Shop Talk

By Chandra Orr

August 21, 2009 5 min read

Power control modules. Rear differentials. Intake manifold gaskets. Confused?

It may sound like your mechanic is speaking a different language, but with a little know-how, you can find common ground.

"Your vehicle is probably the most important mechanical device you have, and the value is only realized when it's out of commission," said Rick Jorgensen, general manager of NAPA Auto Parts in Goodland, Kan. "If you can't communicate with your repair professional, if you don't understand what your technician is doing to your vehicle, your technician is not doing his job correctly."

To get the most from your mechanic, communication is key. Don't be afraid to ask questions -- a lot of questions.

"Today's automobile is an extremely complex machine," said Joe Erickson, territory manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic's Approved Auto Repair Network. "Be informed. Don't be afraid to ask detailed questions, including specific component names and how they relate to the repairs."

What repairs are needed now? What will happen if the repairs are not done now? Does the vehicle need any further inspection or disassembly? Are there any preventative repairs needed at this time? What will the repair cost when finished? How long will the repair take?

Forget about overkill. The more questions you ask, the more information you have to make informed decisions about your vehicle's care.

"Most technicians are extremely good at explaining why repairs are recommended or needed. If you're not sure what your technician is telling you, stop them and ask them until you feel comfortable," Erickson said.

It also helps to have a basic understanding of key automotive repair terms. Read the owner's manual and know the following:

* Malfunction Indicator Light (MIL): Also known as the "check engine" light, the MIL lights up when one or more monitored systems send improper information to the vehicle's computers. Make a mental note when the light comes on, and see your technician as soon as possible.

* Power Control Module (PCM) and Body Control Module (BCM): These internal computers monitor performance and help mechanics make an accurate diagnosis as to what repairs are needed.

* Preventive maintenance: This refers to basics like oil changes, cooling system flushes and transmission service. The owner's manual will outline a suggested maintenance schedule. Stick to it -- and keep good records. Your mechanic may want to know when your car was last serviced.

* Needed vs. Recommended Service: Needed repairs indicate one or more components have failed, and chances are you won't get very far without addressing the problem. Recommended repairs are based on manufacturer mileage guidelines or a pending component failure.

If you're having trouble making a connection with your mechanic, review the estimate with a customer service representative who can explain the complex details in easy-to-understand terms.

"A good repair facility will have people who are good at communicating with the lay person and explaining what needs to be done to your car and why," Jorgensen said.

That being said, communication is two-way street. To get the most information from your mechanic, they need plenty of information from you.

"People are afraid of being taken by their repair person, so they don't want to appear that they do not know what's going on," Jorgensen said.

However, a good mechanic will know when you're bluffing, so be honest.

"Be specific. No one knows your vehicle the way you do," he said. "Every little detail will help the repair person find out what is wrong."

Be prepared to answer questions like the following:

* When did the problem initially begin?

* When does the malfunction occur? Does it occur when the car is idle or moving?

* Does the problem occur at high speeds or in stop-and-go traffic?

* Is it an isolated event? For example, does it occur only when the air conditioning is running?

* If the car won't run, is the starter turning over the engine?

* Are there any odd sounds coming from the vehicle?

Above all else, take your time. Be patient in your efforts to understand your mechanic, and don't hesitate to hit the Internet for additional information.

"If you have any reservations, don't be afraid to hold off on repair approval until you've had a chance to do some research and collect your thoughts," Erickson said.

Like it? Share it!

  • 0