Why would you lie to your repair shop?

When I was a Computer Science major in the late 1980s, before I realized that majoring in Computer Science meant more time in the computer lab and less time drinking beer, I learned the term GIGO: “garbage in, garbage out.” It means if there is a flaw in your data, your results will be worthless, so it is of utmost importance to start with good information before you even attempt to begin an analysis or a solution.

When something goes wrong with your car, it will impact your life or at least your day in some way, so it continually amazes me when people outright lie about the steps in the process that led up to the trip on the rollback. They withhold information entirely, lie about things they saw and did, and exaggerate or minimize the symptoms. Worse is when there is more than one driver involved, and you get conflicting stories from the two drivers, and the resulting confusion makes it very hard to diagnose the problem.

I really and truly want someone to explain to me why they do this. When things go badly, and we are at the point with a customer where we have discovered that they have sent us on a wild goose chase due to lack of information or misleading information, we are often so frustrated at that point that the conversations lose their usual civility. Or, we are completely and totally unable to stick to our original quote because we made the quote based on the information we were given at the time and the reality of the job turned out to be much different. These are the conversations that end with either "Don't ever come back here again!" or "I'm never coming back here again!" so I never actually find out the answer to my question, "Why did you lie about this?"

I have some theories. Maybe they are afraid they will appear stupid. Maybe they are concerned that if they explain how bad it really is, that it will cost more, so it's a sort of misplaced idealism/naïvité/hopefulness that is really more a state of denial. Maybe they are afraid that if they admit any fault, their spouse will be upset. Whatever the reasons are, it is a serious hindrance to getting the vehicle repaired quickly, accurately, and without unexpected expense, and it makes no sense to me.

Depending on the nature of the work needed, diagnostic procedures are becoming more and more sophisticated, and some do not need human dialogue to be performed. Don't count on that in every situation, though. It seems to me that the best course of action is present the information you know, be honest about what happened when, and if you did something to the car, tell us what you did. I do not know your personal consequences - spousal reaction, parent grounding you, etc. but if you give us garbage information to work with, the likely result will be a useless quote, incorrect diagnosis, and a not-fixed car.

There are many mysteries to be solved in the course of auto repair, and while many techs enjoy the challenge and like to accomplish the solution to a problem, in many cases it is not needed to add to our challenges by muddying up the details. Not every trip to the auto repair shop should be like an episode of Scooby Doo where we're trying to not only solve the mystery, but figure out who the bad guy is and why they are wearing the face of someone they are not. You should not walk in the door pretending to be Straightforward McHonesty, the Careful Caretaker, when you are actually Stubborn McNotmyfault who couldn't be bothered with pulling over when the oil light was flashing, and instead of telling us you saw the oil light flashing and chose to keep driving, you shrug and say "I don't know, it just stalled and wouldn't restart. I had no idea anything was wrong."

Example: the case of the ghost noise

A man brought in an 8-year old Oldsmobile, says he is hearing an odd roaring noise that comes and goes when he makes a turn. We test drove it, checked it on the lift, found out it's a bad wheel bearing. On this vehicle, that is a sealed hub assembly, which is not cheap to replace. We also did an inspection on the car with other recommendations - rear brakes due for service, air filter dirty, a few other things, all of which were unrelated to the roaring noise; he declined those. The noise went away, and the man left happy.

A few days later, the man came back, saying roaring noise was back (we suspected the other side), and that the car wasn't fixed. The wheel bearing had been making noise, the tech test drove with the customer in car to be sure they heard the same noise, then the customer confirmed the noise was gone before he paid, so it is odd that it came back. We test drove it again, and did not hear the noise. We called the man and asked him to come by and ride with our tech, to be sure we were listening for the same noise. He came by, went for a test drive with the tech, did not hear the noise, and went home.

A few days later, he came back again, very angry this time, saying he was still hearing the roaring noise, the car wasn't fixed, he wanted his money back. I began to wonder if maybe my tech had hearing problems, so I put another tech in the car with him, they went on a test drive, neither man heard a roaring noise at all.

At this point the conversation became more hostile. The man went to front counter, demanded money back. I ask him what on earth for - we confirmed the problem before giving the quote, he agreed with the tech on what the noise was, the wheel bearing was confirmed bad after it was removed, man agreed the noise was gone before paying, and the two times he's come back only to have two different techs not hear a roaring noise, he said he was not hearing the roaring noise either.

Then more information came out ... this was actually a car his wife drove, not him. She was the one complaining about a noise to begin with, he heard the roaring noise the first time he drove it, he thought that was the noise she was talking about. When he brought the car back to her and she drove it, she said that was not the noise she was talking about, there was a different noise. This was information I was not given before and we were not talking to the wife prior to any of the stages of quoting or repairing. I asked him to please call his wife so we could talk with her and figure out what noise she was hearing.

His wife showed up at our shop, stormed into the waiting room, and started yelling at me behind the front counter about how we are ripping her off and too incompetent to do the work. I ask her what she is talking about, and she says the noise was still there. I asked what noise, she says when she is backing out of her driveway first thing in the morning, she hears a squeak when she is in reverse and when she applies the brake to shift to drive. "So you are hearing a squeaking noise when you apply the brakes, not a roaring noise that comes and goes when you turn?" That's right, she said.

I explained to her that we were not told any of that information - none of those words were used - reverse, brake, squeak - that we were only told of a roaring noise that came and went while the vehicle was in motion, and that the wheel bearing was independently confirmed as bad, and replacing it was prudent whether or not it was the sole source of any noise on the car. She asked what moron couldn't tell the difference between a squeak and a roar, and I said we got the information from her husband. At which point she screamed at me, "Why would you listen to him? He's an idiot! I don't listen to him! What is wrong with you people! Can't you tell how stupid he is?" and on and on and on. And I mean, on and on and on about how stupid he is and all sorts of things he messes up around the house and how everyone who knows him knows he's a idiot, etc. with him right there standing behind her in the waiting room. It was one heck of a show.

The conversation ended with both of them demanding their money back since the problem they came in for wasn't fixed, me telling them to get out and not come back, and they left. The man showed up about a week later waving a repair ticket at me from another shop which he said "fixed it properly and did it right the first time, the way it should have been done here", and I asked him again to get out and not come back. He wrote to the Better Business Bureau and said we were too incompetent to tell the difference between a squeak and a roar and that we fixed the wrong thing on his car and refused to give him his money back.

Example: the case of the two faces

A customer had been bringing her 2002 Suburban to us for years, since it was new. We did every oil change on this vehicle from the time it had 4,000 miles on it. Every oil change, no matter what the service checklist said, the customer would not allow us to do any other maintenance. Most of the time, she would say something to the effect of "I'll tell my husband, he'll take care of it." We'd make a note on her history that the service was advised and declined, complete the oil change, and ring her out.

Never once did she purchase an air filter, although we did note from time to time the air filter looked new so we did believe she was having someone else take care of it. No transmission serice, differential service, fuel filter, or belt was changed at our shop.

We did notice with increasing alarm that the fluids in her vehicle other than the oil were not being changed and had started to show the wear and tear. Transmission fluid started to appear dark and smell funny somewhere around 86,000. Differential fluid was low and starting to smell burned at every service somewhere around that mark as well. Around 90,000 we noted that the rear differential seal was leaking, and the fluid smelled nasty. Each time, the “service recommended and declined” was checked off on her invoice, which she would sign and keep a copy of at every service.

The tech brought her attention to the leak. She politely declined repairing it and said she would let her husband know. At that point, I was starting to think that maybe she didn't understand what a rear differential was or what a leak meant, so I printed out a description and the Chevrolet recommendations for servicing the differential and handed that to her on checkout. She pushed it back across the counter at me, refusing to look. She said something to the effect of "I'm not falling for that. I know an upsell when I see one, I work in sales. Don't ever try that on me again or I won't ever be back here."

She also assured me, while rolling her eyes and speaking to me like I was an idiot, that her husband was in charge of all the decisions for repairing the vehicle and if he didn't think anything was wrong, no stupid salesperson was going to convince her anything was wrong.

At that point, I had done all I thought I could do without really driving her away, so I rang her out and sent her on her way. She did not come back for her next oil change. I did hear from her several months later, she called me and very angrily demanded I was going to pay for her rear differential replacement. My response was something like "Huh?" so she explained.

She didn't want to come back to us because we kept trying to trick her into spending more money, so she started going to another shop. At about 108,000 miles, she heard a terrible noise and thought the back of the car was falling off. She went to her "new" mechanic, who said that indeed there was no fluid remaining in the rear differential of her vehicle, the damage was done and it would need to be replaced. According to her explanation of what her new mechanic told her, we should have been servicing this rear differential every 30,000 miles according to Chevrolet and we were negligent in doing so and we should pay for it. Again, huh?

I asked if I could speak to her mechanic and get some more information. She refused to tell me who it was. She then sent me a fax, which if you are in the repair business you would recognize - it was a cut and paste from an Alldata estimate form with the repair shop name chopped off the top. If you aren't in the repair business and don't know what I am talking about, I can just tell you it was recognizable and easy for me to see it was an estimate, not a bill.

I am familiar with most of the repair shops in town; I know which ones are chains and use their own software, which ones are backyard guys and do everything handwritten, and which ones are at least semi-computerized and might use a standardized form like Alldata to make a quote. That being a short list (less than five), I figured it might be worth my time to make a few calls. On the third call, I found the one. I told him who I was and told him he did not have to give away any personal information to me if he didn't want to, but I was completely confused as to why we were being blamed for something we were not allowed to do.

The confusion on his end matched the confusion on my end. You see, she had told them that she had always done every manufacturer's recommendation, every time, and had strictly followed the Chevrolet schedule at every service.

Once I told him that wasn't true, the conversation ended quickly. I did not tell her I spoke to him and I don't know that he told her either. Apparently they did the differential replacement, because I got another nasty letter from her with the bill saying I should pay it. I never responded. She had sworn she was going to sue me, it's been over a year, I'm still waiting.

The Case of the Car Wash Ninjas

We offer a free car wash with our oil changes. The car is a simple unit, it's one of those touch-free that does not have brushes but squirts high-pressure water at the vehicle. The nozzles that squirt the water are on arms that reach out across the top, front and back of the car but are not close enough to hit the car. They move back and forth on an archway that is in the shape of a rectangle, made of plastic and rolls along rails that are on either side of the vehicle.

The vehicle enters, in between the rails (hopefully), stops at a certain point and the car wash travels back and forth, squirting water and wash fluid and maybe wax if that option is chosen, then the arms lift back up again when the wash is done and the vehicle exits. The archway that holds the arms has a plastic casing, you can poke it with your index finger and it will buckle inward, it is a thicker consistency than the plastic on a 2-liter soda bottle, but not so thick that you would injure yourself if you poked it. I assume it is designed to “give” if bad drivers run into it; that seems to happen often enough and the car wash suffers far more damage than the cars.

The Toyota Sequoia is a large and fairly heavy vehicle that is made mostly of metal on the outside. A customer came in with a white Toyota Sequoia, got an oil change, and was given the free car wash. She chose to do the car wash right then. The opening to the car wash is slightly obstructed by our landscaping, so there was no one watching when she entered the car wash. After she came out of the car wash, she came back into the shop, very flustered and demanded to speak with a manager.

I asked if I could help her. She said she wanted me to come and look at what the car wash did to her car. Normally I'm expecting something like it didn't wash the soap off well enough ... it left a dirty spot ... but no, there was a vertical orange streak of paint on the front quarter panel about even with the passenger side mirror with a significant dent inward of the sheet metal. I had no idea what happened but I knew was not caused by the car wash, and I told her so. She seemed very upset by this, and I asked her what happened.

She said she followed the instructions and entered the car wash, and while she was in the car wash, out of nowhere there was a BOOM! and something struck her car on the passenger side hard enough to rock it side to side. Then when she exited the car wash, she got out of her car and looked at it and saw the dent, and said a panel in the car wash must have fallen off and struck her vehicle. I didn't believe one word of that, and I told her so, and told her to try her story somewhere else. She refused to leave and called her husband. When her husband showed up, the three of us walked to the car wash from the back side because that's where the archway was — the single-piece archway made of thin, easily bendable plastic, with no detachable panels.

There was nothing orange inside the car wash. There was no damage, no plastic missing, nothing about her story made sense. Then ... we went back to the entrance of the car wash. You have to go around a turn to enter, and right at the curb where you turn sharply to enter, there is a vertical orange and white cone-type pole that marks the end of the curb so you don't hit the curb trying to enter the car wash. The pole is on the grass side of the curb, and is painted cement — painted orange and white.

Looking closer, there were fresh tire marks digging up a patch of grass right in the front of the pole. I don't know how she did it, but she had turned way too sharp, hopped the curb and must have gunned it to slam into the pole at enough force to damage the front of her car that way. Pointing out the orange on the pole, the tire marks, the fresh damage to our landscaping did no good. She kept protesting, swearing that "Something jumped out and hit my car! It was in the car wash! It was inside that structure! It jumped out and hit my car!" I was done with the investigation at that point, and all I could ask was "Ma'am, was it dressed like a ninja? I hear those creatures can be mighty troublesome."

I have no doubt they totally blame us for this, and tell anyone who listens that we are idiots who can't fix cars. The things they say about us can't be unsaid, and really, is this our fault? Can someone explain to me where we went wrong here?

—Beth

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