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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.

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.**

A post came into the blog yesterday about brake fluid. If you have been following along with my posts, you know I have done some about brakes, and brake fluid. This comment came in response to my “5 things everyone can check post

Good article, please advise folks not to top off their brake fluid.
If brake fluid is low, get a professional to check your system for leaks, or check the pads (or shoes if you’re whip is old enough). If you top off the fluid, then put on new pads, you’ll end up with a mess!

When I first read the comment, I thought- crap, I forgot to say something about brake fluid. That was obviouly not the point the commenter was making. The point of the comment is, brake fluid is low for a reason. It has either leaked out, or takes up the space of worn brake pads.(if your not sure what I mean, don’t worry, it doesn’t matter for this post)

That really got me thinking about some automotive basics. A highly skilled, highly trained mechanic will always tell you “start with the basics” and “Keep It Simple Stupid”. What most mechanics will not tell you is, how many times they got burned by not following their own great advise! To be honest, I am right there with them!

At the dealership level, we see some of the craziest problems. Thankfully, we have tens of thousands of dollars worth of diagnostic equipment at our disposal. Dragging out the big guns is not usually the best first step!

I remember one time a customer brought their car in because the battery kept going dead. I did some basic checking, the battery voltage, the generator output, and so on. I could not find anything out of the ordinary.  I preceded to perform a “Parasitic Current Draw” test on the vehicle. This test will tell you how much the battery is draining when it should be “sleeping” The results for the test were way above the specification. So the next step would be to find out where the drain was coming from.

I spend about an hour or so digging thought wiring diagrams, trying to figure out what could be staying on. I removed the radio, disconnected every sensor I could get to, removed trim and started to disconnect modules. Nothing seemed to make the drain go away. I forget what I was about to unplug next, but I climbed in the back seat, looked down and found a flashlight plugged in to the 12volt outlet. I removed the light and the drain went away. I would guess that I had spent a good 2 hours working on this car. All because of a flashlight! Yep, A FLASHLIGHT!

I could have fixed that car in about 5 minutes if I would have checked the easy stuff first. For some reason, I let my ego get in the way of what I was doing. Bad move on my part. How do you tell a customer they have to pay $300 for me to remove the flashlight from their car? You can’t, that job was one that I got to fix for free!

Starting with the basics is improtant! Making it a habit is be tricky!

I hope you guys got a good laugh today! I hope everyone has an awesome weekend!