Years ago, there was a best-selling book with a similar title. Though we believe we clearly state our wishes, often they do not come across. Apparently auto repair shops speak an alien language, or at least do not understand the one people use.
For the most part, personnel of an auto repair shop wish to make their clients happy. Everyone would like to save money having their vehicles repaired. They would also enjoy having it done right the first time. Why does this seem to happen so rarely?
Most problems in auto repair shops originate with poor communication
There is plenty of blame that might be associated with the auto repair industry. Years of bad practices and perpetuation of mistakes combine to create a problem fraught process. Affixing blame will not help, but there are simple things that will.
Automotive repair is very different from most things people buy. For example, with a new television, the desire is clear. Select the features, find the lowest price, and everything is done.
With auto repair, it is less clear what we want. If the vehicle does not shift properly, we may think we want a transmission. Call around and prices will vary widely. Any price chosen can lead to a very expensive and frustrating experience. Inadvertently, the problem has been [improperly] diagnosed and the wrong service sought.
What the customer needs, is to know why the vehicle is shifting improperly. The problem may be any of several things, many unrelated to the transmission. For instance, fluctuating voltage, due to a bad alternator could cause this problem. A repair shop prices a transmission-rebuild because that is what the client requested. The customer may get the cheapest rebuilt transmission, rather than a repaired vehicle.
How can we learn to speak Martian?
Learning to speak in symptoms is not natural, but can easily be done. A technician needs to know what brings the problem on, when it occurs and how long the problem last. Rather than asking for a service, use the "golden communication method."
Tell the auto repair shop
This information will greatly help the shop get to the symptoms they need to do a proper job the first time. In cases where it is difficult to explain, ask to ride with the technician. Point out the problem, so it is clear. Any shop that does not offer such a service should not be considered as a provider of repair.
Martians take meaning from tiny details and specific words
The client may say, "I turn the key and the car will not start." To a Martian, this means that the starter does crank the engine, and it will not start. They see the entire process, of the lock cylinder rotating and a square wave being sent to the body control module. The signal enters the PCM that compares it with a known pattern, in the instrument panel. The signals match, so the computer grounds the relay, allowing battery current to flow through the solenoid. Current energizes the starter and turns the motor. The computer actuates the fuel pump, and the injectors and spark plugs start to fire. The problem must be in this system.
If the actual problem is, "Sometimes the car does not crank," hours can be spent checking components with no problems. Worse, even if the no-crank symptom occurs; the technician may disregard it as this was not the complaint. Remember that Martians work on thousands of vehicles. Many have problems that the client does not want to have repaired. The intermittent no crank may be normal for one person and a major issue to another. Unless the customer advises the technician, there is no way they can know this.
With intermittent problems, this is crucial. Without knowing the symptoms and with a vehicle not acting-up, it is impossible to make a proper repair.
Martians set priorities based on technical importance
The customer may be very concerned with slight shaking in the steering. This may never have been there before. They worry it means the vehicle is dangerous to drive. The technician sees a wheel weight has come off, a minor problem. They also notice the tires are worn thin. To them this is a much bigger problem, and it makes little sense to balance a worn tire. The client may rarely drive the vehicle and really just wants to feel safe. Communicating the situation will help prevent being presented with a recommendation for new tires.
Martians need to be told what things you want checked
Many folks only want things checked that they specifically request. They may take care of other problems themselves. Other people appreciate hearing of things that may need attention. Advise the repair shop in advance, of the things at which you would like them to look.
Because time is money, good shops check only the things the client requests them to check. For example, if the vehicle comes in for a check engine light, they are not going to remove the wheels and check the brakes. If a full check is important, ask if they provide a general inspection.
Martians like to know the sequence of events
If a noise only occurs after driving for ten miles, it may not be found if the complaint is, "Roaring noise when driving." To a Martian, "Vibration on hard acceleration," is very different from, "Vibration in the steering wheel." The more detail offered, the faster and less expensive the diagnoses will be. A written log is great, especially with complex problems.
Tell the repair shop what, when and how intense the problem is. How often the problem occurs is critical information. It is also helpful to know what makes the symptoms stop. Any repair or modification to the vehicle, before the problem started, is also great information. Additional details save time and money.
Martians take things literally
To the vehicle driver, a noise that they have never heard before may seem "very loud." Auto repair personnel hear severe noises daily. They may overlook A faint noise when looking for something much louder. Try to communicate symptoms in a relative sense. Use examples whenever possible, such as, "It sounds like a pencil tapping on a table."
With just a bit of practice, you can speak Martian in no time at all. At the same time, it always helps to find a shop that also speaks human.