Multiple Answers
You’re at the emergency room, you’re left arm is swelling up,
pain relief is a priority.  The initial diagnosis involves a few x-rays
and checking your vital signs.  The nurse writes down all the
information on your chart and then places it by the door of the
exam room so the doctor can read it.  The doctor enters the
exam room already flipping the pages of information, and takes
a seat on the little stool.  The doctor introduces himself, “Hello,
I’m Doctor Smith,” with the formal introductions out of the way
the next question is usually in regards to the information on the
chart and his initial evaluation.  He asks, “So, how’d ya break
your arm?”  Without hesitation, you go into a detailed explanation
of how it all happened. In some cases the story is very important
to the diagnosis, while other times it’s just another one of those
typical stories the doctor has probably heard before.  Never
the less, they’ll listen.  (I think they call that “bed side” manner.) 
When your tests are done, the cast is applied, and you’ve got a
few pain meds prescribed, it’s off you go to home sweet home. 

Now what in the world does a trip to the emergency room have to do with cars? Well, nothing, and everything at the same time.  If you’ve ever stood at the service counter and was asked, “So what’s wrong with the car?” you might find this interesting.  Just as the doctor asked when he entered the exam room there is a few primary questions to answer at the service counter.  At the emergency room it’s all about gathering pertinent information about the problem and it’s the same at the service counter.  There’s no doubt even at the ER the answers to the questions can be jumbled up and misleading as they can be at the service counter.

    The service writer isn’t asking, “How you broke you’re car.” But, “What’s wrong with the car.”  For some people answering that question with, “It doesn’t shift, or the battery is dead every morning” isn’t possible.  They somehow start in the middle and work back to the beginning of their story, and then finally to the real reason why they are there.  I’m still baffled at the answers I get on these occasions, and just like the ER doctor, listening to the various replies takes a bit of patience.  Sometimes I have it… sometimes I don’t.

Let’s face it; I fix cars not people.  If I could ask the car directly I probably would. But, as it is, the car can’t speak. (Yet) In the meantime, standing at the service counter and deciphering the bits and pieces of information from the owner seems to be the best way.  Needless to say, at times, there’s a lot of piecing together to be done.

     Granted, a lot of people don’t know the first thing about cars and with the internet full of suggestions and friends with more than a cursory knowledge of the modern automobile the confusion at the service counter can be overwhelming.  I hear all kinds of wild and exotic solutions and explanations about car problems when I’m standing at the counter. All this random information might seem important, when in reality, most of the time, less = more.  

The other day I had an encounter at the counter after asking the usual question, “What’s wrong with the car?” It was definitely one of those multiple answer and confusing explanation type of situations.  I generally keep notes as people are explaining things to me.  I was going to need a lot of scratch pad on this one.

  The owner began with, “It doesn’t start every once in a while.” 

   Our conversation covered the typical reasons for an intermittent no start, which also brought up the diagnostic hassles with this type of problem, and the problems of trying to find intermittent issues.

“As long as I can duplicate the problem I can fix it,” I told him.

“Oh, you won’t have any trouble with that,” he answered, “It does it all the time.”

     Now that’s interesting, before it was once in a while, now it’s all the time.  I think I’m somewhere in the middle of this story right about now… I hope we get to the finale soon.  Cross out intermittent and below that write “does it often” on the scratch pad.

“That’s slightly different from what you just told me.  When you say all the time, do you mean once in a while or do you mean,” holding my fingers up for quotations, “all” the time?”

He answered, “What I mean is, it’s doing it more often now.”

  “That’s great,” I said with a smile, “I’ll be able to find the source of the problem much easier now.  Let’s get it into the shop as soon as possible and run a few tests.”

   “Super, I’ll get it towed in this afternoon,” he cheerfully replied.

  “Wait a minute,” I answered with a questioning tone, “Why a tow truck?”

   “I’ve tried to start it every day for the past 2 weeks and it still hasn’t started.  That’s what I’ve been telling you.  It doesn’t start.”

     I checked my scratch pad, several pages of jotted notes, turn back to page one, cross out “does it often” below it write D.O.A.  It’s just another round and around story at the service counter. 
I really wanted to tell this guy. “What if we started this whole conversation in reverse? So when I ask, “What’s wrong with the car?”  You say, “It hasn’t started for the last 2 weeks, but before that it was intermittent at best.”  I should have, but I didn’t.  Would have made a whole lot more sense that way and probably would have saved a few pages of that scratch pad too. 

Of course, there are the ones that have to lump everything and anything that has ever gone wrong with the car into their present story. (You’ll need a lot more paper to jot these stories down.) That simple question of what’s wrong becomes a dissertation of every little bump or bruise the car has ever had.  And, they have to throw in every shop that’s worked on it and every part that’s ever been changed.  Is it important?  Well, kind of, but probably not as important as what’s wrong with the car now.

    Ya just gotta smile, and go on.  If it makes that particular customer feel better to tell every little bit about their car by all means… tell your story.  Whatever way you’d like to tell it is fine with me, and it doesn’t matter about the multiple answers you have to the question or what order you want to tell them.  I’ll try to keep up and sort out the important parts.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of scratch pads and pens.  Will it change the outcome of the repair?  Nope, not a bit.  But I’m sure, just like any emergency room doctor will tell you too; these stories sure do make for an interesting day at the office.

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