will tackle again. There is so much to consider when talking about dealer vs aftermarket. There is also places like Meineke, Jiffy Lubes, and Walmart. Oh, and what about the shops that do only tires. –Side note, I find it funny that Just Tires, does more than “just tires”!
If you guys have any ideas for topics, or questions that you want answered, go ahead and submit them HERE.
Your inside look into the world of car repair and Volkswagen Dealer service

We have sort of a joke in the shop. Its called “Tech Tip of the Day”.  

Its used when someone figures out something really complicated, or more often when someone does something STUPID! Something like “Tech Tip of the day, don’t forget to tighten the wheels”. That is not one that I have heard, but the bonehead move I did today is pretty close.

I worked on a car Monday. It came in for a check engine light on. The fault was related to the thermostat. I replaced the thermostat, and sent the car on its way. Well, today the car comes back with the check engine light on again. This time the customer was saying that it was running funny. I checked and found that it was a bad valve in the intake system. Volkswagen has a warranty extension on this part, so its pretty common. There are two parts that get replaced during this repair. One is the valve, the other is a pipe. Thankfully the guy was pretty cool about coming back in. I was glad because the problems were unrelated.

I replaced the valve, no problem. When I replace the pipe, I dropped both bolts, which is not a big deal. I just got a couple of new bolts and installed the pipe. I had to let the car run for about 10 minutes while the scan tool did its thing. I was changing oil on another car while I waited for the scan tool to finish running. With everything checking out, I pulled the car around and went back to working on another car.

About 3 hours later, I was cleaning up my tools. I noticed a small hose under my work bench. I picked it up and thought, “what the hell is this”. Then it dawned on me. It was part of the pipe that I just replaced. The metal pipe also has a rubber hose attached to it. With the panic setting in, I had my service advisor call the customer to come back in for a 3rd time.

The whole time I am kinda tweaking about leaving the hose off. It’s not that I put the hose on wrong, or didn’t tighten a clamp. I FORGOT TO PUT THE HOSE ON. How does that even happen?? I guess it goes with out saying that I HATE messing stuff up like that. There is really no possible excuse for doing something that stupid. Thankfully my lack of focus was a big inconveince to that customer. On another job, like brakes, that type of mistake could get someone hurt. The worst that could happen here was an oil leak, and maybe a check engine light.

The customer came back, about 4pm. I pulled the car right in and put the hose on. The job only took about 10 minutes to complete. Of course, I was totally mad(at myself) the whole time. I pulled the customer’s car around and brought him is keys. That is something that a service advisor would normally do. Seeing how it was my fault that he was back, I wanted to apologize to him face to face. The customer was pretty cool about it. We chatted for a bit and I explained what happened. It was nice that we both had a good laugh about it.

As luck would have it, the  customer is a Canes fan. I gave him my email, and told him I would buy him a beer at the next hockey game. If he tailgates with us, I would even buy him 2. Oh, thats right, we can tailgate for hockey!

I guess the moral of the story is, EVERY mechanic makes mistakes. It doesn’t matter how long you have been doing the job. It makes not difference how many certifications you have. Things are going to happen. It is how you handle the mistakes that make all the difference in the world.

It is no secret that dealers have the most state of the art diagnostic equipment in the industry. Everything from our $1100 battery testers, to our $12,000 VW scan tool.  In fact, the amount of dollars that are spent on special tools and equipment is truly unbelievable. With all that money wrapped up in scan tools, many folks think that they are magic boxes that fixes cars.

The high dollar equipment is just another tool. They are VITAL to repairing most cars, but they don’t fix cars. Would you believe me if I told you a wrench fixed a car?, NO, the wrench was needed to fix the car, it was the mechanic that fixed the car.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard

“You can just hook it up to the computer and KNOW whats wrong with my car!”

Well, the truth is YES and NO. When I hook a car up to the scan tool, I read the information that is stored in the car’s computer. That information gives me the system that has failed. It does not say “replace this part”.

Take an Airbag light for example. When I use the scan tool to check faults, it will tell me the area that has a problem. If the fault is for the drivers airbag(the one in the steering wheel) that does not mean the airbag is bad. It just means that the system is faulty. The actual problem could be:

  • It could actually be the airbag in the steering wheel
  • the Airbag Module might be faulty
  • It could be the wires from the module to the airbag in the steering wheel
  • the “clock spring” might be faulty(see the bottom of the post for a description of this part)
  • the battery voltage might be causing a false error

Now, the scan tool will not say which one of these things have failed. That is where a mechanic comes in. The testing of components is where the problem is found. That is where the knowledge of the car, and the specific system is vital. It would be almost impossible to fix one of the failures listed above, if I didn’t know how it worked. I will say advanced diagnostic techniques for another post.

I think the issue comes mostly from service departments doing a poor job of helping cusotmers understand the process. Has your mechanic or service advisor ever taken the time to explain how this works? I would be willing to bet that very few have done that. I have heard it explained like this

“The diagnostic fee is $100. We will hook it to the computer and then tell you what is wrong with your car.”

That statement doesn’t really seem like your getting $100 in value does it? It just feels like a customer is paying $100 for a few minutes of work. If all things go right, hooking a car to the scan tool takes just a couple of minutes. –side note, that rarely happens, scan tools can get stupid sometimes– 🙂 Where the value comes from is

  • What the mechanic knows
  • the diagnostic equipment
  • the information available about repairing the car
  • special tools that it takes to fix the car.
What do you guys think? Does your mechanic/ advisor do a good just explaining things, and helping you understand what they are ACTUALLY doing? Do you even care, as long as the car is fixed?
**From above, A “Clock Spring” is what electrically connects your steering wheel to the rest of the car. It allows you to have a horn, and buttons on the steering wheel, and still use them with the wheel turned. The newer ones are a ribbon cable wrapper in a plastic housing. It has enough cable to allow the wheel turn fully in both directions. With the fault I talked about, this part is the most common failure.**
How honest mechanics get paid

As a mechanic, teamed up with a service advisor, it is part of my job to help customers make some tough choices. Something that come up a lot is deciding to fix all of a cars issues, or break the repairs up over time.

From a very selfish place, I would say always fix it all at once. I mean, that is how I get paid! 🙂 Truth be told, there are some advantages to getting everything repaired in one shot.

If you get multiple repairs at the same time, there will most likely be some overlap in jobs. For example, if I am replacing a timing belt, it will most likely be cheaper to replace the thermostat as part of that job, rather than a second repair.

There can be a savings in materials. Take that same timing belt job, if I replace the water pump AND the thermostat at the same time, it will save on buying coolant twice.

The shop might help you out. My dealer works really hard for all our customers, but someone doing a lot of repairs might just get a better deal. From parts prices, to labor costs, the big jobs allow for some flexibility.

Those are the big 3 reasons for getting all the repairs knocked out all in one shot. The negative is, of course, COST! Cost is usually the deal breaker on repairing you car that way. Sometimes you just can’t break the bank to pay for repairs!

There are some benefits to spreading out repairs too. This would be if you have 10 thing wrong, and fixed 1 every month.

Fixing your car this way will allow you to budget for future repairs. You can save up and get the big things fixed first.

The shop still might help you out. If the car is in a few times for repairs, the shop might still try and save you some money.

The big negative to doing repairs little by little is, things might pop up between repairs. This is actually really common. Nothing worse than planning out repairs, and something else go wrong. To be fail, that could really happen either way you go.

The best advise I could give is, make sure you have a great mechanic, and great service advisor(do not underestimate a great service advisor). They should be able to help you gauge the best approach to fixing you car!!

What do you guys think, am I out of line? How would you do it if you were faced with a large repair bill?

Happy monday everyone!

I had a post all written for day, but instead I wanted to tell you guys a cool story about a great customer of mine. I will call her Ann.

This morning I got paged up to the service drive. I walked around the corner, and much to my surprise there was Ann. It had been over a year since I had worked on her car. She moved to another part of the state, and I guess driving 5 hours for service didn’t was just too much. 🙂

She told me that her car was using oil. So after chatting for a minute about that, she tells me what had happen to her car over the last 33,000 miles. She was on a trip in PA. Driving down the highway, her timing belt broke. After getting it towed to the nearest VW dealer, she got the bad news. The engine had seized. I didn’t get the specifics of what exactly happened, but basically she needed a new engine for her 2005 Passat v6. -Side note this car looks just like mine-

The dealer that performed the work did a really good job. She said that they took good care of her while the car was being fixed. Ann made a choice to have a used engine installed in her car. Now, I am not sure that was a great choice, but it saved her some money.

Over the next ~14,000 miles, she found the engine was losing oil, about 1qt per 3,000 miles. This is actually well within an acceptable range, but it was getting worse. Due to the remote area she lives, no one near her wanted to work on the Passat.

Since she was in town visiting friends, she brought her car to me. I had worked on her car for about 2 years before she moved so we know each other pretty well. I bring the car in, and find that the valve covers are leaking oil into the spark plug holes. Not really a crazy repair, but not something that can be fixed in 15 minutes. I had also found a couple of other things that needed attention as well.

We talked about what was needed, and decided that repairing the car was the best choice. Her car is too nice to trade in for something else. I was able to find a car for her to drive so I could keep hers for the day. She went about her business and I am currently working on the car.

I wanted to tell you guys this story because I am really excited to have this car back in my bay. It is such a great feeling to have a customer come back after such a long time and make sure I work on their car! I hate that she had such a costly repair, but I am happy to get her back on the road!


Its only a tab for a valve, but it will get fixed

Yesterday my serivce manager asked me for some help. He said that the Service Express guysIts only a tab for a valve, but it will get fixed needed some practice, and wanted to know if they could use my Passat. I was not really due for an oil change, but my car is a tricky oil change to do the right way. Oh, just so everyone knows, I drive a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon, that my friends named “The Danger Wagon”

I work across the shop from the Service Express lane. Seeing my car on another lift made me very tense. I am the only one that has worked on that car in about 70,000 miles. The last guy that worked on it is one of the team leads in the shop, and the BEST mechanic we have! Now guys that are as rookie as it gets are working on my car.

The whole idea behind S.E. is to be fast. When the program is in full swing, it will take about 20 minutes from start to finish. Since the boys are still learning, it took about an hour and a half. The oil change on a 1.8t Passat is not the easiest oil change. If you don’t do it just right, it makes a HUGE mess.

After they finished the service, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little quality check. Turns out they didn’t do such a great job. The checks they perform(lights, tires) were perfect. The oil change, not so much. There belly pan was covered in oil, a clip was installed wrong, and they broke the air box. The oil and clip were a really easy fix. Just some clean up. The airbox however, will need to be replaced. It was nothing that would effect performance, but I get OCD so I need to fix it.

I don’t want to sound like I am giving these guys a hard time. This was actually a really great teachable moment. I showed them what they did, and how to do it properly for next time. I am pretty sure they got what I was saying, they might have been a little scared ;). It is also a good thing that it was my car(not really for me). I would much rather them be able to make a mistake, and see the result right away. This worked out great because we did not make a customer unhappy.

I will be sure to keep everyone posted about their progress. It will be fun to follow along while they learn the ropes!