This case study involving a chassis repair on a 2004 Toyota 4Runner underscores the value of customer education and using quality parts during the repair process. It was a unique situation we ran across where we advised the owner that one of the rear shocks on his vehicle was leaking, and we recommended replacement of both units.
This vehicle has a unique sport enhancement suspension system called X-REAS (X-Relative Absorber System) — a performance suspension option on many Toyota 4Runner models. The design acts like an anti-sway system built into the shocks and struts. The left front strut is connected to the right rear, and the right front is connected to the left rear through a series of hydraulic lines.
Well, you can imagine this was going to be an expensive repair, and while we advised the customer that she did not need to do the repair that day, we suggested that we should look at it again by the next service appointment.
As is often the case in our industry, a friend knew someone who had lunch in the same restaurant as a technician who didn’t think shocks should be that expensive. A quick consultation with Mother Google showed a far less expensive option at another shop. The problem is, they replaced the shocks with aftermarket replacements that left the hydraulic lines hanging loose under the truck. This caused a very uncomfortable ride with which the customer became concerned. So, the vehicle was back to us to determine why, as the technician in question could see nothing wrong with his work.
The “floating” nature of the vehicle that resulted from this initial repair was hard to believe. We were puzzled and wondered how it happened since new rear shocks and struts were installed. After a careful undercar inspection, we discovered that the hydraulic lines were tucked up in the fenders. We couldn’t see them at first, but once we did, we realized that this was the reason for the truck feeling so sloppy on the road.
Once the shop that did the installation was made aware of the situation, it stepped up and put the correct parts on the truck at no additional charge — which was a very nice gesture!
So, what is the moral of this story? We should always make it a practice to provide repair options and educate the customer about why a certain repair may seem to be too expensive at the onset. And, equally important, we should take time to verify that the parts we install are equal to, or better than, what was removed. That way, we ensure customer satisfaction with the repair and prevent unnecessary comebacks in the process.
The previous example emphasizes the value of having a vehicle inspection process in place at your shop. I sometimes ask myself, “Why do car owners do such a terrible job of taking care of their cars?” My conclusion is, it is not always their fault. While there are many shops that are doing a great job of performing vehicle inspections, far more are way behind the curve. I’m seeing techs who are not inspecting all the cars coming into their shop, and the excuses are amusing.
- “I don’t want the customer to think I’m trying to pull one over on them.” (You would prefer they are at risk driving down the road instead?)
- “It’s a new customer, and I don’t want to scare them away.” (You would prefer they find out from someone else you could have saved them money and an embarrassing breakdown? Plus, a new customer likely already knows what his car needs, and for some reason lost trust in the last service provider. And you’re not even going to try to gain it here?)
- “We only have time to fix what they came in for.” (You prefer chasing your tail with low profit margins and dissatisfied customers? There is always something that needs maintenance on a vehicle. You can find it and advise the customer, or they will eventually discover it on their own and question why you didn’t see it when their car was in your shop.)
So, what can you do? Step one is to start with technology. Ask yourself, does your team have all the tools they need to succeed? I have started to see the data from shops performing digital inspections, and I am amazed at the results.
As an example, we had a 2004 Toyota 4Runner come in for routine service — the customer had called for an oil change. The vehicle had 167,877 miles and gets regular service with us. Once the RO is written, a quick click on the OEM recommendations tab shows the list of services due by mileage. The chart allows me to choose the services due at 165,000 and 170,000 miles to give me an opportunity to advise the customer of the needed service before they leave. I can look back or ahead as many miles as I want, and then I can add the necessary service to the repair order.
Step two: Develop a comprehensive inspection process that provides the technician with a streamlined way to inspect all areas of the vehicle that coincide with the normal process he deals with every day.
That process involves walking up to the vehicle, getting in, starting it, test driving it, pulling into the bay and so on. This strategy, when coupled with a well-written inspection policy, will ensure your customers get a properly maintained and inspected vehicle at every visit.
Here are some of the items we discovered on this 2004 Toyota 4Runner during its visit to the shop. For starters, the tire pressure monitor light was on. In this case, a temperature change triggered the warning light.
There was also a split ball joint boot. Another look at the OEM recommendations and we see that “inspect ball joints” is part of the routine list of items to be serviced at this mileage interval.
Now, it’s time for a quick check for open recalls by VIN number. I first click the Recall tab, then check the list, and then verify it by VIN number on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website. Once I verify an open recall , I can select the recall to add it to the customer’s repair order. This website is very resourceful and efficient. Within seconds I can see if there is a recall. There is no more waiting hours for a call back from the dealer!
Also, be sure to note when timing belt replacement is due. While it was not due at this particular service interval on this vehicle, it soon will be (this year and model has this done every 90,000 miles). This service is critical! So many shops and customers are beginning to forget about this important service as cars continue to get better and are running longer with no perceived problems.
So, don’t be one of the shops that lets a car go without the proper maintenance recommendations, and please don’t let one go without a complete inspection! It’s up to us to do all we can to provide our customers with a safer, more reliable and more valuable vehicle.