from Goss’ Garage by Pat Goss

Although it may sound like a strange question, is what you expect from your repair shop reasonable? Today’s highly computerized cars mean you may need a new set of expectations that are more modern and better fit today’s complex repairs.

Most of what you should expect is the same as it has always been. It’s reasonable to expect a clean, orderly waiting area, a clean orderly shop and parking lot plus service bays equipped with modern, well maintained equipment. You should expect proper licenses, paper work and ASE certified technicians. What is not reasonable to expect is a miracle. Although your request may not seem unreasonable to you it may essentially be asking the shop to perform a minor miracle.

That’s partly because being outside the business you couldn’t possibly know how complicated vehicles have become or what it takes to properly diagnose some of today’s complex problems. Adding insult to injury are stores who offer free code scans and then suggest that codes tell what part to replace. A free code scan is worth exactly what it costs … nothing! In fact a free code scan could cost you a lot more than proper testing and repair. Computer codes do not routinely tell what part has failed, only what part is being affected by what’s wrong so repairs based solely on codes mean good parts are replaced and money is wasted; estimates suggest over one billion per year nationwide. Also, electronic parts usually do not show any telltale signs of failure. Unlike mechanical parts ailing electronic parts can’t be measured with some variant of a ruler.

This brings us to a nightmare for you and your technician, the dreaded intermittent problem. Intermittent problems can seriously test everyone’s patience. Some intermittent problems can only be tested during an event so they must be able to be duplicated to find their cause. But if the problem only happens once in a while duplication may be difficult at best and sometimes impossible. Getting the problem to happen is bad enough but getting it to happen while it’s connected to test equipment can be a nightmarish challenge and still worse still is making the problem last long enough to run a complete test. Bottom line, an intermittent might actually require a minor miracle.

These are only a couple of the reasons why your shop may not be able to tell you exactly what it will cost to find much less fix an intermittent problem. Also more complex cars usually mean more expensive and confusing testing. Confusing because a properly trained technician will follow a manufacturer developed test sequence which requires absolute steps and finds first problems first. Usually each problem has to be repaired as it is found or the remaining test results are invalid. But fixing discovered problems may have nothing to do with correcting your intermittent problem they only guarantee the rest of the testing is accurate. If the shop explains this properly there will be no confusion but a poor explanation leads to confusion and confusion leads to conflict.

So here are some modern realities: your car may have multiple failures that are causing a problem or it may have multiple failures that have nothing to do with the problem but need to be repaired for accurate testing. Although the technician follows proper procedure by correcting known problems first you’re upset because they didn’t correct the initial problem. Unfortunately the alternative to proper testing is a more costly ‘shotgun’ repair. Shotgun repair: keep replacing parts until the problem is gone or more typically replace parts until you get mad and go somewhere else.

Is there an easy foolproof answer? Probably not, but it will be much easier if you seek out a good shop before you need help, learn as much as possible about new terms and procedures, be patient and develop, reasonable expectations. Pat Goss