Shop Press

Shop Press is the news and idea hub for everything related to working on cars and trucks, focusing on repair, technology, and wrenching lifestyle.

From the creative minds at:

FEATURE STORY

Hot Off the Press

Texas nonprofit helps low-income vehicle owners afford auto repairs

At any given time, about 1 in 5 vehicle owners are delaying some sort of auto repair, with the most common reason being that they can’t afford it, according to the Auto Care Association Factbook. All this deferred work adds up to an estimated $31 billion that drivers...

A day in the life of a service writer (VIDEO)

The hardest job in an automotive shop might just be that of the service writer. Taking heat from the boss, the techs, and the customers isn't easy. That the role is for dynamic individuals becomes apparent quickly when considering the tasks that make up the job. Watch...

Serviceability Hall of Shame: Ford Taurus Spring Shields

The Serviceability Hall Of Shame was born from all the times we’ve looked at a vehicle and realized some usually simple task was going to be nightmarish. It is, ultimately, a response and explanation of the inevitable question, “Good Lord, why?!” Today’s entrant isn’t...

January Automotive Horoscopes

Aries: You may not think of some of your repairs as innovative, but a creative fix is a creative fix. Your outlook is out there, and that's OK. Expect to see someone else cribbing your notes but remember to take it as flattery. Not everyone has the same gift of seeing...

It’s totally fine to run your fuel tank down to empty

One of the pieces of automotive wisdom that’s been repeated by publications and mechanics alike for ages is that it’s not good to run a fuel tank below some arbitrary fill point, like a quarter of a tank. At some point, that probably wasn’t bad advice. But today? It’s...

LOF PSA: Don’t forget the lube job

Please forgive me, because I’m about to be a dinosaur and proselytize for a few moments. Many moons ago, I would have customers request an oil change and a lube job. It was so prevalent that the acronym for this, LOF, is still in pretty common use. (That’s “lube, oil,...

Best of Shop Press 2022

Shop Press officially launched in March 2022, at least if you go by the press release. Between then and now, we’ve published well over 100 articles and videos dedicated to auto repair professionals and wrenching enthusiasts. We greatly appreciate everyone who has...

Why service writers should always charge a diag fee – and let techs earn it

by | Dec 5, 2021

My first job writing service was at an indie Goodyear tire dealer. I was pretty green, and I made a lot of mistakes. For instance, I heard some variant of this more than once: “Yeah, the customer told you they had a slow leak, but you forgot to ask which tire, dimwit.”

Tech examining vehicle

Chasing down problems—even simple ones—takes time. And time, I’m told, is money. Photo by Mike Apice.

I learned a little, though. One thing I realized was that some customers would come in, get a diagnosis, and then bring their car to a different shop for the repair or fix it themselves. It was kind of a waste of an estimate. We didn’t make any money. In fact, we lost it—tying up a bay with one of those cars instead of a paying customer clobbers shop throughput.

I also made the mistake of diagnosing a car at the counter instead of in a bay. I can recall a customer coming in and telling me the Check Engine light was on. I told her we’d take a look at it. “It might be a loose gas cap.”

Cradle and engine out

That innocuous “Check Engine” light can spiral out of control quickly, can’t it? Best to set customer expectations appropriately early in the process. Photo by Mike Apice.

I forget what was wrong with the vehicle, but I do remember it was not a loose gas cap. I also remember my boss being angry about me not billing diag time, which he needed to pay the technician. And I remember the customer being angry when I tried to collect that diagnostic fee at the counter—after the vehicle was repaired.

From that point on, I decided two things: I would always charge a diagnostic fee, and I would always let the service techs ascertain the problem a vehicle was having. Whenever someone would come to the counter, I pretended I just didn’t know that much about cars.

“I’m not sure what’s wrong,” I’d say. “The guys in the back, though, they can figure out anything! Let’s see what they say once we get your car in here for a look-see. We charge an hour’s labor to go over the car, perform a few tests, and really nail down what’s wrong with this thing.”

Vehicle diagnosis is no walk in the park. Proper diagnosis is critical, but it’s also difficult.

Sometimes a simple flowchart can throw you a curveball. “Replace A, B, and C with known good part” worked great when I was later a tech at a dealer. I’d simply ask for some parts at the counter, and install them one by one as the flowchart recommended. As an indie tech, though, that’s either difficult or impossible to do. Most parts stores don’t want you using their electrical parts for diagnostic work regardless of what the flowchart suggests.

Signed repair order

The signed repair order for some diagnostic time ensures everyone understands that all time needs to be paid for, and the first hour may not be enough time to track down a problem. Photo by Lemmy.

In this case, the diag fee serves as a slush fund. If everyone who comes in the door pays for an hour, then the diagnostic profit dollars help cover the cost of the occasional misdiagnosis or “known good part” gamble.

I always felt that an hour of time was fair for everyone involved and smart for the shop. An hour of labor allows you flexibility. If you want to take care of a good customer, when the bill is being settled you can back the fee down to half an hour and look like a hero, but still pay your tech his hour, and still have  collected enough dough to break even. Or, if the repair for the root cause turns out to be a really big job, you can always pay the tech his diag fee and offer to put the hour charge towards the repair to help sell the job. (Makes you look like a pretty nice writer, eh?)

On the other side of the coin, if you have a customer you deem a flight risk – a.k.a. a known price shopper, someone with a vehicle that’s on its last leg, or someone you suspect may be a DIYer – an hour of diag time is enough money to ferret out the fact this customer may fly the coop on you. If someone demurs at $100 to find out why the truck failed emissions testing or the car dies intermittently, what is the likelihood they’ll take you up on that estimate you’ll prepare? Not great.

Tech finding a problem

Finding the problem is very often far more time-consuming than repairing the problem, so it’s important to get paid for both. Photo by Lemmy.

Sure, some customers won’t like it. But let’s remember that a service writers are in sales, too. You need to sell the customer on the value of your service, which includes your diagnostic capabilities. You also need to highlight what they’re getting for that money. First, they get access to the tools, knowledge, experience and effort of your techs. You’re providing a solution, not parroting what the scantool says. “Bank 1 lean” is a problem. The customer needs a solution.

Second, they get the peace of mind that if it’s repaired incorrectly, the onus is now on the shop to remove the bad parts, rediagnose and reinstall correct parts—and they won’t be paying for that second time around the block. Diag fees are essentially insurance for both parties.

Charge the diag fee at the counter, and have the tech earn it in the shop.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline feedback
View all comments

RECENT ARTICLES

Miata Spotter’s Guide (VIDEO)

Miata Spotter’s Guide (VIDEO)

If you want to learn the various generations of the world’s favorite reliable roadster, it’s as easy as learning your...

0
Click to leave a comment!x
()
x

Get Articles In Your Inbox

Subscribe to receive a monthly email summary of our latest Shop Press stories.

Shop Press

Thanks! You're now subscribed.