By Ed Sunkin
UNDERHOOD SERVICE Magazine
There have been a number of on-line automotive repair sites popping up where consumers can ask “automotive experts” questions and receive automotive repair advice.
These sites normally charge a fee to the person asking the questions (I’ve seen anywhere from $3 to $15 per question).
One site touts its Q & A forum as a cure-all for nearly all driveability concerns.
“Almost all car repair questions can now be answered on-line,” the site’s creator explained. “The days of going to one mechanic after another to diagnosis your car problems are over, since many car repair questions are available at your fingertips, in no time at all.”
Now, I know there are a lot of shop owners who like the idea of a more educated vehicle owner particularly when they understand that some driveability issues can become costly, like when a PCM needs to be replaced or an A/C compressor has run its course.
However, when a site contends that it was created for people who “don’t have time and money to waste for answers to common car repair questions,” I have to take exception.
Whenever I take my vehicles to an automotive professional, I never have any problems with the service staff answering my questions. I trust their diagnosis and answers.
One “expert” source I spoke with who favors car owners using automotive on-line Q & A forums said the Internet does have its limitations. “All you can do is make an educated guess as to what might be wrong based on the description a motorist gives the expert,” he said.
Sure, some “generic” questions may be helpful to vehicle owners seeking preventive maintenance assistance on their vehicles such as, “How often should I rotate my tires?” or “My vehicle has been driven 97,000 miles. Should I have the timing belt replaced?”
But reading some of these vehicle-owner questions, I’ve found some of them to be very technical and model-specific in nature.
Which is why some other shop owners I’ve consulted said they don’t believe a specific vehicle problem can be accurately diagnosed by a quick question asked over the Internet. There are just too many variables such as ambient temperatures and other weather conditions, changes in elevations, the vehicle owner’s driving habits, location of driving (dusty roads or roads with heavy construction), recent towing loads to the vehicle, etc., that need to be considered. Sometimes, even a test drive is in order. Other times, a look under the hood can provide valuable insight to a vehicle problem.
For example, I have a Dodge Ram pickup that was having intermittent driveability problems where all the “diagnostic indicators” pointed to a bad spark plug wire.
Had I logged onto one of these websites, would the “expert” I summoned know that the culprit was actually an improperly installed aftermarket remote start system that was shorting out on top of the cylinder head?
Highly unlikely. They probably would have pointed me in the direction of new spark plug wires which at 140,000 miles on the truck may have been needed but would have totally be missing the real cause of the problem.
So what happens when someone who uses one of these Q & A sites comes to your shop armed with their “expert diagnosis,” a new part and they ask you to install it for them? Will you make the installation or turn them away to a competitor? And, what if you find that the driveability problem was more involved than the part they wanted you to replace such as the case of the ill-fated remote-start unit?
Are consumers receiving incomplete repair information by using these sites? I would have to believe so, especially when it comes to the highly technical or intermittent issues.
If I were to submit an on-line question, it would be, “Why aren’t vehicle owners asking these repair questions at their neighborhood shop?”