I've spent my entire adult career in the automotive service industry. I've worked at dealers, independent shops and I've also held several service-related postions for manufacturers. The process of getting a vehicle repaired correctly, efficiently and accurately is something I'm very familiar with and it's something that means a lot to me. Please forgive the spelling errors....this little project turned out to take a bit longer than I originally planned
. I'll try to "fine tune" this thing over the next few days to make it more of a complete thought and less fragmented.
That being said, I think someone needs to inform new car buyers (and all owners for that matter) of what to expect when having your vehicle serviced. Hopefully, it will help ease the minds of those who don't understand the process and expose certain shops that don't meet their obligation to their customers. My motivation for doing this is that I see a disturbing amount of folks on this board who are disatisfied simply because they have unrealistic expectations of how their concern should be handled....
Making the service appointment:
When you call a shop and explain your concerns to an individual on a phone OR make a spontaneous visit to a shop you will encounter a person who is titled a "Service Advisor" or a "Service Writer". This person is generally non-techncial. They do NOT specialize in the workings and fixings of an automobile. They are essentially a liason between the operator of the vehicle (you) and the technician that will be working on your vehicle. Their job is to perform a quick inspection of the vehicle to note it's general condition. Then, they are responsible for listening to the owner's concern(s) and recording them on a piece of paper called a repair order (R.O.). Because most owner's are not technically educated enough to describe their concern in words that are adequately descriptive enough for the technician to fully understand, the SA will often paraphrase your exact words and "translate" them into words more useful to the tech. It is a wise practice for the SA to also include exact quotes as to provide the most detail on the RO as possible. Often, the information on the RO is not adequate enough for the tech to verify the concern or even understand what it is the customer is complaining about. In these cases, you may even be asked to speak with the technician directly. Sometimes this is done upon your initial visit, sometimes this conversation takes place in an outbound phonecall from the technican to the owner. Once the necessary information from the owner is gathered, the RO is given to a technican for him to diagnose and repair.
I personally have a problem with this particular structure... I think it's a model that too many shops follow simply because it's traditional and not because it's practical. That's an entirely different discussion though, lol.
Diagnosing the vehicle:
This process begins when the tech gets an RO for a vehicle. If the shop is run correctly, the techncian getting the RO specializes or is highly knowlegeable in the matters in which the customer's concern lies. For example, transmission related issues should be dispatched to a technician that specializes in transmissions. This not only reduces the likelihood of errors but it also allows the repair to often be performed in a quicker manner. This results in the owner getting their vehicle back as soon as possible and of course it also allows for greater productivity of the tech, and in turn, the entire shop.
Once the tech gets the RO his FIRST step is to VERIFY the concern. It is an industry standard to NOT make ANY repairs unless the concern can be verified. Not only is this a wise business practice but it also keeps the dealer from volunteering themselves for legal issues. Part of this verification step involves using the dealer's information network to check for service messages such as Technical Service Bulletins (TSB's) and Special Service Messages (SSM's) and vehicle repair history. These messages from the manufacturer will indicate whether or not the manufacturer is aware of known concerns and/or known solutions to those concerns. The messages are categorized by symptom. So, if the technician is not careful, they can sometimes miss applicable messages if they do not look up the right symptom. For example, if your complaint is "runs rough" but the vehicle in reality has a shift quality concern - the technician may overlook a message that applies to their shifting issues if they only look up messages that apply to the symptom "runs rough". It is the responsibility of the technican to thoroughly review all messages that MAY apply to your complaint. Just because no message relating to your concern exists does NOT mean you are the only one with this issue. In order for a service message to be written there must be a rather large number of cases with this concern and all TSB's and SSM's are written at the discretion of the manufacturer. Only the government can force a manufacturer to provide a directed service procedure and these are in the form of recalls and Field Service Actions.
Intermittent concerns and vehicle characteristics:
Regardless of whether or not a message that applies to your concern is present - NO repair attempt will be made unless the dealer can duplicate what vehicle behavior concerns you. The only exception to this rule is if there is an applicable message that addresses intermittent concerns AND this message provides an expressed repair direction even if the tech can't verify the concern. This is what makes intermittent concerns difficult for everyone involved. For example, your doctor will be hesitant to prescribe medication or recommend a surgery for a cough that happens once every 9 weeks. Additionally, a responsible individual will schedule an appointment with their doctor when their symptom is present and not months after they've experienced their concern. DO NOT EXPECT a successful repair of your concern if the shop is unable to confirm that such a concern exists.
People often buy vehicles they cannot afford and will attempt to fraud the dealer and manufacturer by fabricating stories of malfunctions in the hope that the vehicle will apply to lemon law requirements. Not only does this drive up the cost of vehicle purchases, insurance and taxes but it also discourages dealers from making honest repair attempts in the name of customer satisfaction. It is irresponsible for a dealer to install a part they are not certain is bad and no such repairs will be made - especially if the repairs are covered by a warranty. As a paying customer, you have the authority to direct the technician to repair or replace whatever you like.....but if a 3rd party is paying for the repairs they will only pay for what is known bad and is known to sucessfully resolve the concern. If you feel this is unreasonable, I suggest you consider the fact that this principle also absolves you as a paying customer for being held financially liable for unsuccessful repairs. In other words, YOU are not responsible for paying for unsuccessful repairs. Not-so-strangely-enough, the party holding your warranty contract exercises the same right. This practice keeps everyone honest and works more to your favor than against it.
Diagnosing a concern is often a difficult thing because many customer's don't notice all the things that are truly abnormal. Often the opposite holds true and the customer is concerned with what is found to be a normal operating characteristic. Wind noise at 80mph is a good example. There are no 80mph speed limits in North America and therefore the vehicle may experience strange things when operated in a manner in which it was not intended. Just because it will actually go 160mph doesn't mean the customer should expect everything to behave as it did at 30mph. If the technican does his job correctly he will determine ALL of what is abnormal (relating to your complaint) and attempt to find a common "demoninator" that would explain these multiple symptoms. If your concern is suspected to be "normal", the tech should compare the vehicle's behavior to another vehicle. There is also a telephone resource available to dealer shops called a technical hotline. This technical hotline employs manufacturer representatives that are familiar with all systems and all vehicle models. They are often used as a resource to confirm that the concern is normal/abnormal and they are also used as a "backup" to service messages. This ensures the tech has all the most current information about the vehicle's operating characteristics.
Regardless of whether you feel the "normal" operating characteristic is acceptable, the warranty will NOT cover repairs made in an attempt to resolve your disatisfaction. At this point your concern is no longer technical in nature; but rather it is customer-satisfaction in nature. In regard to dealerships, there is a customer satisfaction hotline (Natasha on this board) that is assigned to handle these matters. Because the manufacturer prefers their customers to be satisfied, there are often tools that can be used to resolve your concerns. These may be offers for complimentary service contracts (extended warranties), component letters (guaranteee of a specific component or system for a specific amount of time), complimentary payments, discounts on accessory purchases, etc. Bottom line - it is money given to you to make you feel better and more confident in your vehicle. These tools are used at the discretion of the representative and are often used more liberally for customer's that have a history of purchasing new vehicles. For example, they guy at your local general store is more likely to give you some goodwill if you give him your business often, while the out-of-towner stopping in for a gallon of milk once in a while is less likely to recieve this goodwill.
Performing the repair:
If the concern is verified and found to be NON-CHARACTERISTIC, the tech then performs a series of tests that will elminate various systems from being a suspect source of your concern. Furthermore, individual components within those systems will be eliminated until the root cause of your concern is identified. Because of the complex nature of vehicles (and their systems) I've chosen not to provide much detail in what is done in this generic hypothetical situation. It would simply require more typing than I'm willing to do. Regardless, once the causal part is identified the tech's job is to investigate the root cause of the failure. If it was a craftsmanship or build quality defect or emissions device failure the repair will likely be covered under warranty as this is SPECIFICALLY what a warranty is there to cover. If the root cause of the concern is found to be due to abuse, neglect, lack of proper maintenance or aftermarket modifications, normal wear, road hazards or human error the repair will likely NOT be covered under warranty. Many folks believe that because they spent such a large amount of money, they will not be obligated to spend another dime on service or maintenance of any kind during the warranty period. This is NOT what a warranty is for. As a buyer of an expensive product YOU are responsible for understanding and complying with what to expect from the vehicle's intended operating conditions, what modifications will void coverage of related repairs and the required maintenance.
Once the repair is made, the technican is responsible for verifying the repair. A test drive should be performed to confirm that the symptom is no longer present and/or certain tests will be re-run to confirm an acceptable result. As a courtesy, most dealers will then wash the interior and exterior of the vehicle and make sure there are no obvious signs of tampering. If the battery was disconnected, the radio presets should be reprogrammed. Fingerprints should be removed from interior panels, painted surfaces, glass surfaces, etc. If you brought your vehicle in for a transmission issue, don't expect the shop to investigate unrelated systems such as power windows. Shops do NOT give your car a thorough once-over of all systems if you are only concerned with one system. Dealers are NOT allowed to upsell warranty items and it's a logistical nightmare to physically "fine-tooth-comb" each and every car in for service. They should be exected to address your expressed concern and not much more unless it will present a safety issue. If you didn't bring your vehicle in for a "general checkup" don't expect the dealer to provide a detailed description of every single malfunction. For example, if you go in for neck surgery, the doctor isn't going to perform a prostate exam (or at least you hope
). There are a few exceptions to this standard which I will explain below.
If the vehicle is no longer within a warranty period it likely has some mileage on it. This means there will likely be wear to various items. These "customer pay" jobs are often the source of much controversy. Many folks think dealers are frauding them into performing unnecessary repairs. Although "upselling" is expected of shops, it is still criminal to suggest un-needed repairs that are not related to safety. Upselling can be viewed a few different ways: It can be viewed as the shop trying to make extra money by replacing things that are just fine. OR it can be viewed as a way for shops to ensure their customer doesn't return in the near future. Shops are in a "catch 22" scenario here. If they service a system and decide not to recommend additional service of another system - should the customer shortly return the customer is likely to suggest that the techncian was not thorough enough the first time. Otherwise, they may suggest that a non-related future failure is consequential and therefore should be paid for by the shop.
Upselling can be used as a predatory tool to get people to pay for unnecessary repairs but it is much more often used as a way to ensure that the paying customer will not return in the near future with additional concerns. Because there is no government regulating body for automotive repairs (thank God) it is the responsibility of the customer to determine if the recommended repairs are performed. They have the ability to request to see the damage reported, the results of the tests being performed and the right to have another party confirm the current diagnosis. The shop only has the legal right to refuse release of the vehicle (mechanic's lien) if there is a safety, emissions or delinquent payment status. Because the dealer can be held legally responsible for safety-related failures they will often "play it safe" and recommend the service of components that cannot be confidently assumed "good". Just because you as an owner are not technical enough to understand, corroborate or confirm the shop's diagnosis does NOT relieve you from being responsible for the consequences of your decision.
From time to time there are extraordinarily challenging or sensitive concerns on a vehicle. If the dealer is unable to make an accurate diagnosis or an effective repair they will be given direction from the techncial hotline mentioned earlier. If this hotline is unable to provide a solution, a field engineer will often be sent to invesigate the concern. This engineer will also be dispatched to investigate concerns of a sensive or legal nature. His job is to aid the tech in diagnosis/repair and also determine if extra attention to customer goodwill should be applied. By the time this individual is involved in your concern some significant time has likely expired and your patience is likely growing thin and your vehicle may likely be elligible for lemon-law buyback. As a result, any further repairs made will likely be much more....outside the scope of normal repair direction. Entire assemblies may be replaced sacrificing cost effectiveness of the repair for customer satisfaction. At this point they would rather over-repair it than lose a customer or end up in arbitration. The engineer is the end-of-the-line when it comes to resolving your concern. His findings are considered final and his repairs will not be considered successful until the vehicle is confidently repaired. This means you may expect to have your vehicle in the shop for an extended period of time. Perhaps you will be asked to drive the vehicle with a data recorder to gather after-service data. I can't provide every example of what to expect because these matters are handled on an individual basis but regardless one must understand that the significance of your issue will be escalated and handled with a greater concern and thoroughness.
Dealers and manufacturers:
It is important to understand that a dealer is a privately owned franchise of a manufacturer. They buy vehicles wholesale and then sell them retail. Bob's Ford is not your local installation of Ford Motor Company just like Sam Walton doesn't run your local WalMart. Understanding how little involvement the maker of your vehicle directly has with your dealership experience will help you realize what to expect when dealing with manufacturer representatives such as Natasha. Additionally, you are NOT required to have your vehicle serviced at the location in which it was purchased. Often you will be more likely to recieve special treatment if you DO get your vehicle serviced where it was purchased because you are techncially a returning customer. But, a dealer is REQUIRED to service ANY make of the brand they sell regardless of where it was purchaseed. If you have a bad experience with a dealer, you should not only express your concerns to the General Manager of that location but you should also consider taking your business elsewhere. Try not to associate your dissatisfaction of a local business with a global corporation.
As a Mustang enthusiast this subject is something I've spent a lot of time on reading/understanding warranty policies. It's something I take part in and something I directly dealt with in one of my previous positions with a manufacturer... so I am very familiar with what dealers look for, what manufacturers look for and what their feelings/standings are regarding warranty coverage. Customers that want to "customize" their vehicles is nothing new. But, these days it seems that there are more folks than ever interested in modifying their car for appearance, performance or both. I can't cover every specific scenario here (again, a situation that is generally handled on an individual basis) but I'll try to cover the overall policies, procedures and what to expect.
In order to understand what to expect when modifying your car it's best to comprehend exactly what your warranty covers. Your warranty protects you from paying for repairs that are the result of poor craftsmanship or component quality defects. ANY damage to components in ANY system that are in any way attributable to the modifications are NOT considered the result of poor craftsmanship or defects. Something as simple as a cold air intake system can void your warranty IF the damage caused is related to air filtration. If your car runs poorly and is found to have compression loss through the piston rings AND it's equipped with an aftermarket intake system you can expect to have your repair coverage denied. This type of compression loss could be blamed on foreign object ingestion; the aftermarket intake system has not been tested by the manufacturer to confirm it's ability to properly filter the air; thus the coverage will likely be denied.
One situation that illustrates this was a job I was sent out on in Northern Minnesota. There is a dealer in N. MN that has an iron ore mining company as a fleet account. These mines use dump trucks that are literally more than 20 feet off the ground, you may have seen these rigs on History Channel or Modern Marvels. Their tires are almost 20 feet tall and cost over $60,000 each. In order to prevent tire damage to these rigs from sharp rocks the mining company used large light duty trucks with V plows to clear the way for the dump trucks. As you can imagine, quite a bit of dust is kicked up when plowing a gravel road. This mineral called taconite is also naturally magnetic, so you can also imagine how well it tends to be attracted to ferrous or magnetic objects. The mining company had a problem with "dusting" engines as a result of this debris getting through the air filters. The mining company simply didn't change their air filters often enough; they decided to change the filters per the owner's manual interval. After buying three engines in 6 months the mine took a recommendation from the dealer to install an additional air filter system from a diesel model in series with the OEM filter for the truck's gas motor. The mining company continued to neglect their air filters (even with TWO filters) and their newest engine also got dusted. After I determined the extent of damage, what would be required to repair it AND what the root cause of the damage was - I had some bad news for the dealer......
Eventhough the dealer was trying to do the right thing and ADD a secondary filtration system, THEY where technically responsible for the damage to the engine. The engine was damaged as a result of poor filtration. The dealer, the mine company and myself all knew that the air intake system wasn't the problem but rather poor filter maintenance was the problem...but it didn't matter. Because the engine was damaged from improper filtration AND the intake system was modified by the dealer - the dealer paid for the new engine. Now, it's worth noting that there may have been a different outcome had I not found gobs of dust in the intake manifold or air intake tubing...but it shows how the manufacturer doesn't hold the dealerships to a different standard than owner's who modify their cars in their own garage.
The manufacturer simply does not want to stand behind components that have not been proven to "play nice" with the rest of the car. Appearance modifications typically have less caveats than performance mods because they really don't offer much stress to other components. However, wheel and tire combinations that affect alignment angles could put additional stress on suspension components and/or brake components so in some cases they will conflict with part coverage.
A grey area within the modification debate is factory-based modifications and factory modified vehicles like Saleen and Roush models. As you know, Ford has a racing division called FRPP that offers several appearanced and performance mods. Disclosures are written in the catalog that warn of policy adjustment should these parts be installed. Some mods will NOT complicate warranty coverage but they are limited in nature and generally require an authorized dealer to install and register the components. Just because you got the parts from a factory magazine DOES NOT mean the parts are considered harmless or to have no effect on warranty coverage.
Factory performance models like SVT are a total exception to this rule. Saleen and Roush are NOT. Steve Saleen and Jack Roush are guys who literally buy factory cars and then modify them - just like "Bob" with a JC Whitney mag. These cars are then re-sold to dealers to be sold again to customers. There are several areas in which one can expect warranty issues with these models. If the Saleen or Roush model has a supercharger or performance tune and experiences drivetrain component failure, Ford will likely attempt to attribute the failure to the performance mod. I've seen people become quite disappointed about their warranty coverage because the dealer didn't adequately explain how Ford views these special models. Saleen and Roush tend to only stand behind the components with their names on them while Ford will tend to deny coverage to their parts if the Saleen or Roush parts are attributable to the failure.
In any case, the customer has the right to challenge the manufacturer's decision in court. This is obviously not something fun, but it is your opportunity to present a case explaining why your modifications are NOT attributable to the damage in question. Expect the manufacturer to have an expert witness explaining their side of the story. Based on my experience however, cases that progress to the point of litigation are often settled; the manufacturer simply has more important things to worry about than to justify the cost of litigating. This may seem silly, but court isn't exactly free for you as a plaintiff.....so it's the type of thing that generally makes it more cost-effective for you to simply pay for the necessary repairs. Keep in mind that if the manufacturer is willing to challenge you in court - they likely have one hell of a case against you. Typically, the team of corporate lawers is confident they're going to win if it gets this far. Plus, it's always easier (and safer) to default in a "no" decision and then change their mind to "yes" down the road than it is to say "yes, we'll cover it" and then later change their mind.
The way I think of these matters is this: What I do to enhance it's capabilities may have consequences. If I take anabolics to be able to lift more or amphetamines to work harder I don't plan on cursing my parents or God if I drop dead of a heart attack, go bald or destroy my vascular system. I also don't plan to curse Ford if I hurt my engine after putting a tune, CAI, cams, exhaust and a turbo on it. The old expression "you have to pay to play" holds true even with new cars. Don't bother using a defense like "Yeah, but I don't race it or beat on it" or "It's only there for fuel economy". If trust was trustworthy there would be no wars, no crime and we'd all eat gumdrops for breakfast and ride unicorns to work. You are a fool if you buy a modded car with the hope it was "never beat on" (then why did you mod it???) and I'd be a fool if I assumed the hole in your block wasn't in any way related to the 200hp shot of nitrous you installed.
If you prefer to play games with everyone and remove your modifications prior to bringing the vehicle in - you are simply wasting your time. Dealers can tell if bolts have been removed and can conclude that things like pulleys and intake systems have been tampered with. There are factory markings on wastegate actuators. There are telltales that indicate whether or not the engine calibration has been tampered with. You are frankly better off leaving the modifications present when you take it in because nobody is going to "black flag" your warranty coverage on sight. They may make a note that modifications are present but no coverage is outright denied unless it's related to the mods present. Not only will the dealer be able to resolve your issue with more accuracy if you bring them the vehicle equipped as it normally is but your ability to prove that the mods aren't related to said damage is much more valid when there isn't speculation about what "could have been installed".
If you have any questions about what I've mentioned here or anything else service-related I'll be glad to respond at my earliest conveneince. This subject is something I care deeply about and I'd prefer to help "laymen" folks understand how this industry works rather than go on in perpetual disatisfation and naivety.