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Airbag Hazards: Pro and Con
Don't be Fuelish
Put the Squeeze on Your Cooling System
Automatic Transmission Care
Visit to a good service center
Shopping for service centers
A Bit of Prevention …
Fall Behind
Choosing Tires for Wintertime Driving
A Little Good Reading
Tires Last Longer With Proper Care
Car Care Resolutions For a New Millennium
Flats and Flares: Roadside Emergencies
Spruce Up For Spring
DIY at the Self-Service Pump
Fill Gas Cans Carefully
Ford Recalls Millions of Firestone Tires
Doing the Straight & Narrow

Visit to a Good Service Center

How’s car repair supposed to go? In the hands of a good service center, very well.

There is a disconcerting rattle in the front left quarter of your car when you hit a bump, and it isn't going away, which is why you are pulling up in front of the auto repair service center your brother-in-law told you about. Not that you trust your brother-in-law's opinion about much of anything, but you also looked up the service center on iCARumba. It has an iCARumba Gold rating.

Gold rating or no, it's not a spectacular-looking place, just an unimposing blue and white one-story building with five roll-up garage doors facing the street and another, human-sized door at one end. A sign on one of the roll-up doors points to a night key drop and another directs you to the entry. A little wooden rectangle over the door declares this to be "Bob’s Auto Service," and beside the entry is a lighted blue and white square declaring the service center "ASE Certified."

Inside, a tiny, two-chair waiting area decorated with ASE certificates and a couple of returned checks leads to the office manager/receptionist’s counter, where a sign says, "Most parts and all labor guaranteed for one year." You talk to the office manager and she hands you a couple of forms to fill out.

After you have filled out a pre-service check-in sheet and a driveability work sheet, supplying the service center with the basics on your car and the symptoms of its problem, you are shown through the door behind the office manager's desk, where you meet Bob. The first thing you notice about Bob is that he has on a clean mechanic's smock, and that he keeps his service center clean, too. The next thing you notice is that he listens attentively when you talk about your car, and he prompts you to tell more by asking questions gleaned from the sheets you filled out and he now has in his hand.

"There's a big rattle in the left front quarter of the car when I hit a speed bump, maybe, uh, going a little too fast," you confess.

"Well, let's take it for a drive," he says, and you do. When he hears the rattle, his first reaction is reassuring: "I think it may just be a loose shock bushing, which is not too hard to fix."

You are ecstatic. Bob, however, throws in a bit of realism:

"But, it could be any number of other things which are more difficult," he continues. "When we get back to the service center, I’ll line it all out for you. I'll also warn you that should finding the problem take a lot of time, there will be a charge for diagnosis."

You are no longer ecstatic, but you appreciate his honest appraisal.

Back at the service center, Bob hands you a sheet that explains most of the repair options that the noise under your fender might entail, from shock replacement (cheap) to new ball joints or a steering overhaul (not cheap at all).

He knows, as you scan the sheet, that you want to know the bottom line.

"I don't believe it will be that expensive," Bob says, "but I always like the customer to faint before the repair, rather than after."

You laugh, but not heartily. "How do you know how much these options cost?" you ask.

Bob explains to you that he uses a book called the Mitchell Repair guide to determine how much time to estimate; it is one of several guides which list standardized times needed to repair specific problems on specific cars. He also explains that because this is a common problem, so he knows what parts will cost, and may even have the parts on hand, if the repair is not too complicated.

"If we need to order parts (you shudder) we can have them here tomorrow, latest, and I don't think the problem is so severe that we'll have to keep your car overnight." (You relax a little.)

The office manager gives you a ride to work while one of his mechanics starts to work on your car.

An hour later, Bob's office manager calls you and tells you, "We've got good news. The rattle in your left front was a rock caught between the frame and the body. Your car is fine, but we noticed by the sticker on the windshield that you haven't changed your oil and filters for a while. Would you like us to take care of that while it's here? We can have that done and still have it ready for you at noon. "

You agree you might as well get it taken care of.

At lunch time, Bob himself picks you up and takes you back to the service center, where you are happy to pay a reasonable price for the oil and filter change, even if it is a little more than you generally pay at Joe's Insta-Lube. The charge for the rock removal is only a quarter hour’s time – and you know you spent more time than that just describing the problem.

"The mechanic saw it the minute he got under the car," Bob says. "Glad it was so simple. Would you like to test drive it?"

"I'll test drive it back to the office," you say. On the drive, you notice the windows are clean and someone has vacuumed the car, even got rid of that bag of french fries that had been sitting on the console for a week. The rattle is gone, and the new sticker on the windshield says you are due back at Bob's in three months or 3,000 miles, whichever comes first.

Back at the office with 5 minutes left in your lunch hour you log on, jump to iCARumba and go straight to the Ratings. Bob gets nothing less than a Platinum rating from you for today’s conscientious work. And you – you get the satisfaction of working with a high-quality service center.

Heck, tomorrow maybe you’ll even buy your brother-in-law lunch. It could be a new era in family relationships.

(A special thanks to Steve Navarre of Steve's Import Auto Service in Sandpoint, Idaho for his input for this article.)