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Why getting a car fixed is not simple

October 10, 2013
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

It would be great if getting a car fixed was a simple procedure. Call the shop or drive it in, ask how much, decide, and then either have it done, or don't, depending on the price/benefit ratio. Wham-bam, off you go with the rest of your day. Groceries, kids to soccer practice, hairdressers, and a few more errands, and then home again. The car problem was only a bump in a busy day. How could something so seemingly simple become complicated? Let me count the ways.

Car repairing is indeed a process. But it doesn't start with asking how much, no matter how badly we wish that were true. Before a price can be known, one has to know what has to be done to fix the car. That includes the parts required and their prices, and the necessary labor operations and their expense. In order to know those details, one has to know what the problem is, where it is, how extensive it is and if there is more than one problem. In order to know those things, one has to know what the car is either doing, (that it shouldn't be doing), or not doing, (that it should be doing). In order to know that, one has to have a complaint from the driver, with some detail as to the symptoms, and possibly some results of tests performed by the shop.

That's the procedure in reverse. In forward it looks like this: symptoms, tests, diagnosis, prescribed repair procedure and, finally, estimated costs, followed by decision time for the car owner.

It all starts with symptoms. What kind of problem are you having? A noise, a vibration, a refusal to operate, (like a no-start condition), an odor, a puddle from a leak, air conditioning not cold, heater not hot, brakes not working right. It goes on and on for hundreds or even thousands of different complaints possible, each one with a variety of possible causes.

This leads to the next step, which is diagnosis. A professional considers your symptoms and using training and experience and a logical mind, finds a probable cause for the problem. Tests may need to be done to confirm the diagnosis.

The next step is to plan a repair procedure for fixing the car. A list of needed parts is put together, and they are shopped for through various sources to arrive at a parts price. Labor time is researched and the cost calculated, and the necessary time required for completion is forecast.

Now you have an estimate for the price of the repair and time required.

A final step may involve advising the customer about the consequences of not fixing it, or of doing a less-than-optimum repair, like putting in used parts, or only patching up some of the problems and leaving others. This is the decision part. This is the final stage, only reached after going through the earlier stages, although it is often the first question asked, because of its' importance. It's because of that importance that service providers must carefully go through the earlier steps to arrive at an accurate estimate. Those steps take time and effort.

A restaurant manager once asked me if I had parts for Oldsmobiles. I said that yes we did. She then asked: "What do they cost?"

I replied: "It would be great if getting a car fixed was a simple procedure but wait, I just remembered. We don't have any Oldsmobile parts left. Sorry." Then I went back to my lunch. Sometimes lunch competes with time and effort, and lunch wins.



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