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A Dreaded Trip To The Auto Maintenance And Repair Shop (Part 1)


I never look forward to others caring for my car in any way.  This anxiety is what in part gave birth to a detailing business.  My personal experiences and professional one evaluating my clients’ cars has amplified those emotions.  What is normal to me and perhaps many of those reading this article, the way I care for my car, is more often judged as abnormal.  This unspoken disconnect (“it’s just a car” rhetoric) is linked to the feeling of hopelessness of potentially exposing our cars to other people.  It is unrealistic to do everything yourself and realistically I do not carry the expectation mechanic shop employees will act like a high end auto detailer around my car.  But I always hope and carry the expectation that these individuals show a reasonable bare minimum of professional care and concern.

oil change

Most (micro scratches) swirls come from improper washing.  Although these can happen during washing too, most of the deeper scratches come from other people’s negligence and lack of consideration.  This includes automotive maintenance and repair shops.  Although I like to think I have been very careful where I take my car, I was once again let down.

deep scratch

scratches on bumper

One of the difficult truths I want to share with YOU is the reminder that when hear the word scratch, some enthusiasts and most non enthusiasts have two different images in their head.  To many people it is not a scratch unless it looks like the picture below.

panel damage

I believe this reality is important for you to understand, not just for car maintenance and repair issues, but detailing and trips to dealerships.

Believe me, as upset as I was to see this damage here (and multiple areas on bumper) as well as the curb rash that was curiously not there a week or so prior, I was more distraught to hear multiple service managers make statements like, “I don’t see anything, oh that”.  “Can’t you just buff it out.”  “It is probably something you did.”  There were other tone deaf comments, from people who know what my profession is, know that I wash my car (including engine bay) religiously prior to appointment, and come to them because and with the understanding that I am a ‘certain way’ about my car.

I did not respond in anger (perhaps I should have).  I could have accepted what my family and friends have told me, expect these things and that there is nothing you can do about.  Sure I did many of things I have told others; look at the reviews, followed recommendations from car clubs, and even received a recommendation from a client.  I first decided to use this as an opportunity to bite the financial bullet getting my bumper repainted.  But second, I humbly looked at myself in the mirror and took ownership of the fact that I did not do a good enough (detailed) job vetting this establishment nor did I do well enough noticing the signs that we were not a fit.  These insight are what I want to share with you.

Lessons I Would Like To Share With You:

  1. We have to ACCEPT even in the professional world, that we will often not be understood by people who do not relate to us.  If you do not let that go, you are passively asking for heartbreak and disappointment.  But that also means doing the extra work shopping around for a business that puts your mind at ease.  Which leads to..
  2. Speak up!  This is coming from a introvert who at times has not asserted himself as much as he would like.  Be proactive in your communication.  A lot of us are bombarded with the stigma with how treat our cars.  It is okay to speak up and use that as a means to evaluate whether you will patronize a business.  You can and should still be nice about this.  Always be polite and respectful and communicate appreciation when employees are honoring your concerns.
  3. Visual Reminders!  Make a sign or write a note, to be left in a noticeable location in your car.  I am no longer just mentioning ‘do not wash’ signs for the dreaded dealership.  Taking a blank sheet of paper and writing ‘No Leaning On Paint Please’ in marker, is one way to give a friendly reminder to be careful.
  4. Expect to pay more.  It should be common sense, finding the cheapest place in town can lead to a VARIETY of problems.  But even a relatively moderately priced location (as I learned) can be a red flag.  All of those 5-Star reviews for great service and reasonable pricing do NOT address the proverbial elephant in the room.  What some consider high maintenance often turns into a valued customer with special concerns, when you are paying a premium.  Imagine asking for your burger cooked medium at a fast food restaurant.
  5. Wash your car, including a touch up of the engine bay and interior bay beforehand.  Yes it gives you an opportunity to visually inspect the car prior to drop off, but there is another reason for cleaning your car.  Credit to Mike Phillips for bringing this to light.  If you do not appear to care about the cosmetic condition of your car, it is a lot harder to expect other people to.  I have always taken this advice to heart, cleaning it before taking it anywhere.  For those that are pressed for time, vacuming or taking a brush to the debree on your carpet and air freshener spritz is a major help.  For those that are uncomfortable with engine bay cleaning, I do my engine detailing primarily waterless washing (no hose).  Spraying Poorboys Spray And Wipe into a microfiber towel and quickly wiping the large plastic areas may be a major improvement.  I would like to say as I learned the hard way point #5 does not matter without embracing the 4 previous points.

The next article will outline my experience finding a better, for me, place to take my car.

Rodney Tatum
Mirror Reflections Auto Spa
Gainesville, Florida
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12 comments on A Dreaded Trip To The Auto Maintenance And Repair Shop (Part 1)

  1. Ron Ayotte says:

    You can tell a lot about a shop just by looking through the garage doors. Is it dingy and dark? Are the floors messy? Is the office area a disorganized mess? If they don’t care how they look, they will not be careful when they do the repairs on your car.

    • Lawrence Davis Jr says:

      This is a prime example. It can be used when eating at any restaurant or fast food joint. I check the rest rooms out. If the joint is equipped with a filthy head I’m outta there. I don’t want them touching anything that will be going in my mouth.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      That is spot on!

  2. Dean Levett says:

    Another great article Rodney. Like you I always clean my car to a standard that shows that you care enough about it. Also hoping that workshops will see that. I’m fortunate enough to be able to do most servicing and maintenance myself, but even taking it for it’s MOT, I’ll make sure it’s clean and tidy. I like to show others that I’m proud of my car and keep it in a state that others can see that. If you turn up with a dirty car either inside or out, that will give an impression that you don’t really care about it. Where they will treat it as they see it.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      Thank you! Definitely the more maintenance that you can do yourself the better of you will be in managing risks.

  3. Greg Pautler says:

    Great post Rodney! I made some mental notes because I had another disappointing experience last year and don’t plan to go back there.

  4. Jeff says:

    Excellent post Rodney. I’m as particular about my cars as you are, and I am also an introvert and find it very hard to be proactive. I do as much of my own mechanical work as possible because of my trust issues, but when I’m forced to take it to a shop or the dealer for recall work…I’ve gone so far as to install collision wrap to the areas that I know they will be working around before taking it to the shop. It gives me some extra piece of mind and it is a reminder to the techs (that they can’t miss) that I care about my vehicle.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      Thank you. This was a major motivator in the direction of the article, my emphasis on speaking up.

  5. Great Article as always. I purchased a black 4×4 toyota pick up a few years ago and it was only a few days old when I had to go back to the dealership for warranty work. I had to leave it overnight and explained that it was my baby and take good care of it for me. When I returned the next evening to pick it up, I saw that it was used as a truck to haul something and the back of the truck was totally scratched up in the bed from front to tailgate. I had the sales manager, service manager out there and all they could say that someone must have used it. After a complete repaint, and a bedliner install, I never went back to that dealership again and wrote the story over and over for others to read. I tried to get them to take the vehicle back but, without an attorney, nothing was going to work except a repaint and new bedliner for free. Now, I always wait at the dealerships for my service to be completed and inspect the vehicle with the service writer before and after service.

    • Dean Levett says:

      I had a similar experience years ago, car was in for warranty work, when my wife and I went to collect it, it had been parked up nose 1st against a pebble dashed wall. Scratching all the front bumper, needless to say after they repainted it, we never went back to them.

    • Rodney Tatum says:

      That is awful! Sadly this is a reality that for a lot of people “I am a certain way about my vehicle” Does not register at all or they just don’t care.

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