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Quick looks and ballpark estimates

December 31, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

At a busy automotive service center, a car pulls up and the driver approaches the nearest mechanic, who is working under the hood of a car. "There's a problem with my car. I just want to know a ballpark estimate for fixing it. Can you just take a quick look? It'll only take you a minute."

What could go wrong with this scenario? Everything. Let me count the ways.

The mechanic asks the man to check in with the office and they'll assign a mechanic to him. "But it'll only take you a minute! Can't you just take a quick look at it for me?" To avoid making a customer unhappy, the mechanic agrees to look at it. He puts down his tools and goes in to wash his hands, and then walks out toward the car in question.

The owner of the first car storms out of the waiting area. "Where are you going? I'm waiting for you to finish my car, so why are you walking away from it?" The mechanic tried to explain, but he continued: "Nuts with that. I made my appointment last week. Tell him to make an appointment and get in line."

So much for avoiding an unhappy customer. The mechanic again pleads with the new man to go into the office for a mechanic. Grudgingly, he complies.

"What sort of problem are you having, sir?" asks the service advisor.

"It's no problem to me," says the man. "It's my wife who's complaining about it."

"Okay, what sort of complaint does your wife have?"

"She says she hears a noise from the front of the car when I back out of the drive in the morning. I don't know what it is. I don't hear anything."

The advisor thinks to herself: "I've had to repeat myself after every sentence, so it's no wonder he can't hear a slight noise. He's profoundly hearing impaired." Aloud she says: "What kind of noise does your wife hear? A click, a squeal a thump?"

"She just says it's a noise. It can't be too serious. It'll only take a minute to find."

"Okay, do you think it would make the noise right now if a mechanic goes out and tries it?"

"I don't know. I already told you I can't hear it."

"Okay, I'll have a mechanic drive it around a little to see if he can hear anything. Okay?"

"Well, what's this going to cost? I don't want to spend much money on this car. It's getting pretty old."

"No charge to test drive it. If we find something wrong, we'll give you an estimate for fixing it."

The assigned mechanic goes to the car, but before he can start it up another customer walks up to him and asks him about fixing something on his car. The mechanic pauses to listen to the new customer. The man with the noise problem says: "Hey, I haven't got all day. You're supposed to be test driving my car."

The ole "quick look" and "ballpark estimate" are two things that are often asked for, and two things mechanics really don't like to do, because the quicker the look, the less accurate the diagnosis, and therefore the less accurate the estimate. Ballpark estimates are a waste of time. Given a range of possible prices, owners only remember the lowest number they hear. If, as some people like to say: "I won't hold you to it," then why bother with the estimate in the first place?

Most mechanics will comply with the "quick look" request, because it's rude to refuse a request, and there's the chance the customer can be convinced to allow more time if needed. It is always better to give the mechanic all the time he needs to get the diagnosis right without rushing. Then and only then can an accurate estimate be prepared. Customers want their cars fixed right, for an accurate estimate and they want all repairs to be inexpensive. Two out of three ain't bad. Rush it and you might get nothing out of three.



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