Confessions of a Service Advisor – Part One

The daily highway slog and grind is wearing, both on you and on your car.  One morning, coincidentally a week after the dealership serviced your car, you find yourself stuck on the side of the road.  Crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank-crank.  Nothing.

Irrational thoughts begin swirling around in your mind.  Am I out of gas?  Coolant?  Oil?  Blinker fluid?  Ugh, this is so embarrassing.  Did I forget to rotate my tires?  Maybe someone put sugar in my gas tank.

Wait – I was just at the dealership for an oil change last week.  They must be the culprits behind this, those con artists.  I declined that fuel injector cleaning thing or whatever and those nine other things they recommended, and now look what happened.

The Background

I’ve been around and underneath cars for most of my life, working as a dealer service advisor (read: “that guy”) for BMW, Porsche, and Audi.

Yeah, that guy.  You know, the one that tells you I’m going to drain your life savings so that your kids have to go to community college and you’re stuck with a just-out-of-warranty POS that’s less reliable than Robert Downey Jr.’s sobriety.

My daily tasks as “that guy” frankly included one thing: not trying to rip people off.  My bosses didn’t like that.  It wasn’t that they wanted to ooze every last shiny two pence from the gaping wallet wounds of every unsuspecting customer – or maybe it was.  Regardless, I refused to succumb to the stigma, and instead built my customer base on two things, honesty and knowledge.

By the end of my career in service, I could have up-sold a chocolate eskimo rainbow flush and charged to top off blinker fluid.  None of my regular clients cared what it was, or that it cost more money.  If I told them it needed to get done, they’d raise nary an eyebrow.  I proved that I was a passionate car guy and a good friend, not a trained salesperson.

Dealers are actually a great place to get your car repaired, as long as you go in with a clear and realistic set of expectations.

In writing this “Confessions of a Service Advisor” series, my hope is to provide an unbiased, real-world approach to getting your car serviced, which will hopefully save you time, money, and most of all, stress and frustration.

The Breakdown

Back to you on the side of the road.  First off, I’m sorry.  That sucks.  You place a call to the dealership, demanding to speak to the service manager.  Not an advisor, but my boss, who has already had a day full of negativity and is on the verge of exploding like a watermelon under Gallagher’s mallot.

The conversation doesn’t go well in your mind, but he’s let you vent, and insists that we will do everything possible to address the situation.  As well, if we inadvertently did something to  your car that caused this issue, we’ll own up to it.  Really, we will.

The tow truck arrives, your storm into my office, and the spit starts flying.  You worked with another advisor when you had your oil changed, but I’ll happily take the heat for this one.  Trust me, the beads of sweat and splotches of dirt affixed to your collar are a dead giveaway that this sort of encounter was the last thing on your mind today.

Then, you demand a loaner car.  Not some “cheap piece of sh*t rental,” but a Lamborghini.  A Ferrari.  A Rolls-Royce, dammit.  You want the owner’s manager’s father’s weekend car, and you want it now.

Problem is, we’re out of supercars.  In fact, we’re completely out of loaners.  The only option left is to rent you a red Kia, and to get it from that place you had a bad experience with that one time when you were in Tampa.

Don’t fight this.  We do not keep a secret stash of Bentleys that require three manager retina scans to retrieve the keys.  We’re just doing what we can for you, given our available resources.

I listen to you eloquently describe what happened, translate your account into a two-sentence summary dumbed down to a first grade reading level for our technicians, have you sign the repair order, and walk you out to the rental agent.

The Misconception

At this point, you assume that a menagerie of cigarette-huffing technicians are sitting around a table playing cards.  When your car is towed in, they all vigorously lick their chops, and fight to the death over who gets the job.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In reality, there are 75 cars that have been dropped off that day, plus 30 that carry over from the day before, plus another 30 from days before.  This workload is tended to by less than 20 technicians and six service advisors, and everyone wants their car back by 4:00.

Unless we are having a slow day (typically once every three months), if your car is dropped off after 1pm, chances are, it’s not getting looked at until the next day.

The Next Step

Sit back and try to relax.  I know it’s been a stressful day, but I’m aware that your car is here, and I don’t want it sitting on our lot any longer than it needs to be.

Tomorrow, I’ll see to it that your car gets in the shop first thing, and I’ll call you as soon as I know what’s going on.

Oh, and do me a favor – give me your Email address.  I’m not going to spam you, I promise.  What I will do is use Email as a method to send more detailed information with a paper trail, which I know you like.

I want you to have time to internalize the estimate that’s coming tomorrow.  Talk about it with your Wife, and figure out what works for you.  Not for me.

Stay tuned, folks.  There’s more to come in part two next week.  And thanks for keeping an open mind.

Daniel Buxbaum has had a life-long passion for all things automotive. His background as a Porsche, Audi and BMW service advisor brings a more technical approach to his writing. Dan’s passion for automotive journalism secured him a position as regional manager and contributing writer for Parts & People, a multi-region automotive trade publication. Dan is also an active member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP) and Motor Press Guild (MPG).