'twas two days before Christmas and the repair shop was busy

Feeling the heat

(Conversation with man in his 40s at the front counter of the repair shop, a vehicle we had diagnosed months ago)

  • Man: I'm back to get that heating problem checked out.
  • Me: Sure, let me look at your history ... found it, you had a blower motor problem we diagnosed in October, is it still doing the same thing?
  • Man: Yes, I have no heat at all, and we're leaving on a trip tomorrow. We're going up North and we have to have the heat working.
  • Me: I saved the part numbers and it's about a two hour job, we can have it done today.
  • Man: Check it out first - maybe it's something simpler, maybe that's not it?
  • Me: Well we will definitely check it out before we start changing parts - but in my notes it says when the tech looked at it, you had burned wires and a seized blower motor - it's unlikely that it will be anything different.
  • Man: Well, take a look first anyway, then call me.
  • (After diagnosis, called him on the phone)
  • Me: We checked everything over and same thing - it's the blower motor.
  • Man: There's no way to fix it?
  • Me: No, parts of it are actually melted, it's not fixable, it should be replaced if you want your heat to work.
  • Man: Nothing you can just glue back together or work around it for now?
  • Me: What? No.
  • Man: How much is this going to cost?
  • Me: (saying dollar amount) It's the exact same as the estimate I gave you months ago and that I printed out for you when you were in this morning - same parts, same labor, same to the penny.
  • Man: Well, I didn't think that was really it, can you check again?
  • Me: Check what again?
  • Man: The quote. It's three days before Christmas, isn't there some sort of discount?
  • Me: What? No. That's the price. Same as we have talked about twice.
  • Angry Man: (raising voice) You can't be serious. It's three days before Christmas.
  • Me: (pause to regain bearings) If you want to think about it and call me back, as long as I know by noon today, I can still get the part and get it done today.
  • Angry Man: (still very loud) You're a criminal to charge that much. It's three days before Christmas. You should be arrested. I'm calling Channel Seven and telling them how you rip people off right before Christmas. I was just watching the news this morning about ripoffs like this.
  • Me: Right then, be sure to remove your car from our property before the close of business today. Have a nice trip. Merry Christmas! (hangs up)

Braking

(Woman in her late 20's shows up at the front counter, very nervous, has been in to our shop before but not for several months. She explains she's getting a noise and vibration when she is putting on the brakes. I check the vehicle in for a brake inspection, the tech takes it on a quick test drive before putting it into the bay, comes back after just a minute and is white as a ghost. Tells me what he found. I ask her to come to the front counter.)

  • Me: Ma'am, I'm sorry if this will scare you, but your brakes are completely unsafe. You have a seized caliper on one side - do you know what a caliper is?
  • Her: No.
  • Me: It's the part that holds the brake pads and causes them to clamp down on the rotor and stop the car. One of the brake calipers has seized shut - it clamped the brake pads down onto the brake rotor and burned them completely
    to nothing, until even the metal backing fell off the brake caliper entirely, and the pistons of the caliper clamped onto the rotor itself. The brakes are so overheated they are smoking. The rotor is cracked into pieces and falling off. This is not safe to drive.
  • Her: What will it take to fix that? I don't have any money, I'm on my way to go Christmas shopping now. I have to have the car back.
  • Me: It can't be driven in this condition, in fact it will not drive out of here. To repair it properly will cost (amount), or if you can't do that, I suggest you park the car until you can fix it properly. Usually I can tell someone that they can do part of it now and part of it later, but not in this case, these brakes are completely gone.
  • Her: Well, what did you do to it? I drove it in here!
  • Me: That was as far as it would go. It's not going anywhere now until it's fixed.
  • Her: But I have to go Christmas shopping tonight!
  • Me: Then park the car and get a ride until you can fix it.
  • Her: (Turning red and grabs her cell phone, dials a number, then thrusts the phone at me) Here! You better do this because this is your fault! I just called my daughter, YOU explain to her why she won't have a Christmas this year! Tell her!
  • Me: (on the phone) Hi sweetie, you're not having a Christmas this year because Mommy is an IDIOT who completely ignored her brakes until they seized. Merry Christmas!

********NO, RELAX, I DID NOT DO THAT ... but it did cross my mind. Here's what I really did.

  • Me: (focused on her, did not even look at the phone) Ma'am, maybe you need a few minutes to think about it. Maybe you should call a friend or family member to talk about what you want to do. Take a few minutes and let me know if we can do anything for you.
  • (She steps away from the counter, people are backing away from her as if she had the plague, I help the next few people in line, all of whom appear to be a little off balance by the scene they just witnessed.)
  • Her: (after a few minutes, quieter) I called my uncle, he's coming to pick me up, but we're going to have to tow the car to my house until after New Year's when I can pay to have it fixed.
  • Me: Sure, here's an estimate on the work that needs to be done, just call me if you decide to have it brought back here for the work.
  • Most of the time ... after something like that, we never see them again. Either they regain their senses after the holidays and then they are embarrassed at the spectacle they made of themselves and they just never return, or they really DO blame me.

Lubed

(Woman in her 30's at the front counter, checks in for an oil change, speaks to the tech who takes the keys from her, then hangs around the front counter for a few minutes watching them pull her car in for an oil change. After several minutes she gets a cell phone call. The conversation with the person on the cell phone becomes heated. She begins pacing, speaking louder, waving her hands, obviously agitated. The oil change does not take long, although she is still on the phone when it is time to ring her out. It is about ten minutes before closing time. I wait a few minutes to see if she will reach a point where she can get off the phone, but I do not see a way to politely interrupt her conversation, so I just get within her sight and wave at her.

She comes to the front counter to pay, still on the phone. She does not listen to me going over her invoice with her, just signs the slip, still speaking on the phone, stabs her name with the pen on the credit card slip, and bangs the pen down hard enough that it rolls off the counter. I hand her her keys and she leaves. She drives away from the bay but into a parking spot, still on the phone. That does not strike me as unusual because if she was in a tense conversation, better she stay parked in a safe parking lot than get on the road. We finish up at the shop and begin closing. She is still in the parking spot.

I count the money, do the deposit, shut off the lights, and lock the doors. I walk out a door towards my car. Then, whoosh, her car zips out of the parking spot and she cuts me off as I'm walking towards my car. My blood freezes and my thoughts turn to armed robbery and I start planning how to escape. She gets out of her car, just then hanging up her phone and throws her phone on her car seat, then turns to me. I'm braced for a weapon or a threat of some sort, but not this.)

  • Angry Woman: I had to tell you before I left, I am very dissatisfied with the oil change.
  • Me: What's wrong?
  • Angry Woman: I asked the man to check my tire pressure and my coolant and washer fluid, and I didn't see him do any of those things.
  • Me: What was wrong with the oil change?
  • Angry Woman: I just told you!
  • Me: The things you mentioned have nothing to do with changing oil.
  • Angry Woman: Well, whatever, it's things I asked him to do! If I asked him to do them he should do them!
  • Me: Fine, I agree, but calm down if you really want to have this conversation. First we are going to talk about the oil change. Did you have any problem with the oil change?
  • Angry Woman: I don't know. But I want to talk about the other things!
  • Me: Okay, we can do that, the things you mentioned like tire pressure and topping off fluids is done at no charge and it is not a service you were charged for. What complaint do you have about the free services?
  • Angry Woman: He didn't top off the coolant or the washer fluid, and he didn't check my tire pressure.
  • Me: Ma'am, your car was in the bay right next to the front counter, and I was standing there the whole time, he absolutely did do all those things.
  • Angry Woman: I didn't see him do that!
  • Me: You were on your phone and half the time you were walking around the waiting room and not even looking, you wouldn't have seen him do that, but I saw him and I'm telling you he did.
  • Angry Woman: No he didn't!
  • Me: Fine, I'll show you, please pull the latch to open your hood. (she does)
  • Me: (putting up hood and looking, I have a small flashlight I keep in my pocket) Ma'am, do you know where your fill bottle is for your washer fluid?
  • Her: No, why would I know that?
  • Me: Well, you just accused one of my employees of not doing his job, how would you know whether or not he was doing it if you don't know what you are looking for? (I point out the washer fluid bottle. Not only is it FULL, but
    it is full all the way up the neck to the cap - if one more drop had been in it, it would be overflowing onto the engine.) Here is your washer fluid. It is full to the top.
  • Her: Fine, but he didn't fill it.
  • Me: What difference does that make? Either he filled it, or it was already full. You have a full washer fluid bottle and it can't hold any more.
  • Her: Whatever, he didn't fill the coolant either.
  • Me: Do you know where your coolant overflow tank is?
  • Her: The what?
  • Me: The thing he would be putting coolant into.
  • Her: No.
  • Me: Okay, it's the plastic tank right here, the one that you can see has a fill line with the fluid visible exactly at the line where it should be.
  • Her: But it's not FULL.
  • Me: You can't fill antifreeze all the way to the top. Then there's no room for it when it gets hot. Things expand when they get hot. There has to be room for it, or kaboom!
  • Her: Whatever, he didn't fill it.
  • Me: Again, whether he did or not, which he did and I saw him do, it doesn't matter, it's full!
  • Her: (rolls eyes and snorts at me) So did he check the tires or what?
  • Me: (drops hood) No way am I going to open up the store and turn the equipment back on and play your game any longer, I'm done here. Get out of my way.
  • Her: What's wrong with you? You should never be rude to a customer!
  • Me: Look around you. We're closed. Right now it's just you and me in a dark parking lot after hours and I'm on my own time now. Move your car out of my way, I'm going home.

Two days to go. God bless us, every one.

—Beth

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