A visit to the repair shop can feel like a visit to a foreign country if you don’t have good communication with your service advisor or mechanic. You need to understand any questions they ask, as well as the details of any problems they find, in order to make appropriate decisions about what repairs to authorize on your vehicle. Here are some tips to help ensure solid communication, whether you are bringing your vehicle in for regular maintenance or a major repair.
The maintenance visit
Before you schedule a visit for regular maintenance, such as a 30,000-mile service, check your owner’s manual to see what work is recommended by the manufacturer. Then, call your shop and ask for an estimate on that service, along with a list of the items that are included in their fee. Compare the list against what is recommended in your owner’s manual.
It is sometimes common for a shop to suggest items that are above and beyond what your owner’s manual lists, but this does not necessarily mean they are trying to convince you to purchase additional services. The “extras” may be important to the health of your vehicle. For example, many manufacturers recommend oil changes at 5,000-mile intervals and sometimes even longer, such as every 7,500 miles. A mechanic, however, may recommend changing the oil about 2,000 miles sooner than the manufacturer recommends. This is a realistic recommendation for some driving situations, especially if most of your driving is around town versus on the highway, or if you frequently use your vehicle for towing (both conditions fall under the heading of “severe operating conditions”). If the shop is suggesting something beyond what you think is reasonable, ask your advisor about it, then assess the costs involved before deciding if you want those services.
Similarly, if your advisor suggests you invest in the highest quality of a certain part, such as an oil filter or brake pads, ask what the reasoning is, then use your own judgment to decide. If you plan to keep your vehicle for many years, it may make sense to spend the extra dollar and invest in the “best” quality of a certain item.
Consider your driving style, too. For example, if you spend a lot of time driving on winding mountain roads, then you are probably using your brakes a lot more than someone who drives mostly in the city. Investing in more substantial brake pads will increase the time interval between brake jobs.
The repair visit
When you bring your vehicle in for a repair, it is critical to be as specific as possible so the technician can pinpoint the problem. It’s best to provide the advisor these five pieces of information:
- Location of the problem-Be as specific as possible and state the location on the vehicle, such as the rear passenger side.
- When it occurs-Think about the actions associated with the problem. For example, does it occur when braking, accelerating, turning left/right, or going uphill?
- Visuals-Warning lights on the dashboard are definitely important to mention, but also notice if there are other visual clues, such as if the lights dim, or if there is a leak under the vehicle or a puff of smoke from the tailpipe. In either case, be sure to mention the color and whether there is any odor associated with it.
- Sounds-Do you hear any noises when the problem occurs? If so, explain what it sounds like. Metallic, tinny, clunk, thud, rumble, etc. are all ways to describe a sound.
- Odors-If there are any odors associated with the problem, describe them to the mechanic. For example, does it smell burnt, sweet, or like rotten eggs?
Before you authorize any work
Before you consent to any work on your vehicle, make sure you know what your warranty coverage is and what is covered under that warranty. All manufacturers today offer two warranties: bumper-to-bumper and powertrain. The length of these warranties and the exact items covered varies from one manufacturer to another. Your warranty information is located in your owner’s manual and/or in the paperwork given to you at the time of the sale if you purchased an extended warranty or your vehicle was previously owned.
Finally, when you bring your vehicle in for service or a repair, always get a copy of the service you are requesting as well as an estimate in writing. This document is called a repair order, or “RO,” and any shop you deal with should give you one and ask you to sign it when you leave your car for service or maintenance.
Before you sign the repair order, read it carefully, making sure it lists everything that you requested. If you have brought your vehicle in because you think there is a problem, make sure the service advisor has written down an accurate description of the issue. Finally, look at the cost estimate. Once you sign this document, you are authorizing work to be completed on your vehicle as the document describes, up to the amount listed in the cost estimate.
Following these steps will help ensure that you obtain the service or repairs you want, as well as provide you with a thorough understanding of what will be performed and why, and for what price.