Trouble Shooting a car over the phone vs. in the shop, Is it worth it?

We have all had that service call that starts with.… “My check engine light is on.… what’s wrong with my car? You can’t just tell me over the phone?” Sometimes the customer understands that a trained diagnostic technician is the best person to take a look and see what’s going on under the hood, and sometimes they just don’t. For the customers that get the point, we’re one step closer to getting them in the door. Now we just need to get them past the “outrageous” diagnostic fee that everyone charges.

For those other customers, they’re a bit tougher to tame and may need some more conversation. They may not immediately understand that your crystal ball doesn’t just show you the broken piece telepathically while you’re on the phone with them. They need a little more hand holding and lot more listening about how they “love their car” and they “hope that there’s nothing seriously wrong.” You never know who you’re getting when a customer calls; most are unfamiliar with their vehicle, even though they drive it every day. Some are “retired mechanics” and just want to talk to a technician so they can confirm their suspicions. But ultimately where I am going is that we just have to try and get them through the door.

Some manufacturers have gone as far as connecting their vehicle telematics right to a site where, if the advisor has the VIN they can see the diagnostic trouble code right on their screen. Which is great, but guess what? It still doesn’t give us a final answer as to what’s going on under the hood. So, all we can do here is either tell the customer to pull over and get a tow, or that they can come to the dealership and we can take a definitive look. That check engine light could point you in the direction of an ECM failure, but it’s not going to tell you that the friendly neighborhood squirrel made a little nest in their engine compartment and decided to snack on their main engine wiring harness waiting for papa squirrel to come home from rummaging for tree nuts all day.

I have only run into a handful of calls where a few questions over the phone can solve a customer’s problem. BUT those times largely consist of operator error and there really isn’t anything “broken” on the vehicle. The customer just needs a little friendly nudge in the right direction of completely closing something like a gas cap or window to resume normal operation of the “broken” component. Is it worth it then? YES, 100%. Most service personnel pride themselves on keeping high moral ethics in business, and as an advisor if I could do something, then I didn’t feel like the customer should have to pay a technician to do it. i.e. install wiper blades or show a customer how to fully close their rear window to make sure a rear hatch or defroster worked.

So, when it comes to the question posed above, yes, it is always worth having the vehicle come in and be physically diagnosed by a trained professional. These days you never know what you’re going to find, or who was working on it before they decided that the “dealer knows best.” Is there a small chance that you can trouble shoot little issues over the phone? Always. But if you’re going in the direction of a bigger issue, let’s get it looked at in person, with all the details and physical evidence right in front of the technician. These days you never know what you’re going to find.

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Comment by Alivia Heath on March 19, 2021 at 12:35pm

I agree!! My husband likes to pull codes himself but he just took his Jeep in and there was a larger issue at hand and something he couldn't have fixed himself so we're glad he took it in!

Comment by Chris Vitale on March 17, 2021 at 2:20pm
Yes, couldn’t agree more. We always tried to be super customer-focused at my store but at the end of the day we also have a responsibility to the dealer and ourselves. Everything can’t always be “free” and there really aren’t as many “one-off’s” as people make it out to be!

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