Part of a mechanic’s job is to talk to customers about the problems with their cars. It’s how any good technician can get an idea of where to start looking for repairs. Though, sometimes, there is such a thing as telling your mechanic a little too much. In particular, how he or she should do their job. We interviewed a few technicians hoping to get some fun stories about strange customer requests or problem descriptions. The thing is, everyone who commented all said the same thing: Customers telling a professional how to do a job is most definitely the number one thing a mechanic hates to hear. Not just because it irritates them to be told what to do or how to do it, but because it’s a good way to shoot yourself in the foot.
“Well, Google said…”
In today’s world, everyone has the internet at their fingertips. And while it can be a fantastic learning tool, it can also build up false confidence. A lot of the information out there skips past the troubleshooting process. Short videos and ill-researched articles offer quick, over-simplified solutions that often focus more on the symptom, and less on the underlying issue. And every mechanic hates to hear those three little words: “I Googled it.”
Case in point, Tommy “Banger” Urbanski of Ken Slezaks Garage in Pittston, PA, recently had a customer whose Jeep was having some strange issues. Most notably, every light on the dash was illuminated. Rather than letting Banger do his job, the customer demanded he do as he says. “His kid Googles it and comes up with the Totally Integrated Power Module, or TIPM, being the problem,” said Banger. Sure enough, replacing it wasn’t the fix and the customer wasn’t happy with the result.
“They came to us, told us what the problem was, and they’re complaining it wasn’t fixed,” said Banger. The customer actually had the shop replace the TIPM two times before giving mechanics the green light to explore the issue on their own. After some digging, Banger found the problem was actually caused by some bad grounds—something he was able to fix very quickly. Naturally, Banger was frustrated by the whole ordeal. But perhaps not as much as the customer, whose stubbornness and unwillingness to trust the pros led to more time in the shop and a much higher bill.
“But I Want It.”
Mechanics practice their own form of PR and ultimately want to keep their customers happy. They understand that your suggestion may be wrong, and will usually tell you so, but if you pay them to do a job, they’ll do as you ask. Boyd Carpenter, owner of B C Automotive in Manassas, VA, has quite the history of working with some of the greatest race engines of all time, and therefore gets a lot of requests for some extreme modifications. He remembered a time when a customer came in asking him to perform an oil system modification—one that Mopars require—on a Chevy 350. The engine didn’t need the mod, which requires the use of specialty tools, but the customer insisted it be done.
Any skilled mechanic hates to hear that you think their professional intuition is wrong and you’re ignoring their good advice. But in a world where ‘the customer is always right,’ most shops would rather give in than argue. “Most of the time, the people who come to you without knowing what they’re doing will keep moving until they find someone who agrees with them,” said Carpenter. “Hell, I’ll do whatever you want me to. Doesn’t mean it’ll work, but I’ll do it.”
In Carpenter’s situation, the customer was happy with the upgrade and even had it done a second time the following year. Carpenter knew the mod was pointless, but he’s there to make his customer happy—and in this case, he did.
Trust is a Two-Way Street
Customers often think that if they go into a shop armed with the Google results of their car’s symptoms, that they won’t get swindled by an unscrupulous mechanic. But the truth is that any good garage just wants to diagnose your problem and fix it for a fair price. Most of these technicians choose to wrench because they enjoy it and they want to hone their skills. Like any professional, they’re open to answering your questions and hearing your suggestions, but they expect you to trust their expertise.
Sure, sometimes mistakes are made. That’s why understanding the basics of your car and keeping up with its maintenance are so important—they give your mechanic a baseline to work from. Just like your doctor may need to apply a little trial-and-error to pinpoint your ailment, a mechanic needs to poke, prod, and test to determine what’s actually causing the problem.
Our advice is if you have an idea of what needs to be done, talk to the shop. See how they respond to your concerns and what they recommend. Chances are, they’ll be able to save you money (and aggravation) by steering you in the right direction. And if you disagree, you can always say “No thanks” or ask to sleep on the decision. But remember: The squeaky wheel gets the oil. So, if you’re the loudmouth making demands, you’ll probably get what you wish for—it just might not be what you need.