Top 5 Useless Phrases in Auto Repair

or, How to get bad service from your repair shop
or, “When is a complaint not really a complaint?”

Dealerships may be run differently. The independent repair shop is typically run by the owner of the shop, or s/he is at least readily available.

5. But I only came in for an oil change!

Other shops may be run differently, but our shop has a mandatory inspection and review with the customer with every service. Included in the review is a list of items that get changed at regular intervals according to the year/make/model. If the customer has never been to us before, the entire list will print out, and we give the list to the customer so they can check their records to see what has been done already. If they have a history with us, our list prints out with the ones we have already done checked off. The list has your standard belts, fluids, filters, and recommended inspections (brake inspection, tire inspection, check for leaks, soft hoses, torn wipers, etc.).

It can appear overwhelming, such as in the case of a car with over 100,000 miles on it, so we really and truly do try to explain to the customer that they may not be due for ANY of those services right now if they have had them done elsewhere or just choose not to do them. However, the list is there for them to review, ask us questions, get a quote, take care of what they want done right then, whatever they want. It's their money, we can't spend it for them without their permission.

Maybe the customer decides to change the air filter and wiper blades and rotate the tires. Then when that customer checks out, if that person gets angry and says "But I just came in for an oil change! What a ripoff!" it is very frustrating, and also a useless conversation to get into.

What happens when you go to the grocery store? You have a few things on your list ... maybe bread, eggs, milk, sliced ham. Then you get to the grocery store, and on your way to the milk which is always all the way in the back, you are reminded you need more cereal. Then right next to the eggs is the sour cream you just remembered you needed. Then picking up the sliced ham, you see they have a sale on provolone, so get some of that too. On your way to get some bread, you think maybe some English muffins might be nice, so pick some of those up. The four things on your list just doubled, all of your own choosing. Would you seriously berate the cashier that you "only came in for four things" and you ended up leaving with eight? Would you really blame the person behind the counter for something you did of your own free will? Would you grumble about paying $35 when "those four things should only have cost me $16, what a ripoff!". I thought not. It's a useless thing to say.

4. "You're just adding that on to make more money"

You came in for an oil change and the tech pointed out to you that your wiper blade on the passenger side was torn, your engine air filter had not been changed in 22,000 miles, and it has been over 10,000 miles since your last tire rotation and asks you if you want to take care of any of those items now while we have the car in the shop. You say "You're just adding that on to make more money!"

First of all, well, duh. Very few people go into business with the express intention of performing a service solely for the good of humanity. Unless the sign outside has “Charity” in it, chances are, we're here to make money. This is our chosen profession and we have decided that we will have the lifestyle we want by exchanging goods and services for your money. We are not hiding the fact that we make money in this business, specifically, your money, and we won't apologize for it.

Secondly, what is the alternative? Buy a set of tires 25% sooner because you didn't rotate them and we were too afraid to tell you it was time because you'd jump down our throat? Spend a little money now, or spend a lot of money later, it's your choice. Third, if you are trading the car in next week and not interested in preventive maintenance, listen to the wise words of Nancy Reagan and Just Say No.

3. "What do you mean that alternator will cost me $400? I only have $200!"

Modern cars are quickly approaching a time when they will actually be sentient beings. They heat or cool the air according to your desires, remember what position you like your seat and mirrors, and will warm up your butt for you when it's really cold outside. However, it will be quite some time before we can expect the cars to have a direct link to your bank account and understand how much money you want to spend on your car today, and only decide to break something of itself that will cost less than you want to spend.

Until we see that day, it is completely useless to expect the amount of money you have to hold any meaning for your car when it decides that it no longer wants to maintain a charging system capable of functioning any longer. The reality of your situation being what it is, a more useful phrase may be "Is there an alternative that would cost under $200?" in which case, a service writer could check into a rebuilt part, salvage part, etc.

This phrase being the crosseyed inbred cousin of the #2 most useless phrase,

2. "What do you mean the repair cost $1400? I only paid $900 for the car!"

When you check in for auto repair, the person at the front counter will likely ask your name and a contact phone number, year/make/model of the car, and a description of the concerns you have with your vehicle today. In 15 years, I have never asked anyone "So you saw smoke and the needle was in the red and the car stalled and wouldn't restart. How much did you pay for the car?"

Why do we not ask this question? Because it is meaningless! Totally useless information. What is wrong with your car has not been affected in any way by some deal you made with the seller at some earlier time. It's none of our business, and it has nothing to do with what happened to your car today.

Actually, I take half of that back. If you got the car cheap, then you should be paying more for repairs. Why do you think they sold it to you cheap? Look at the sites like NADA and Kelley Blue Book ... when they rate used cars, they rate them based partly on condition. The exact same year/make/model car in less than stellar mechanical condition will be sold for much lower than one with an impeccable maintenance record. So, if you bought the car cheaper, it should have occured to you that there was a reason for that. It is far more likely to be an inverse relationship between the amount you paid for a car vs. what it will cost you to fix it (inverse means if one as the value of one moves lower, the value of the other moves higher).

Don't involve us in some deal you made with some guy for a cheap car, it won't help you at all. I can't call the parts store and say "Yeah, we need a head gasket kit. No, I can't pay you what your asking price is - the guy only paid $900 for the car so we have to pay you less for that same exact gasket kit than we would pay for the same kit going on a car that cost $2500."

On our invoice, we typically list the price of labor, parts, supplies, and sales tax. There is no factor in there for "If you paid up to $1000 for the car, a discount of 50% will be applied to your bill. If you paid more than $1000 for your car, our fee will be doubled." Doesn't work that way. See how stupid that sounds? So please, stop saying things like that.

And the number one most useless phrase in auto repair, some variation of ...

1. "Ever since I got my oil changed here, my drivers side door squeaks louder"

Just the ones I can recall off the top of my head - the drivers door is squeaking louder (on a 17 year old Buick), the trunk doesn't pop open as fast as it used to (we didn't touch the trunk or the trunk release latch), I'm not getting one of the radio stations I used to get (even asked her which radio station, in case maybe she just changed the programming on her stereo accidentally, she didn't remember, just said it was one she used to get!), the windshield looks cloudier (was during pollen season, but we didn't touch the windshield), the seatbelt is twisted on the passenger side (we didn't get in the passenger side or even open the passenger side door), the release lever for the middle back seat popped off the next time we used it (we weren't in the back seat to do an oil change), and the most frequent favorite "I am missing a hubcap - I'm sure it happened here" (on vehicles that did not have any tire work done and weren't on a lift and were only pulled straight into a bay and straight out again in full view of the customer area).

I cannot tell you the number of fully grown adult humans, who have managed to leave the house with pants on, and can form a complete sentence, and will attempt to convince us that somehow we added pollen to their windshield or cast a spell on their trunk. If you want help, ask for help. If you want us to check something that is outside the scope of our normal repairs, at least ask, and we'll help you if we can or refer you to someone who can help. But when you phrase things as an accusation, or a "you sure this doesn't have anything to do with the oil change?" it makes us suspicious, defensive, and ready to deal with craziness we've had to deal with in the past. It's a useless conversation, because when you make it about what we've allegedly done wrong, you get nowhere.

— Beth

Chrysler dealers and car repair shop articles

About dealers

Problems with dealers and shops

For independent repair shops:

For customers:

We make no guarantees regarding validity, accuracy, or applicability of information, predictions, or advice. Please read the terms of use and privacy policy. Copyright © 1994-2000, David Zatz; copyright © 2001-2016, Allpar LLC (except as noted, and press/publicity materials); all rights reserved. Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler, Ram, and Mopar are trademarks of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.


Toledo, Mack bronzed

What’s the future of Ram International?
Brampton-Front-Web
FCA is next for Unifor

Why focus on city mileage?

All Mopar Car and Truck News


Neon SRT4  •  Killing the buzzes  •  Dodge pickup trucks, 1961-71


The 2017 Jeeps, off-road Plymouth Belmont Dodge D50, Ram 50, Plymouth Arrow Inside stories of K-convertibles and woody wagons