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  • Posted by Aaron Schreur on April 17, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    I got a great customer and I had an issue with a GM 3.4 headgasket job. Came in with miss diagnosed as #2 mis and customer said go ahead with both banks while your that deep. Heads checked out good at engine shop completed job and got the same problem. We tore it back down took the heads to another machine shop got a 2nd opinion on them and they were tested good again. Blocks flat no cracks (that I can see) Applied 2 part die to locate cracks and found nothing. Decided to put together 1 more time just to be positive there were no mistakes on our part. Completed 2nd time same problem. Time for an engine, My question is how should I handle the labor for the head gasket job now that I am going to do an engine. I want to treat him right as he has with me over the years but time is time and time is money.

    mattsauto replied 12 years, 1 month ago 12 Members · 17 Replies
  • 17 Replies
  • Patrick McElroy

    April 17, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    I feel your pain Aaron. What are your cylinder leakage test results ? Is it an engine issue or is it a fuel delivery problem ? I would want to prove where the miss is coming from before I swag an engine at it. In my opinion, the customer is not responsible for the head gasket labor since it did not fix his problem. The customer should only have to pay for what fixes the vehicle. If you charge him for the head gasket labor, he will tell everyone he knows.


  • Aaron Schreur

    April 17, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Leak down shows bubbles in radiator when applied to cyl 1. So its definitely head gasket symptoms but must be a crack in the block or something.

  • rhopp

    April 17, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    I try to imagine WWYD if the shoe was on the other foot. they bring

    it to you for your expertise. Even if you were thrown nothing but

    curve balls & struck out, you are the experts.

    Stating the cost of the replacement engine & informing them of the

    loss in parts & labor that you are absorbing (if you put no value to

    it, it has no value in their mind), would be my starting point.

    Asking them to take a moment to understand why we’re at this point

    would be worthwhile. Most rational humans know problems aren’t

    always black & white. This one was way off the reservation, with no

    way of predicting & no practical way of diagnosing… It could be

    explained as the need to do an autopsy on a living person, or simply

    to do a complete overhaul of the engine to ever see where the crack

    is and even then no guarantee.

    As usual, after they have as much clarity of the situation as

    possible, asking them what they believe to be fair is a good


  • d-stroebel

    April 17, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    I hate to doubt your testing methods, But the information from your original post does not add up to an engine replacement. I am probly missing something. Can you please clarify what is going on with the engine so we can help?

  • dougfentiman

    April 17, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Unfortunately Aaron if you are not careful how you handle this situation no one will win. You will lose a good customer, to say nothing of your reputation, and your customer will lose their trusted repair shop. Ignoring all the technical aspects of how difficult this problem was to diagnose, the customer’s view, whether they express it or not, is that you made a mistake and they should not have to pay for the fallout. Right or wrong you will be held responsible. You’re going to lose a bunch of money on this one and your only decision is if it will continue to harm your bottom-line into the future.

    In my opinion asking him to pay for anything to do with the head-gasket diagnosis would be a bad move. This will only make him feel wronged and could lead to litigation if he is offended enough. If you can’t convince him what you did was justified you haven’t much hope of convincing a judge…

    If you make him pay for any diagnosis you risk loosing a good customer and anyone associated with him. But the big hit will be to your reputation which could suffer a serious black eye if he takes his displeasure online with a negative comment about you. Social Media gives people a powerful voice when they feel unfairly treated. This is a case where no matter how you defend or justify the work you did the average person will not understand the technical difficulties of the diagnosis and find you guilty. And this black mark will live online, damaging your reputation and costing you forever. Forget about even breaking even on this one. You’re in recovery mode now.

    The only way to partially recover from this one would be to positively identify the cause of the leak. After two head-gaskets the block and cylinder head are still highly suspect. Maybe do a very careful pressure test to rule out everything else and positively identify the cylinder. Then pull the engine, strip it, chemical clean both, have block deck and head surfaces carefully checked for flatness and warping, and non-destructive test for cracks. Find a shop that knows what they are doing. Look for someone who does heavy marine, diesel, or aircraft work. When people’s lives rely on the work they do the quality of work goes way up. And yes you will pay a lot more than your average auto machine shop but that is the price of high quality work required in this case. One big plus for pursuing the correct diagnosis would be saving your reputation. If you don’t the customer will always wonder if they truly needed a new engine…

    Only when the problem is positively identified could you ask the customer to pay for a portion of the diagnosis. But even then, the inconvenience cost to the customer may far out weight what little diagnosis costs you may get from him. In the end asking him to pay for any diagnosis will put your relationship at great risk. You have damaged their trust in you and writing off the diagnosis cost would be a goodwill sign to them that you respect them and want to keep them as a customer.

    Building, nurturing, and protecting your online presence and, especially, your online reputation must be at the top of your business mission statement. Everyone in your business, from the person who answers the phone to the technicians who do the repair work, must be aware of how their actions can impact your online reputation and how important it is to their livelihood.

  • geowitt

    April 17, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    Robb, I really like that answer. The poster indicates that the guy has been a long time customer and that tells me you have a relationship of fairness with each other over time. That’s worth a lot.

    When I’m faced with a situation like this, I sometimes say that the customer can’t prove I’m liable and I can’t prove I’m not liable. Somewhere in the middle lies a solution that will work for both of us.

    What do you (the customer) think?

    I’ve been very lucky to split costs with a customer over things like this.

    However, I should stress at this point that a well-established repair shop needs to pad each bill enough to cover the crazy things that sometimes come up in business. We can’t always recover every expense directly at the time it’s incurred. We have to make enough over time to take care of things that happen.

    I don’t know if the heads can be sold if the engine is pulled. This stuff can drive you nuts.

  • Aaron Schreur

    April 18, 2012 at 12:29 am

    Well I talked to him and I worked it so all of my cost parts and engine shop wise are covered and I ate the labor. He was very happy with that and I still get an engine job out of it. So all in all Im not out much, still got a good customer.

  • tmolla

    April 18, 2012 at 12:56 am

    Sounds like you made the most of a bad situation. I think you made

    the right decision and not only kept the customer, but made him feel

    his money was being well spent AND maintained that trust

    relationship. Well done.

  • Larry Moore

    April 18, 2012 at 1:11 am

    If the misfire was on #2 why is the leakage from #1? Something does not add up. Did either cylinder show “cleaning” on the top of the piston? Is there excessive pressure in the radiator with the engine running? I always look for at least two “arrows” that point to exactly the same place. I am not seeing that in the information you have given. Is there more we should know about the problem?

    I agree with what others have said regarding you must know exactly what is wrong before you can even begin to decide how to handle the customer.

  • wrenchboy

    April 18, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I realize you have already come to an agreement with the owner over costs, and he said he would be fine with it, to put it bluntly, I think it’s a mistake. Deep down does he really feel that way, or, worse yet, change his mind after his neigbor/brother-inlaw/ coworker/etc. talks to him and convinces him otherwise. I would have a talk with him and explain the amount of work you put into it to get to this point, but as a valued customer you would prefer to absorb costs up to this point. He may offer to still pay you something, if so fine. In doing so would be a great customer retention opportunity, plus attract new with word of mouth from him.

    Second, as others have said, without trying to second guess the diagnosis, it doesn’t add up for me either. I too would be concerned that after engine replacement the problem was still there.

  • Aaron Schreur

    April 18, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Sorry I said #1 but meant #2 and the #2 piston was clean as new

  • Patrick McElroy

    April 18, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Aaron, thank you for posting this issue. I hope everything works out for you and your customer. I really want to thank Doug ( as well as all the other responders ) for your insight to protecting ones reputation on the net. I am copying your post and giving a copy to all my employees today. Great post.


  • rfisher-asamichigan-com

    April 18, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Aaron –

    This is a very difficult situation for repair facilities to experience. I see that you resolved the situation with the customer and it appears that satisfaction was mutually shared. Before offering thoughts for future situations I want to say that the most important thing for successful repair facilities is to have communication, integrity and trust with their customers, this assures a long term customer. The right answer is the one that worked.

    Today’s vehicles are complex and we will see more challenges in the future. We will periodically have these types of unusual challenges and how we deal with them could “make or break” the situation – financially for the repair facility, the technician or a future customer. As an industry, we must understand that other professionals occasionally are plagued with challenges too. I compare our industry to the medical field during analogies at times, because the human body is also complex and it is one that people understand due to their own experiences. What patient would feel comfortable with a doctor that refunds or discounts their visit because they “didn’t fix the problem the first time”? As an industry we sometimes discount ourselves for the professionals that we are because we may have misssed a step in the process, we thought that it was what the customer would accept or it was a “knee-jerk” resolution; we need to stop that so that we remain profitable and stay in business to meet their future needs; it is a psuedo resolution that creates bad consumer behavior.

    We have all gone into a doctor’s office with symptoms that we have paid for a visit and had to return becuase the symptoms were still there, paying for another visit. The first thing the docotr will state is “I have to run some more tests”. It is frustrating to the patient, but they understand that this was not the “usual fix” and it shows concern by the doctor that he/she wants to find the problem – it is part of the “diagnostics”. we, albiet our health insurance or our own out-of-pocket, pay more for the “diagnostics” looking for the solution and the answer…as professionals, we should heed to this process and help consumers understand what we are upo against.

    Now, the patient might walk out of that doctor’s office and go somewhere else…and this is the important part – if the symptoms listed are the same, the next doctor is going to perform the very same “tests” and charge for them, confirming the first doctor’s follow up. IF this occurs, the patient realizes the first doctor was doing the right thing and would probably return on the next visit.

    In many aspects, the autmotive repair facilities should realize that this “process” has validity if it isn’t abused. We inform the customer of what it appears to be, we perform the testing and diagnostics that are common and work towards a “cure”. If this “common repair” to the “symptom doesn’t work, we need to let the customer know that “further tests” must be performed. Communication should include the next steps leading up to and including the “worst case scenario”. the communciation should also increase during this time so that the customer is aware of the “phase” you are at in diagnostics. Within this method, they also realize the level of expertise is increasing as is the cost of repair and it is more serious than they thought.

    The parallel might seem drastic, but the key is communication in the diagnostic process that keep shte consumer informed of what you are going through.

    After saying all of this, we must reassure ourselves that when we are repairing a vehicle that we are truly diagnosing symptoms and not “throwing parts at it”…if our techmique is the latter, the above is void.

    Aaron, you believe you saved your customer and that was the result you needed. I hope moving forward the above may assist you should a challenge like this pose itself again.

    Ray Fisher

  • rhopp

    April 18, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Perhaps an important point here is to avoid this in the future if 


    An SOP could be; if standard testing indicates an internal problem 

    requiring tear down for inspection, and the inspection reveals 

    nothing conclusive (no compromised gaskets, machine shop tests OK, 

    inspection of deck, cylinders etc is acknowledged by technician), 

    then vehicle owner is informed of the inconclusive results and made 

    aware that reassembly is at their risk. I wouldn’t have any 

    emotional baggage about offering engine replacement at this point. 

    We’ve bought several over the years after just such a mishap. 

    Communications and systems in place are keys. 

  • Philip Fournier

    April 18, 2012 at 6:14 pm


    What I try to do with these kinds of situation is draw a benefit for the future. What went wrong in the diagnostic procedure? Is there some way we could have avoided the problem? If not, could we have avoided putting the heads back on the second time?

    I have had situations like this at least twice that I can remember; combustion gases in the radiator, a heating up situation, and a diagnosis of head gaskets or a cracked head. However, when the head gasket looked fine and no cracks were found in the heads, it should/could have been a stopping point, but in both cases, like you, we simply forged ahead with wishful thinking, and both times we got completely flogged. The first time, we ate the head gasket job completely and got paid for a motor replacement. The second time, we ate the whole thing because the owner decided to trade the vehicle in.

    It sounds like you will come out ok, but see if you can’t parlay the bad experience into some useful lesson for the future.

  • mattsauto

    April 25, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    “As an industry we sometimes discount ourselves for the

    professionals that we are because we may have misssed a step in the

    process, we thought that it was what the customer would accept or it

    was a “knee-jerk” resolution; we need to stop that so that we remain

    profitable and stay in business to meet their future needs; it is a

    pseudo resolution that creates bad consumer behavior.”

    Ray, this is something I’m dealing with at my “full-time” job at a

    leading parts store. The last few years, previous/former team members

    were quick to offer discounts and even set-up some frequent walk-in

    customers as commercial customers to give them discounts. Apart from

    the bottom line damage, the store lost its Asst. Mgr. position (not

    the person, but the position itself) because their actions made the

    balance of sales completely lopsided toward commercial. This has had

    a lasting effect in that we have those people come in today and wonder

    what happened to their discount. When we explain that the reason they

    see so many new faces in the store is as a result of those decisions,

    they understand.

    This is a small community, but we have 5 parts house competitors, 4

    national chains and 1 local. As you can imagine, every sale is a

    fight. How should any of us go about changing bad customer behavior?

  • mattsauto

    April 25, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    BTW… I really appreciate your comparison with the medical field.

    Try asking your doctor for a discount on his services, or the grocery

    store. The only difference I see is the customer mood. At the

    doctor, there is a mood of concern for their health and well-being.

    At the shop or parts store, their mood is often frustration because

    they “have to spend more money on that !#@$! car”. Around here we have

    a lot of “old school” shade-trees that still disconnect the battery to

    test the alternator while that 2005 Honda is running. Very rarely do

    we see someone who says, “I just want it fixed, let me know what I

    owe.” It’s more like, “why do I have to buy head bolts; why can’t you

    just re-use the old ones? You’re just trying to make more money.” Do

    any of ya’ll have ideas of how to overcome this type of mood or

    mentality? I have a method in mind, that works, but I’d love to hear

    what you all have to say.

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