Auto repair is always high on the list of service complaints. The most frequent complaint is a failure to fix the vehicle. Why has this trend continued for decades? The answer is in the fundamental structure of the business and customers do have power to make changes.
Why are things the way they are?
The auto repair business sprang up, very soon after the introduction of automobiles. "Sprang up" is appropriate, as no better model, upon which to base things was available. Vehicles were simple, and problems were obvious. A vehicle operator would drive until the automobile broke. They could easily see the problem, for instance a leaking water pump or a wheel bearing smoking.
Things were very simple and almost completely standardized. Brakes on a Chevy were very much like those on Ford. Drivers would simply call around, tell the shop what they wanted and get a price. Most automobile owners were mechanically savvy and this worked okay about 80% of the time. With the other 20% the issue was not large, as repair was inexpensive.
The vehicle will not start, so the owner assumes the fuel pump is bad. They call for prices on fuel pumps and select a shop. They replace the pump and when the car still does not start, the coil is checked and found bad. The total bill is about $25.00, and everyone is happy. This is the way the auto repair business evolved. Drivers guess at the problem and repair shops sell services, not solutions to problems.
This is where menu pricing comes from, and the trend continues today. Names such as ‘brake jobs’ or ‘tune up’ come from this method. Today such terms have no meaning, but they continue. Many shops prefer this approach as responsibility for the outcome is placed on the customer. These shops sell services, not solutions.
Why the auto repair model no longer works?
Mechanical systems, where problems are obvious, no longer exist. Vehicles are digital and programmed to isolate the driver from symptoms. Manufacturers replace standardization with customization. The same vehicle and year model may have several possible systems or component combinations. Knowing the arrangement of components, without looking is impossible.
Attempting to guess at the problem will result in a wrong answer about 80% of the time. What drivers see as a problem is more often a symptom. Combine this with vastly increased costs and the present system becomes a disaster.
The vehicle will not start so the owner assumes the fuel pump is bad. Calling around, they are shocked at the price. The shop selected replaces the fuel pump, and the vehicle still will not start. Now the customer is out $800.00. Worse, the shop selected is incapable of diagnosing the problem. Replacing additional parts fails to rectify the problem. A different method will give better results. Part II of this series addresses selecting a better shop.