I hear the above phrase every so often and the worst part of the technician’s plight is when he calls me he is almost always working for free at this point in the repair cycle. Most of the time the phone call starts out: “We sold them brakes…” Most of the shops at this point usually wish they would have sold them diagnostic time.
So why don’t undercar shops adopt the policy of charging a diagnostic fee similar to what most shops have for checking out driveability problems? There are three myths that prevent this in the industry. First, the leading myth is that undercar repairs are not as complex as underhood service. Second, since brake, suspension and exhaust parts are not that expensive, you can afford to throw parts at a car until the problem is solved. Third, the belief that: “If I charge a diagnostic fee, the customer might go elsewhere.” All three myths are preventing some shops from being profitable. The current approach of finding the problem, writing an estimate and waiting for approval does not work in all cases. Charging for undercar diagnostic time is essential to not only becoming profitable, but to increasing customer satisfaction.
The simplest way to keep diagnostic services profitable is to keep to a clock. If the technician runs out of an hour sold to the customer, they must stop and have the customer authorize more time. Don’t worry, fixing cars is not like taking an ASE test, you can ask for more time. If the customer does not authorize the extra time, the chances that they would have approved the repair are even lower.
It may be difficult to ask for more time. It feels like you are admitting that you are incompetent, but it is better than working for free. Use a timer that has a loud alarm to signal the technician when the paid period of the diagnostic time is over. This also signals the technician that they are now working for free. Have a check list of tests that the technician will be performing to diagnose the problem. The list and results should be presented to the customer. The list is easier to sell to the customer than just trying to sell an hour of time. An ABS check out fee or menu item should cover one hour of the technician’s time where they will pull any codes, check wheel-speed sensor values and, if necessary, check line pressures. A similar checklist can be made for suspensions and exhaust system problems.
The most important element in charging for diagnostic time is the communication between the customer and service writer. Since the customer is buying a service that that they can not see or touch, they need to be made aware of the benefits and why it is necessary.
Most of all, don’t work for free. Even if you feel like you are swallowing your pride, it will help you and the shop to be more profitable and productive.