Points to consider before going to the service shop

While no motorist has to go back to the dealer from whom he bought his car, there is a basis for a relationship there, says Lee R. Miskowski, national service development manager for the Ford Motor Company. ``A dealer can understand that if you are potentially loyal, you will come back again and again to buy another car,'' he adds.

OK. So it's time to take your car in for service. How should a customer approach a car dealer with a repair problem?

``A person should go through the manual and try to understand what the problem is,'' Mr. Miskowski says.

``Also, he should think ahead of time, even while waiting in line at the service desk, how to best describe the symptom or car problem to the service writer.''

While the service writer may say no, the motorist might even ask to speak to the mechanic who will work on his car.

Most dealerships don't like a customer to go back into the shop and talk with the technicians, and yet at most of the other facilities where you can have your vehicle serviced, the mechanic is generally available to the motorist. Why not at a new-car dealership?

``I think we are making a big mistake'' by not allowing customers to speak to the mechanics, insists Joseph A. Kordick, head of the Ford parts and service division. Miskowski agrees, adding: ``I think you should have the right to speak to the technician, particularly if you've had some work done there before.''

If the dealership provides a lifetime service guarantee, say that you understand you will not have to pay again for the same work if something goes wrong with the repair. You can say to them, ``Once I cover it once, it's covered forever, right?''

Some problems are intermittent and hard to describe or duplicate. More and more, however, the components today have a memory, so that you can plug into a computer and find out what is wrong. More effective instruments are on the way.

``In a few years -- and we have a whole separate group working on this companywide -- we'll have a very effective plug-in system for diagnosis with its keep-alive memory and the solution will come through automatically,'' says Miskowski.

Get a clear indication of when the car will be ready. Insist on being called back if there is a delay or a different diagnosis than you have been given earlier and which will result in a higher cost for repair.

``I think any motorist has to be businesslike,'' Miskowski advises. That's important, he says. Treat your visit to the service shop as you would any other business transaction.

Car-owner satisfaction is generally a little higher at a small-sized dealership than in a large metropolitan facility.

Motorists, of course, bear some responsibility in caring for their cars. This is a gas-and-go society and too many motorists don't take the time to perform the few frequent checks that might forestall a later problem on the road.

Is there any excuse for ignoring the oil level, forgetting the spark plugs, or not checking the tire pressure from time to time? At least 16 percent of all motorists do, however, perform much of the service and repair work themselves.

Second of two articles on dealership car repair. Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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