Mitch Schneider: It's Fixing the Mistake that Matters Most

Mitch Schneider: It’s Fixing the Mistake that Matters Most

Unless you've been there, it's hard to explain the "reality" of an independent repair shop at any given moment, let alone late on a Friday evening at the end of an extremely challenging week. It’s hard to articulate just how difficult things can be in a "good" economy when business is expanding and everything is going "right." It's almost impossible to put into words the anxiety and frustration you feel when the economy is writhing in pain.

By Mitch Schneider
Contributing Editor

   Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to explain the “reality” of an independent repair shop at any given moment, let alone late on a Friday evening at the end of an extremely challenging week. It’s hard to articulate just how difficult things can be in a “good” economy when business is expanding and everything is going “right.” It’s almost impossible to put into words the anxiety and frustration you feel when the economy is writhing in pain, the phones don’t ring and people wait until ‘it’s broke’ to bring their vehicles in.

It’s hard to express how destructive warranty issues can be under the best of circumstances; even harder 20 minutes after you are supposed to be closed and on your way home when both you and the vehicle owner are staring at each other no longer wondering when the vehicle will be finished, but if it will be completed at all. Nevertheless, warranty issues appear to be unavoidable and this Friday evening would prove to be no exception.

A long-time customer brought his little Honda in. The note said, “Nothing special, just ‘normal’ maintenance.” In the course of inspecting the vehicle, it was determined that at 240,000 miles “normal” maintenance would include a second timing belt, seals, tensioner, idler and a new water pump. We also found the beginnings of a seal leak at the front of the power steering pump. But, the big question was could we get it all done in one day, or would our customer have to make arrangements to return at another time? Since returning would require redundant labor, we assured the vehicle owner that we would make every effort to have the vehicle ready by 5 pm. He authorized the work and let us know he would be back at 5:30 to pick up the vehicle.

I was getting nervous until I heard the vehicle start and run at about 5:15. I stopped holding my breath and let out a sigh of relief. We had overcome late parts, the wrong parts and the normal compression of time that occurs as the sun begins to set on every Friday. And, finally, the vehicle was running and we were just about done.

That sense of relief lasted about a minute and a half, long enough for the hydraulic whine originating from the rebuilt power steering pump that had just been replaced to reverberate throughout the entire shop and long enough for me to realize that the jobber who had supplied that pump had long since gone home.

The vehicle owner arrived just in time to hear the horrible noise coming from his car, just in time for him to watch two of my other techs, techs who had already washed up to go home, head for the end of the shop to see what was wrong and what they could do to help. Forty-five minutes later, the tech who had done all the work on the vehicle walked inside the office and tossed a small, round, black “O” ring in the air. It was so hard it made an almost “metallic noise” as it hit the desk.

Technicians are “tactile,” we touch things, hold them, place them between our fingers and squeeze them in order to really understand what they’re all about. This “O” ring was hard as a rock and had already assumed the shape and proportions of the area it was forced to seal. It was obviously used, and it obviously failed to stop the fluid from becoming aerated and the pump from making noise.

Where had it come from? Were the return hose fixture seals against the pump? Should it have been changed for the pump to have truly been ‘rebuilt?’ Of, course!

Had it been replaced? Obviously, not!

I will hesitate before I order another rebuilt power steering pump from the same vendor. I will want to know who built it. I will demand to know exactly what ‘rebuilt’ means. I will insist on knowing if there is a warranty on labor and what it covers. I will be that customer who calls with all the nagging questions countermen hate to answer, and they will be the supplier who wonders what prompted this profound change in behavior.

Someone “forgot.” Someone screwed up. Someone didn’t change a small, almost insignificant part and the universe, our universe, is forever changed. Now, the only question is how do we fix it?

I’m not sure, but I’m willing to bet it will take more than a technician finding an old used “O” ring someplace a new one ought to be. That way no one will have to say, “O,” no!”

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA.

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