Monday, December 8, 2014

Who saved who?

Have you ever seen those bumper stickers that say "who rescued who?"  It's a reference to an adopted pet and what it brings to the relationship with it's human benefactor. It implies that you would get more from the exchange than even the adopted pet would.

It has happened to me many times with pets I adopted. But this one time it happened to me with another human being. Not with an adoption, but merely with the interaction.

The third Friday of every month, here in the city of Ventura, we have a food truck extravaganza. Twelve to fifteen truck come to the parking lot of the local mall and serve food  to all the available hungry patrons that day. I was on my way to the adjacent grocery store and decided to stop by and get myself some food from the oyster truck.
As I got my food, I looked for a place I could use to sit down and enjoy my meal. Most of the tables had more than one person and it was obvious they were busy. I found one table with only one person and I asked him if he minded some company. He smiled warmly and said "okay"
I soon realized he was a homeless person. He had a bicycle next to him and along with it, most if not all of his life possessions.
We begun to talk, and I asked him if he liked oysters. He said yes and I gave him a couple of oysters from my half dozen.
He thank me. Then he asked if I had a cell phone (who doesn't?)
He asked to borrow it. Until then, I had never realized how personal of an item they had become.  I hesitated with my reply and I'm sure he noticed.

He made a phone call to his son. I could tell it was a voice message he was leaving. He finished with " I love you and I miss you, I wish I could call more often, take care"
He handed me the phone back and I headed for the grocery store nearby.
I needed ice cream and milk, some cheeses and a few other perishables. Also bread, some nuts and the obligatory bottle of wine for Friday night.

In the middle of the shopping, I got a phone call. It was the son calling his father back. I told him what had happened and he said it was too bad he had missed him. He asked me to tell him he loved him if I ever saw him again.  I said "okay, I will"

I don't recall feeling as empty as I did that time. I said I would tell him next time I saw him, but I also knew I was probably never to see that homeless person again.

The heck with the groceries!   I paid at the cashier and headed back to the truck extravaganza. I didn't know if I could find him again but it was worth the try.
Still sitting in the same place, I found him. I called his son back (dial the last number) and he came on the line. Then I handed the phone back to the homeless man.
I don't know for how long they talked and I made every attempt not to look anxious. I would wait until he was done.
Once done, he handed me the phone back and thanked me.
I don't know who helped who the most. All I know is that I felt really good when I left. But before I did, I pulled the first bill out of my wallet and handed it to him. He hadn't asked for it but it felt like the right thing to do.

The few times I've told the story, I have to catch myself from choking with emotion.
All in all, it was a great day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I Saab story

"You have a new voice mail" said the message.

Hi, my name is ----------- and I'm the one with the Saab that you broke the "convertible top" five months ago. Can you call me back and give me the part number I need so I can get the part since you cannot find it. I'm so frustrated with you that I'm contemplating legal action (we are in California after all).

As you know, Saab ceased to exist in the US some time back.  Prior to that General Motors purchased it and stopped supporting it's parts distribution as of 2010.
Good luck finding anything for those vehicles!
How many "auto repair shops" do you know that have the native Saab scanners and software to diagnose those vehicles?
If you said ABC Auto Care, you guessed right.
Through some strange circumstance we ended up with all the factory stuff for Saab.

Back to five months ago. A 2004 Saab 9-3 convertible comes to the shop with a broken convertible top. The complaint was that upon activation, they owner got a hydraulic fluid bath and the unit has not worked since. They manually put it back up to cover the vehicle so they could drive it. And made an appointment with us. Lucky us!

The hydraulic actuator had busted a seal. We checked the system to find out where the leak was and gave them a quote. The actuator was approved along with replacing a noisy blower motor and two bulbs in the head lamp assemblies.
We also started to test for an air condition intermittent issue but further work was declined.

The problem started once we replaced the actuator. Once the unit was replaced, we noticed the system still would not work. The computer would not command the convertible top to work due to the fact it had a message stored in memory for an out of position sensor (convertible top circuit). We cleared the code but came back immediately.
Further "free diagnosis" revealed a broken cable for the convertible sequencing mechanism.
That's when things turned ugly.  Somehow they couldn't comprehend that on a modern convertible vehicle, when something fails on the open/close sequence, all kinds of things break. It's s carefully choreographed sequence that requires a whole bunch of things working together in conjunction.

From that point on, the only thing they could say was that we broke it. We must have since it wasn't that way when they brought the vehicle. The top was working perfectly until it failed. We must have broken it!

That in itself wouldn't  have been a problem. You see, all repair shops often give away a ton of stuff they know they are not responsible for. We do it to keep the relationship. It's easier and cheaper for a repair shop to maintain a relationship that it is to acquire a new one. I would have gladly just give them the cable and install it for free in hopes to keep them as a client (I know, I ask myself the same question, WHY?)

The real problem is the part is on national back order. And with Saab out of business in America, it's a likelihood the part may never be produced. But they have chosen to make me the source of their frustration when it really is the fact the part can not be found. They should be angry at Saab.

It's not may fault GM decided to dump Saab and not support your car! Now leave me alone!
#convertible top, #autorepairshop, #freediagnosis

Saturday, October 18, 2014

To know thine client.

First time client.
 I put my best face forward.  I'm all smiles as I do my best to welcome her to our repair family.
She proceeded to explain to me (before telling me what the problem with the vehicle was) that up to this point, everyone (and I mean everyone) had, in her own words, screwed her royally!
Every mechanic she encountered had managed to disappoint her. Some through incompetence, some through outright larceny, some through apathy and finally some through outright meanness.
What started out as small shoes to fill, soon became very large shoes, some would say impossible to fill.
Truth is, I didn't want to work with her or her car. Some say that first impressions are made within the very first few seconds you meet a person, but it takes eons to change it.
She made a very quick first impression with me, and it wasn't a good one.
I wouldn't have worked with her but I remembered the time I flat out refused to work with a new client (they were just too angry and damaged) and they posted one of my worst reviews. Can you imagine that, I got trashed and didn't even do any work for that client!
They said I was too uppity, that I thought I was too good for them.
So, with that in the back of my mind, I decided that I was going to be the next poor sucker in that long list of shops and mechanics that had disappointed her.
But I wasn't going to go there without trying.  See, I happen to think that all people are basically good, and that sometimes you have to go through a labyrinth to find that goodness.  I was willing to go through it.
She proceeded to explain what the problem was. The local dealer had diagnosed a faulty clock spring (a device to connect the horn and air bag through the steering column). She asked what our cost to do the job would be. A quote was given and it was accepted.
Okay, you may say... "Isn't already a prescription to fail to do anything that someone else had diagnosed"
One turn of the steering wheel and I could tell the diagnosis was correct. The dealer had been right.
But it turns that they couldn't work with her anymore and referred her to us.
Beware of your competitors referrals!
Along the way she added that her driver's side window didn't work.  We quoted to test the circuit and she agreed.
The clock spring was replaced and the testing on the power window was done.  It required roughly two hours of my time to explain the work done, to put her mind at ease and to continue to make her fill good about her decision. The explanation took longer than the work on the vehicle!
Fast forward to five months later...
We get an angry phone call and it's HER!  Yep!  The same one who said every mechanic before us had messed up. Now we were in that group.
She said very angrily that her ABS was continuing to engage on a sweeping turns, just like before. In addition, since we had the window motor apart to test (we never had it out), her alarm would engage randomly.  All our fault! and we better take care of it under warranty.
I tried to explain we had not been hired to fix any ABS problem, and that we never had the door panel off - that the power window motor testing takes place at the fuse box.
Finally, when things got to yelling, I agreed to take a look at the vehicle, and at a minimum recheck all the work I had done. I was going to back up that 24/24 warranty as it was stated in the repair order.
Oh, I forgot to mention, Our long discussion on the phone was partially over the fact that I wouldn't loan her a vehicle to drive while we were working on hers. I was however, willing to rent a car for her at our cost for any time needed.
My rationale was, I don't want an angry client driving one of our vehicles.  I wouldn't want them to take their anger out on our car.
One and a half hours of unrecoverable time was spent in inspecting the vehicle. The clock spring installed was working properly.  It took another hour and a half to explain everything.  YES, it took that long!
I swear, we repair shop owners are getting to be paranoid and schizophrenic. We hear voices in our heads of the bad reviews that angry or misguided clients are going to post. It doesn't matter if they are right or if they are wrong. All bad reviews hurt small businesses and as such, the economy!
Long story short (it's too late for that), she probably has had the ABS problem for quite some time. There was a piece of black electrical  tape over the ABS light. Who knows how long it had been there.
As for the alarm issue... she had the battery replaced just recently and the system had reverted to default. We reprogrammed it to fit the client's desire (as a courtesy of course).
" So, as long as I have the car here, can I get an oil change?"
I must have had the word "sucker" written on my forehead. This time I said we were too busy but I would be glad to set up an appointment 2 weeks in the future.  By that time my prescription for Xanax will be available!!!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Can't afford you!

Its Friday around 1:30 pm and I get a frantic phone call.   "Do you work on motor homes?   I need to have the alternator and the power steering pump replaced and also the brake system flushed.  Can you do it today?"

Mind you, it's a Friday and late in a busy work day.
We don't work on motor homes. I should have said that and it all would have ended right then. The caller would have had to find some other shop to take care of those urgent Friday needs. But they were passing through town when they found themselves needing this much work in such a short period of time.  Having realized they must have been huge procrastinators for them to find themselves in this precarious position, I felt pity and then said, yes, we can help you.
That's when it all went downhill!

"How much is the total going to be?"
 I guess I must be a magician, where I know all the answers immediately in my head.  And this on a 33 ft long, yet to be seen, motor home.  I dare anyone to give an accurate quote off the top of their head without the help of at least seeing the vehicle.   You can put a guesstimate together, but under the circumstances,  why put yourself in that position.
Obviously I resisted giving the quote, which I knew would be woefully inaccurate. Back and forth and back and forth we went, until he bugged me about it enough that I caved in. Ugh!
"Listen, if you just need a ballpark figure, then it's probably around $400 for the alternator, about the same for the power steering pump and around $150 to perform the brake fluid exchange."

The response was "I CAN'T AFFORD YOU!" and the phone went dead.
I wonder what would have happened if I had said "it'll be about $250 for all that work". He probably would have rushed to the shop and try and get the work done. At which point, upon properly inspecting the vehicle, I would have adjusted the quote to the appropriate price (which probably would have been about $950 bucks)

So I'm perplexed!  I know this person will continue to call other repair shops until he finds one that will give him a quote so low that he will jump on it. That doesn't mean the quoted price is going to be the final one. All it means is someone was willing to play the "quote the low price game" in order to get the vehicle in. So, is that what it has come to?
I keep being told time after time to never quote anything over the phone to a stranger. Maybe now I will just do that!  I can't afford not to!

#alternator #powersteering #brakeservice

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The "Best of Ventura County"

It's that time of the year folks!
The newspaper and magazines are  trying to drum up business. Now that the internet is killing them, they have to try harder and find new revenue streams.
Hence "the best of........"
Ironically, I got a phone call today, the second in less than a week. The opening line is always... "We would like to feature you in the best of Ventura County, We are only taking one repair shop for this prestigious spot, and we would like for that to be you!"
Wow!!! Wow!! Wow!!
I remember having a conversation with my daughter long ago, I said, "You don't have to be the best at everything or anything for that matter.  You just have to be consistently good."
You see, the best is not real. That's right, it is not real. It's concocted and paid for. Yep, you read that right!
Okay, say a divorce attorney gets the "best of" nod.  I think that the only people that could vote should be the ones with (minimum) of two divorces, handled by two different attorneys. Then, and only then, can they compare the differences and decide who is the better or best for them.
You see what I'm getting at?  Most of this voting is being done by people who should have no opinion due to the fact that don't have a good reference. All they have is the fact they like the salon, restaurant, repair shop, attorney, etc so why not vote for them.
I've gone to the same dentist for 30 years, Dr. Satnik. Would I say he is the best?  I haven't been to another dentist  in close to a lifetime so I have no basis for comparison. Would I go to another dentist?   HELL NO!
A good measure of an opinion should be to try a minimum of five different sources and then make a decision. Other than that, you just casted a vote for someone you like, but possibly not necessarily the best.
And no, I didn't signed up with the paper or the magazine, which means I won't be "The best of Ventura County"
But I'm sure I will read who did and wish them the "best".

Friday, July 18, 2014

A tale of two attitudes

For your pleasure.
Let me begin by saying that I never claimed we are perfect. We do fail. But we really do everything we can to take care of that failure. Both the client and the vehicle.
This article is about how people behave when a failure occurs. You have one type that is understanding of human nature. The kind that gives you the opportunity to make things right. The one that realizes that a mistake was made but, does not come on to you pointing fingers and does not blame you, just wants it done right.
Then you have the other side of the coin. The type of client who can't wait to blame you, even if there is a possibility you didn't do it.
Type 1,
So we got a Sprinter van and we replaced the serpentine belt. Twelve miles later, the belt snapped while the owner was driving. Vehicle towed to the shop.
We installed a second belt and a tensioner (all warranty) Drove the vehicle a while again and released it. Once more, and about twelve miles later, the same thing happened. All this while, our client is mystified but understands we are doing our best to take care of the situation. Belt number three and second tensioner were installed. I decided to drive the vehicle myself for an extended drive. Drove about ten miles and bingo!  Belt snapped again!  I'm now fit to be tied!
Well, we found the problem, we corrected it and we are done. All this while, as frustrated as our client was, he also understood we had a sizeable investment both in time and in parts. And that we certainly didn't want for this to happen.

Type 2,
We got a Saab convertible, the complaint was that hydraulic fluid was leaking from the top. The hydraulic actuator had blown out and had leaked all the fluid over the driving compartment.
Mind you, when we got the car here, something was obviously broken.It came to us with an inoperable convertible top.
We gave him a quote to replace the cylinder plus other things related to air condition blower motor. An agreement was reached and we proceeded to do the work.
Along the way we noticed that the manual override for the convertible was badly worn out (had rounded edges), there were two stripped bolt holes as well. This all indicated someone had already been there doing a lot of work.
Long story short. We got the parts back, installed them, and then it all went downhill from there.
When the actuator failed, it came out of position to the regular convertible open/close sequence. Once this occurred, things began to make contact with each other and some broke.
We probably spent as much as five hours trying to get it to work. And we can't without those parts that broke.
But what was the first thing out of the clients mouth?  Yes, you guessed it!    "That wasn't broken before!  Are you sure you didn't break it while you were working on it?"
You wouldn't believe the great amount of self restraint that it takes at moments like that. You can imagine what I was thinking, but thankfully all I said was "No"
I wish I could say " please, get out of here!"   But then of course Yelp would be glad to post that review at the very top of a page for ever and ever. Or until we pay them the monthly fee!
Serenity Now!,,,,(Seinfeld show)

Friday, June 27, 2014

I'll take it as a compliment!

I've always known that I'm a nice guy. I just never knew what a nice guy I was until a phone call came in today.
I know I take in a lot of diagnostic work from other shops that, when they haven't succeeded, they farm out to me in hope I can take care of it while they do something that is profitable.
It's Friday and I'm here at my shop taking care of all the things that need to get done and go before the weekend. The call is from another shop owner.  He let's me know his service advisor is out for a two week vacation. And he just took a phone call about his father having fallen sick, possibly with grave consequences.
He asked me if I would take care of his business in the event that he needs to fly to his fathers location to help and support him.
For me the answer was fairly simple, there was only one answer, help your peer. His shop is in another city 10 miles away and I felt there wouldn't be any awkward situations where a client could make a mistake of one shop for another.
I don't know if the shop owner will have to go, but if he does, I'll be there to help.
Then it dawned on me. How many of us would open up our financial and business life like an open book for another person, let alone a competitor to see?
I think it took a lot of guts for my peer to make the call. Simply put, this underscores how much of a burden and stress a self employed person has on a day to day basis.
An employee can ask for time off and a spur of the moment, leaving the business owner to deal with the consequences. A business owner on the other hand... not as easy.
I can't recall how many times I've been told that as the business owner, I can take off anytime I want. It couldn't be farther from the truth!
I'll leave this one open, will come back to it once I do my duty or, once I'm not needed. It should be an interesting experience.  After all, how many of us get to be in someone's shoes even if it's only in their business life.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

May god yelp us all!

I often question my sanity. I don't know what I was thinking.
I've had a business account with Yelp for sometime now. But I often heard this rumor that if you closed your account, Yelp would retaliate.
And I didn't want to believe it!
Not until it happens to you, you realized how contentious a company can be, and how much strife they can cause in your life.
After measuring results from the Yelp campaign, I decided that I wasn't getting what I wanted from the exchange. When the contract was up, I called them and email them with termination notices.
A funny thing happened,,,,,
Every possible unflattering review I had, dating back to 2011 was now on position one page one. It didn't matter I had many other great reviews recently. The only ones Yelp wanted to show were those that didn't help my cause. Now! Yelp could fix that right away. All I had to do was pay them a monthly fee with a yearly contract and then, they could certainly make sure those pesky poor reviews never saw the light of page one. They would be relegated to a page so deep and profound  that no human being could ever find.

So here is where the business and moral dilemmas clash for me.
One one hand, paying them $75.00 or so per month it's not going to make a dent in my life.
One the other hand, paying them that fee is tantamount to protection money. it's a racket! It's wrong!
I know that in paying the monthly, poor reviews would be buried and thus I would be able to get more clients to come to our business. It does however feel dirty, tainted, bought. But hey!, all is fair in business right?
Truth is, I know I can pay Yelp for a near perfect rating that would allow my business to grow. But I would feel empty, I would feel sold for a few dollars.
I know the right thing to do is to stand firm against the tyranny of the Yelp oppression. It's just that I wonder how alone I'm going to be standing against them.
Make no mistake!  Yelp is not our friend. They ask for what amounts to protection money from business's while allowing postings that they shouldn't.
They claim to filter thru all the postings to catch the fake ones. But they only delete good reviews if they feel they are insincere. They do nothing about poor or bad reviews even if they think are bogus.
Ill post an epilog to this column, hopefully in about a month after I go through all the data from analytics.
I'll know by then the effect of the decision taken today and report it.

May god Yelp me!


Everybody wants to fix their car right. Right?
Well, not quite!
It all started with our client letting us know, in a somewhat loud voice, that he was tired of bringing the car once or twice a year to fix the same problem. The air condition system was acting up again!
He wanted it fixed right this time.
After looking at our records, we noticed we last looked at the air condition system slightly over three years ago. And prior to that repair, it had been six years since we last worked on the troubled system.
It was low on freon, a fairly common occurrence. We traced the leak to compressor body o rings and proceeded to put a quote together for the necessary repairs.
I'm sure you guessed by now, the ensuing repairs were all declined. "How come you didn't noticed the leak the last time I paid you to look at it?"
It takes a lot of courage and strenght to keep your mouth shut and not yell back at the perceived insult. It seems once I got over 50, I have less and less of that courage and strenght (and patience)
I wanted so much to say " But you said you wanted it fixed right, What has changed?"
I suppose we all set out to get something done right. But then, compromise on what we wanted and trade it for something we didn't want, but cheaper. But this is not about our client, it is about me!
Not long ago, I wanted to get a vest I've seen from Patagonia outfitters, I loved everything about it but the price. You see, Patagonia is a high end outfitter and as such, get a price that is higher than most.
When I balked at the price, I started looking for a more reasonably priced alternative. I found one from a reputable nationwide outfitter (they have a large website on the net)  I bought it and received it from Fedex.
Having compromised because of price, the first thing I noticed was that it really wasn't what I wanted. It was the price I wanted to pay but not the product I wanted.
I never send  the piece back since it wasn't their fault They had sent me what I had requested. By the way! I did get the vest I wanted. I paid the asking price and decided not to whine about it.
Lessons learned!

Sunday, June 1, 2014


A day after we worked on a vehicle, we got a phone call from the owner, and it went like this:

 Car owner (CO):       Why did you do that to my car?
Shop (S):                 I'm sorry! and what would that be?
CO                          Why did you put that message on my rear view mirror without my approval?
S                              And what message is that?
CO                           Someone in your shop put the message "objects in the mirror are closer than
                                 they appear" on my rear view mirror.  I did not asked for it!
What would make this funny, is the fact that she prefaced the conversation by saying that she was very aware of everything about her vehicle. That she had owned it for 13 years now and she washed it every Sunday, and waxed it frequently as well. She stated that the message was not there the last time she had washed it. (That message has been a federal mandate for over a decade now)
Move forward to the next car.
It's late in the day, 9:30 P.M. to be precise. I get a phone call on my cell phone from one of our clients.
The battery would go dead if she couldn't turn off the headlamps. "We'll?" Was my answer, " turn the headlight off!"
Unfortunately, she didn't know how.  She had owned the car for 22 years and never had to turn the lights on or off. You see!, they had always been set to come on automatically when dark.
Someone had somehow managed to turn the feature off and suddenly, she had been left to her own devices.
What's perplexing to me, is the fact so many people don't pay any attention to their vehicles. And that it only becomes evident when there is some kind of failure.
Okay,  have you guessed by now where I'm going with this?
If you said " I bet you got blamed for the headlight switch fiasco as we'll". Pat yourself in the back!
You are one for one!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Awareness, epilog

Well! This one ended peacefully with no other issues.
She came late in the day once we were closed, we had previously arranged for a place to give her access to her keys and all went without incident.
I wonder how log it will be before we become the next shop in that long chain of previous complaints.
I also wonder what will be the trigger or the catalyst for the complaint.
A few days later, she contacted us and asked about what we had done to the radio as it didn't work anymore. The implication was that it had previously and we must have contributed to it's failure.
Turns out she always had the radio on for the past twelve years. We must have turned it off somehow and she did not know how to turn the radio back on.

Wow!  I worry about how little sometimes people know about their vehicles.

Lee Lizarraga, in Ventura, Ca.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This is the first of all my bloggings!

I never did anything like this, because I always thought I led a fairly boring life.
Who would want to even consider reading a boring persons life!
Then I realised, I travel  frequently, I come in contact with a lot of people, I have dogs, homes, kids and businesses,  I struggle with policies, people, taxes, issues, etc, etc. 
So my hope is that you, the reader, will come in contact vicariously with all those situations I do.
My promise is that I will tell the truth, as I see it!

Today, I came in contact with a new client. She has a vehicle with 100k miles and I'm sure by her comments, she has never spent a dime on service. Only when something breaks down.
She was referred to us by the service manager of one of the local dealers. (is that good or bad?)
She let me know she was angry at the vehicle, and at the people who have worked on it as well because she is sure they are the cause for the present condition.
She showed me all the things she knows are broken or in a state of disrepair. She also said she was angry that she had to borrow the money for the repairs she was about to have performed here.
She didn't frame a pretty picture for me!
I knew that as much as she hated all those who came before me, I would be somehow the next cog on that never ending wheel.
The car is here currently for two repairs.One, a very expensive sensor she wants replaced as an "owner request" and another is a power window that is inoperative. 
We are not done with repairs yet. Worse, since the expensive repair is an owner request (she chose not to have us diagnose the problem, instead relying on someone else's opinion) I hope it solves her problem, otherwise I'll hear about the idiots who previously diagnosed it. 

I'll post the end of this story once it's all concluded in a day or two.

Lee Lizarraga, in Ventura, Ca.