As a longtime mechanic I have seen my fair share of annoying customers. Most are not bad people; they just may be unaware of how their actions affect their mechanic. And before you think I am just whining, I am actually trying to help by allowing the customer to see under the hood, in a way.. Hopefully this list will help you be a better customer, so you have a better experience with your mechanic, and they can get you back on the road quickly and safely.
I once did a complete interior restoration on a 1979 Corvette, a WHITE interior restoration. The car came in and the customer had left all of their belongings and trash in the car!
First, if this is how you’re going to treat it, then what are we even doing this for? Like most mechanics I take a lot of pride in the quality of my work, so it doesn’t give me any confidence that this type of customer will appreciate the end result.
Second, I am supposed to clean up your mess before I start my work? I am a mechanic, this is not the car wash. It’s just massively disrespectful and starts the whole process off on a sour note.
I took everything in the car, whether it was trash or not, and put it in an industrial trash bag, which I left in the back of the car when it was done. Not a strong move, but it could have been worse, I wanted to spread it all around the interior the way it was when it came in (There is a slight chance I was a bit of a hot head in my younger days…)
Even if you're getting a simple service, you don’t know when your mechanic is going to have to get up close and personal with the interior of your car. Next time you’re in someone's car, especially if it’s messy, ask yourself if you would like to lay on the floor. It is the automotive equivalent to eating a bunch of oreo cookies just before you go to the dentist…
Plus, do you really want a stranger seeing some of the things you keep in your car? I have found some odd stuff in people’s cars and motorcycles. I once found a large bag of marijuana in a center console. Why was I even in there? The car was only there for a transmission replacement. In order to remove the transmission you have to remove the shifter. On this particular car, in order to remove the shifter, you have to remove the center console.
See, you never know when a mechanic might have to dig into your interior. I have found underwear, socks, old food, guns and knives, fireworks... I even found the package for a sex swing! Don’t get me wrong, it makes for good stories but I can live without them.
This happens a lot. “My friend says this or that is the problem and they work on their own vehicle, so...”
This is when I mentally roll my eyes and think to myself, “Well, if your friend is so great, why are you here?” I know at this point I am just being mean or at least thinking about it, but there is a good reason for this.
Diagnosing an issue with any machine is easier, more accurate and therefore faster if it isn’t swayed by outside influence. A good mechanic will ignore what you say in this scenario. The facts are the only things that matter here:
For example, your car lost power. Was it raining? Was it hot or cold? Were you accelerating? Had you just gotten gas? If you say your friend says it’s probably the battery, a mechanic might follow that path and it turns out you just put diesel fuel in your gasoline powered car.
Remember, your mechanic just needs the facts. How your friend feels about those facts is irrelevant and not very helpful. JUST THE FACTS.
This is a very common problem, especially with motorcycles. Trust me when I tell you that we can always tell when you or your friend have been messing with your machine. Just like the dentist knows when you haven’t been flossing. Remember the Oreo scenario? The same thing applies to your mechanic.
It’s ok, after all it’s your machine. But if you went down a hole you couldn’t dig your way out of, and now you need me, save us all some time and just admit it. I promise you that you aren’t the first. I once had a customer swear up and down that the piece of copper pipe being used as a wheel bearing spacer on his bike came straight from the factory. His friend admitted to me later that they had sawed it off of a water heater drain in the garage because the original had gotten lost. Now that wasn’t the brightest idea because the copper ground itself up and destroyed the wheel bearing in the process, so it cost a lot of money to fix. And it also cost my patience and trust in that interaction.
If you’re willing to risk things like this to learn how to work on your own vehicle, I am happy to fix them. We all have to learn somehow. But please, tell me that’s what you did, so I can begin work from the best vantage point available, and with all the information.
I test rode that bike trying to diagnose a mystery noise from the front end. Did he really think that this new noise was unrelated to the piece of hacksawed scrap copper plumbing he had used to replace a precision machined aluminum bearing spacer? Did he really think if he played dumb and stuck to his story we would fix it under warranty? What would he have done if the bearing seized during my test ride and I crashed? The point is your mechanic needs as much factual information about the situation as possible, even if you’re embarrassed. We’re not going to make fun of you. Not where you can hear it, anyway…
I know, mechanics are expensive. But you must remember you are not only paying for their time. You are paying for their knowledge, years of experience, tools and equipment, all of which you don’t have. You are paying a specialist to work on your vehicle, to keep it operational and within industry safety standards. A truly great mechanic is worth every penny. And yes, there are gougers and cheats out there, just like in every industry. Do your research and shop around as much as possible. Online reviews and word-of-mouth will help you decide if you’re being cheated, or if you’re being asked to pay a fair price for the work of an excellent mechanic. Check out our Mechanics Files for a huge listing of good mechanics in your area.
There is a saying in the industry, “Good work ain’t cheap and cheap work ain’t good.” I believe this wholeheartedly. If your friend can do it cheaper, take your vehicle to them. If your friend botches the job or damages your vehicle, where does that leave you? If they attempt a fix and make the issue worse, and now you have to pay me more to undo the damage (see above), is your friend really cheaper? Just Google the phrase, “stripped oil pan bolt” and you’ll see what I mean. I have repaired or replaced so many oil pans stripped by the customers “cheaper option”. On some bikes the engine has to come out in order to replace the oil pan. This obviously costs more than paying a mechanic to do the service properly in the first place.
It can be hard to resist, I know. There have been tons of successful TV shows, radio shows and movies about working on cars and bikes for a reason, but to most mechanics it’s unnerving.
It actually doesn’t bother me personally, especially if the situation allows me to interact on a personal level with the customer. I don’t mind helping them understand what I’m doing and why. It builds trust and confidence, which goes a long way towards a good business relationship. If a mechanic is willing to chat with you, it’s probably safe to watch them work, but staring at them through a window from 10 feet away is a little creepy. It will probably slow down the work. Most mechanics I know will take an extended break in order to bore you until you walk away from the window.
I worked with a guy who actually walked to the window and without saying a word, covered it with newspaper right in front of the customer's face and then went back to work. We thought it was hilarious. The customer did not, and it got kind of ugly.
If you're in the shop waiting for your car, you may be exposed to foul language and toxic smells as well as loud noises and flying debris, even tools. For that reason most places will not allow you on the shop floor as it can actually be dangerous. If they do let you in and your mechanic is chatty with you, you’re good. Take that opportunity to learn as much as you can (like what kind of doughnuts and beer they like) while staying well out of their way.
Otherwise, if you’re stuck in the waiting room and can’t leave, the best thing to do is to find a seat and surf on your phone. If you’re interested in automotive mechanics and learning more about what goes on under your hood, write down your questions to ask your mechanic, after they’ve finished their work. And if your mechanic is not the chatty type, you can submit your questions to Car Talk’s Community Forums, or send it to Ray at Dear Car Talk, care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, Florida 32803. Or you can email us from this Contact page.
Again, the point to writing all of this is not to complain, but to help you build a good relationship with your mechanic. You want them to become YOUR mechanic. You want your mechanic to remember you as the nice person who really cares about their vehicle and appreciates the years of hard work and quality performance.
Doughnuts or beer helps too. If you’ve done any or all of these things listed above, I suggest you bring both!