They can’t ALL be the most important- Auto repair prioritization


RestOfNewsletterWe think we offer the highest quality auto service possible, but is that our greatest value to you?  Our most valuable feature may be the way we manage records, inspect, and then prioritize our recommendations, making sure your vehicle gets the services it needs most, in the most effective order, on a schedule that makes sense, and with the least impact on your budget.  That level of service is not the norm in an industry driven by flat rate and commission. How much value is there in services provided for cheap that were not needed, not performed properly or not a priority?

First level of decision… to fix or not to fix?

When a vehicle comes into our shop behind a tow truck, the priority is pretty obvious… fix the breakdown and get back onto the road safely, quickly, and confidently.  But even in this straightforward situation there’s a decision to be made: is the value of the vehicle worth the cost of the repair? Newer or low-mileage vehicles with few existing problems are not in question, but you should carefully consider costly repairs on older, high-mileage vehicles with other known problems.  Our Service Advisors can help with this most basic of prioritization decisions by consulting vehicle records to tell you what pending issues, if any, might affect your repairs.  If we don’t have any service history or list of recommendations on file for you, then we can guide you to the appropriate inspections or diagnostics necessary to get the real-world information you need to make this real-world decision.

Deciding between competing priorities

Aside from the basic fix-or-don’t-fix question, there may be a question of competing priorities.  At any given time vehicles may have ongoing issues of varying severity, importance, and expense.  When we do our Inspection for Repair (designed to get a detailed picture of the actual mechanical condition of a vehicle) we determine the needs to keep a vehicle safe, breakdown free and operating properly.  These vary from wear items like brake pads or tires, to fluid seeps or leaks, to serious problems like failed or soon-to-fail major mechanical systems.  There may be a sizable list, but we almost never recommend addressing all these issues at once!  Instead, we build a prioritized list of recommendations that you can address over time, and as your budget allows.  We rank our recommendations in three groups…

Safety–  Compromised braking systems, worn or damaged tires, and many other things could make your vehicle a danger to its occupants and others.  If we find valid safety issues with your vehicle we’ll bring them to your attention and recommend fixing them before doing anything else.  Priority one is safety!

Breakdown prevention-  Beyond safety, a vehicle should perform reliably and well.  It shouldn’t leave you stranded when you least expect it.  When we find a system is starting to fail we’ll usually recommend fixing it before it actually gives out, but when balancing priorities not related to safety we’ll try to provide some indication of if a repair can wait or not.

Maintenance-  Proper maintenance of your vehicle can reduce the need for repair.  Keeping fluids, belts and hoses replaced on schedule, filters replaced, tires rotated and brakes and other systems inspected etc. can all extend the service life of the vehicle and save costs down the road. Expendables like wiper blades, headlights, or marker lights also need occasional replacement and ongoing oversight.  These preventative services are vital, but we may need to prioritize them in accordance with Safety or Breakdown issues.

Our advice is shaped by your goals

Your auto ownership goals drive our repair and maintenance advice.  Our recommendations will vary depending on your ownership plans. Is it a vehicle you plan to own long-term, pass to family or sell next year? Here’s a good example… imagine your older vehicle car has some oil seeping from around a rear main engine seal.  It’s not critical right now, but oil seeps turn into oil leaks and leaking oil can become a problem.  Replacing a rear main seal can open an expensive can of worms. It’s a problem, but is this seeping oil a current repair priority?  Well, it depends entirely on you.  If you plan to own the vehicle for many years we would likely recommend monitoring the situation while you put aside money for the repair, and then fixing it when the seep becomes an active leak.  However, if you’re planning to sell the vehicle soon then we probably would NOT recommend the repair.  An oil seep is not a safety issue that would endanger a buyer, and the increased sale value of the car probably wouldn’t cover the repair cost.  We’d probably suggest you sell the car as-is, but encourage the buyer to have the vehicle inspected prior to purchasing it.

YOUR budget plays a HUGE role in prioritization.

We can prepare an organized, prioritized list of possible repairs, but knowing what needs to be done and paying for it are two completely different things.  Sometimes money is tight, and you just don’t have the capacity to do everything, or even the top-level things, all at once.  We understand, so once we have the list of “needs” we work with you to decide not only which of them are most critical, but which of the most critical items you can afford.  A very, very frequent question from our clients is “I have X dollars to spend on my vehicle.  How should I spend it?”  That’s where you can rely on us most.  We make sure that a limited budget is spent in the most effective way to achieve your goals.

If you have an absolutely critical issue but just don’t have the money to even consider it, we do offer credit through an outside company.  Our Advisors can help you with that, too.

OUR budget plays NO role in prioritization.

Most shops in the auto repair industry have commissioned Service Advisors, meaning the more the sell, the more they get paid.  This can easily corrupt the advice of even the most well-meaning Advisor!  Our Service Advisors are paid hourly, so their only motivation is to recommend the services you need for YOUR goals, not theirs.  Our Advisors give you the same advice they would give their own friends and family.

There’s no formula for success

There is no cookie-cutter process to determine what’s most important for your vehicle.  Wise prioritization depends on your goals and budget as well as the experience, expertise, and motivations of your Service Advisor.  At Tom Dwyer Automotive Services, we believe a collaborative and transparent approach to auto repair is the best way to achieve success.  It may be an art to choose among competing mechanical priorities, but one thing makes it easier… we always remember that YOU are our FIRST priority!


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