Confessions of a Service Advisor – Part Two

In Confessions of a Service Advisor – Part One, your car broke down a week after your last service visit.  Now, in “Confessions of a Service Advisor – Part Two,” you’re stuck at home waiting for the diagnosis, and the dreaded call comes in.  What do you do?

The Diagnosis

Put your fears aside – The technician diagnosing your vehicle has the automotive equivalent of a Master’s degree.   Really.

Your Master Technician, let’s call him “Jim,” has diagnosed the problem as a lack of electricity reaching the car’s electronic fuel pump.  This, just as it sounds, has caused the engine to stall and refuse to re-start.

While a less experienced technician might simply replace the fuel pump, Jim has worked on hundreds of vehicles like yours, and knows the fuel pump’s relay (electrically-operated switch) is a common failure.

He acquires and replaces the defective relay, turns the key, and your engine coughs back to life.

The estimate for both required and suggested repair items is submitted to the parts department, who checks inventory levels and pricing, and then sends the estimate my way.


Your phone rings, and I’m on the other end.

I explain, as simply as possible, how Jim came to his conclusion about the faulty relay.  The repair, including $25 in “shop supplies,” is $258.51.

Before you argue, shop supply charges have become commonplace in the industry, and are oftentimes irreversible.  It’s a marketing scheme, yes, but it allows for a lower effective labor rate and reduced parts cost to drive business in the door.

In addition to the relay, Jim is recommending that you replace the fuel pump (+ $610), perform a fuel injector flush service (+ $179), replace your fuel level sending unit (+ $370), and change your brake fluid (+ $105).  The trouble is, your conscious thought process likely shut down after I said, “$258.51.”

Although the perception is that we are ripping you off to pad our own pockets, we’re actually suggesting the replacement of other commonly-failed parts to save you from another breakdown.  Plus, part of the labor for these other repairs (fuel pump, sending unit) has already been accomplished by way of Jim’s diagnosis, so the cost is further reduced.

The fuel injector flush is recommended to clear up 10 years of deposits from your fuel system, which reduces the load on your new fuel pump, allowing it to last longer.

Brake fluid collects moisture over time, which can corrode and damage vital brake system components.  Your owner’s manual typically recommends this service every two years.


What now?

If you have the money, get everything done.  It will save you another headache in the future, because yes, the pump and sending unit will eventually fail.  Trust me, we see hundreds of cars just like yours every week, and we know what breaks and what does not.

If you only have a few dollars to spend, just get the relay replaced.  We won’t judge, I promise.  There are plenty of people who decline even more add-on services than you, and their cars are still running.

At the end of the day, there are still greasy shops out there, but the vast majority of those who survived the past few years did so by way of maintaining honesty, integrity, and value.

Don’t base your selection off of online reviews – Rather, stick with a shop that has vehicle manufacturer (VW, GM, Chrysler, etc) or association (ASE, ASCCA, BBB, etc) accreditations.  If the shop was really that bad, their parent brands and association chapters would never have allowed them to represent, or be a part of, their respective organization.

The final part of “Confessions of a Service Advisor” will advise on the importance of common “up-sell” and preventive maintenance services.  Stay tuned, and feel free to comment below.

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).