Automotive Electronics Part 1

Finding a Good Service Writer at a Dealer


I’ve had a few interesting experiences in the last couple of days that I thought worth sharing.

Last night I was asked to drive a friend’s new luxury car to the airport to pick up a relative of his.

This car on the  one hand is amazing — an engine that has twin turbochargers – less than 5 liters (4 or so) and about 450 horsepower. Zero to 60 in a bit over 4 seconds despite weighing 5,000-6,000 lbs. When you floor it your back really gets pushed into the seat.

Some of you may not understand gearhead-speak – a turbocharger is a pump that derives its power from the exhaust – pumping more air into the engine, allowing it to use more fuel, giving more power on demand. With the demands of governments for better fuel efficiency, more and more manufacturers are using turbochargers as they only come into play with a heavy throttle – thus extra fuel consumption (and power) only come into play on demand.

If you hear the term supercharger it is also a pump with the same function – although it derives its power from the crankshaft – it is always working –

Between these 2, it is why engineers are getting what would have been even 20-30 years ago – amazing amounts of power from street engines. Daimler, for one, has just introduced a 4 cylinder engine, only 2 liters, that produces 450 hp.

Anyway, I got a call from another friend – asking me what she should do about her car – at a dealer since October with an electrical glitch – and apparently the mechanics (really technicians now as the majority of their time is in electronic diagnosis), have become frustrated with other work to do and unable to repair her car. So the car is most likely sitting in the back lot.

The service writer hasn’t called her back in 3 weeks.

I told her that with many dealerships, whether you get a satisfying visit or a visit for which you will never return – depends on which service writer you initially approach.

The reason is many have their own circle of technicians. It is almost like different small shops within the 1 dealership. And worse at some dealerships they are paid a commission on the amount of parts and labor they produced – thus affecting the judgement of some as to what really needs attention.

I told her to talk to the service manager, who is responsible for the entire service department.

The best service writers have as a background auto mechanics. There is little lost in the translation between what the customer tells them what is wrong to the mechanic reading the order deciding  how to attack the problem. I wouldn’t call this a deal breaker if your service writer wasn’t a mechanic – I once knew a great one who had her ear to the ground and really knew 100s of solutions to various years and issues – but having this background is a plus.

I had a late girl friend with whom I had given a car. And this car, a little sports car, was always notorious in  passing our tough California smog laws. From the time it was new.

I told her to see “X” at my favorite Toyota dealer in town. I had always felt that “X” knew his stuff and was straight with me as to explaining the problem diagnosed and sometimes giving me options.

Well, she apparently  talked to the first service writer she saw at that dealership and some hours later called me in tears saying that “they are just throwing parts at it and still can’t solve the problem“. She was already in for 100s of dollars and no nearer to passing smog.

I told her to just bring the car back and I would take care of it.

I had what I’d consider a good experience today, even though my car wasn’t repaired. And it cost me $150.

One of my cars has a back up camera that works most of the time – until it doesn’t. Gives just a black screen with the caption “Check Entire Surroundings”.

Did this for a couple of weeks so I made an appointment with a service writer I have known – and trusted – for years. He has a background of being the shop foreman – in charge of all the technicians.

Anyway, a couple of days before the appointment, the camera starts working. And it has continued working.

Nevertheless I took it in.

He told me that many times, when it acts up it will leave a code that will help them trace the source of the problem.

But if they couldn’t find a code, “just wait until it acts up again and then bring it back”.

Like almost anything, if something isn’t working at the time it is then far easier to fix.

So an hour or so later, I learned that it did leave a code but it could be one of 2 modules: one $6000 and one a few hundred.

And my service writer told me that the best thing to do is wait until it is acting up again and bring it in.

I thanked him and told him that if later we determine it is the $6000 module I’ll live with the outage. The car is almost 9 years old. I’ll consider the outage to be a “feature” and not a “bug”.

That’s what I define as a great service writer.

He thanked me for my understanding and told me that he has had customers that are angry getting this kind of  news, not realizing some electronic problems can be a real challenge in diagnosing. And he won’t “throw parts at the problem”.

And while I didn’t say it to him, I am sure there are a lot of service writers that would just tell the customer that they need the 2 modules at $6200 +  labor.

And many customers would pay it (and grumble a bit).

Anyway I also had an interesting experience driving this 6,000 lb 450 hp luxury car, that I will talk about next time.   


Part 2 is here


Filed under Car Pr0n

2 responses to “Automotive Electronics Part 1

  1. The climate control in my C6 Corvette did something like that to me.
    It was either the $300 HVAC controller in the dash or the $500 body control computer under the footwell.

    Flip a coin.

  2. Pingback: Automotive Electronics Part II | The Lexicans

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