Parts, Prices, and People

There’s one thing that never changes in the world
of auto repair, and that’s change.  Every model, every
year has some slight difference from the previous one. 
Even though functionally, the same results are
achieved, the newer version will undoubtedly
accomplish it with a slightly modified or different
component than the older version. The big issue is
usually cost of those replacement parts, and
sometimes that’s a real shocker to the consumer
when they get the estimate for repairs.

One rather hectic morning a lady came in with
a headlight problem.  The diagnostics came to an
abrupt halt when the dimmer switch lever was
found dangling from the steering column.
A pretty straight forward repair, tear down the steering column and replace the switch, then see if there was any other problems down the line. But, it wouldn’t be much of a story if that’s all it was, now would it?

The part in question was not just a dimmer switch, but the entire combination switch: turn signals, cruise, etc… and the part, oh boy, was it outrageously expensive.  I’ve had many of these seemingly insignificant components that you would think wouldn’t break the bank turn out to be so expensive. Some people can’t cope with the reality of the cost, and take their anger out at the front desk.  This was no exception.  When the parts supplier quoted me the price on the phone I was already shaking my head, knowing what was going to happen next.  I said to the parts guy, “You know, the price of this part is going to be the deal breaker on this one.  How in the world am I going to sell this gold plated dimmer switch to this lady?  I know it’s not your fault, and I know you’re just the messenger… but you probably know what I’m going to be dealing with next.”   He laughingly answered, “Yea, I know.  I get the same reaction from shops all the time… sorry bud, but you know how it goes.”

I realize the cost of some of these parts and components is enough to sink a battle ship; it’s just something you have to deal with as the mechanic.. or the consumer.  Just to be on the safe side I called all my other suppliers and the dealer parts department to compare prices.  Everybody had about the same price, give or take a little. 

I’d like to think that I’m very sympathetic to the unknowing consumer’s pocket book. I really feel sorry for them, but I just can’t do anything about the cost of some of these parts.  At this point, it’s out of my hands, it is what it is. Now the fun part, I have to break the news to this lady.
“This is highway robbery.  You’re gouging me! It shouldn’t cost that much for a dimmer switch! I had one changed on a car I had several years ago, and it didn’t cost this much! I’m not paying that, I’ll take it elsewhere, and I’m never coming back here again!” said the lady. (You know, I actually expected that kind of response.)  Stands to reason when a customer has a thought in their head as to how much something should cost, and you throw a number at them that is completely off the charts, they’re going to go ballistic.  Calming this lady down wasn’t going to work, she had made up her mind that this wasn’t right, and was bound and determined to let me know just what she thought of the whole thing.

The more I explained, the angrier she got. It’s not like this lady was a new customer, quite the opposite. She had been in several times for other repairs, and I never had a problem before, but now I’ve got a situation that isn’t going to end happily no matter what I do.  Customer reaction to the cost of parts is nothing new, typically they’ll make a few calls and find out it’s pretty much the same anywhere they go.  Sometimes, they’re so ticked off at the thought of spending that much they won’t come back. Pride I guess.  They’ll go to another shop just so they can avoid a face to face confrontation with the original shop that gave them the quote.  I totally understand that, even though it does seem a bit foolish. 

I may diagnose it, find the problem, and write the estimate up, only to have the cost of the part become the dagger that kills the deal.  The sad part of it is, there are lots of components on today’s cars that are quite frankly… way overpriced. (We all know it, but again…we can’t do anything about that.) Try explaining the cost of replacing HID headlights and ballast to someone who just came in thinking they needed a new bulb.  YIKES!

Comparing one car to the next doesn’t work anymore either, and if for some reason a customer calls a parts store and the right information isn’t passed to the counterperson by the caller, chances are the quoted price will be for the wrong application.  Nine chances out of ten when that happens the price is likely to be for a cheaper component that doesn’t fit, or is the wrong part all together. Now my job at the service counter becomes even more difficult.

As the lady stormed out of the lobby full of other customers she had to spout off one more time about how much of a crook I was, and how she was never coming back.  She made it a point to tell all the other customers waiting on their cars that they should think twice about having me work on their cars.  Seriously lady, ya made your point… now leave.

The next day I got a call from a shop on the other side of town.  He said he just had a very disturbing, very demanding lady show up to his shop.   (This particular shop is one that I’ve done business with for more than a decade.)  He told the lady that he doesn’t do electrical work, but refers that type of problem to my shop.

The lady sternly told him, “Well, I just left there. They are way too expensive, and I’m never going back there. So you fix it instead!”

He promptly told her, “Well, ma’am, he’s the best in town, and I don’t do that kind of repair. That’s why we send everything there.”

“Who else would you recommend?” she asked.

“Nobody,” he replied.

“Well I need it done, and I’m not having them do it.”

“I guess then, if you’re not going to have them do it, it ain’t getting done… you’re on your own lady.”
I got a laugh out of that one.

(Thanks for sticking up for me partner… appreciate that.) Of course, I haven’t seen the lady again.  I’m sure she found somebody to change out the dimmer switch by now.  But, I doubt it was any cheaper.  Parts and their prices will constantly change, and will always challenge our perception of what things should cost.  On the other hand, some people’s perception about the prices of car repair… may never change.

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