A dozen tips to slide you smoothly through service
On your way to the dealer for repairs?
Make an appointment
Have your VIN # handy
Tell them everything you want fixed
Don't diagnose your car
Got a rattle? Empty your vehicle's "pockets" first
Leave everything that's needed
Call if you don't get an update
Not ready today?
Can't find the problem?
Still not satisfied?
And if all else fails...
It’s bad enough that you have to take your car in to a dealership for service, but now they’re asking you for information you don’t have handy, or telling you they can’t handle everything on your list in one visit. Some things will always be beyond your control, but we have some tips on how to prepare for the smoothest possible visit.
Unless you’re just hitting the drive-through-anytime lube rack, call ahead. If you don’t, there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to fit you in. If at all possible, don’t book during the morning rush when many people are dropping off their cars en route to work, because you’ll probably have to wait in line. Many service departments have an after-hours drop-off, which may be easier for you to use.
The vehicle information number, or VIN, is unique to your car, and service departments use it to track your vehicle, especially for warranty repairs. It’s the 17-digit combination of letters and numbers that you’ll find on your ownership, and on the driver’s side of the dash visible through the windshield. It’ll be in the files at your selling dealer, but you’ll need it if you’re calling a dealer you haven’t visited before. If you haven’t memorized your license plate number, have it handy when you go up to the service counter, too.
When you make your appointment, the service coordinator assigns a block of time based on what your vehicle will need. If you show up with a list of several more issues, the shop may not be able to get to all of them, especially if other people are booked after you, or your vehicle needs specialized technicians or equipment to get everything done. When you make your appointment, mention everything you want done.
Tell the advisor what the car is doing, not what you think is wrong with it. Auto systems are very complicated and interconnected, and the problem may not be what you think it is. A suspected fuel issue, for example, might actually be faulty wiring, but the system is shutting off the gas flow to avoid flooding. Don’t be embarrassed about trying to make the noise the car is making: the people at the counter have heard it all.
Many leaking fluids can be identified by their colour, but it may not always be easy to tell if they’ve soaked into your driveway. If it’s not clear which component is leaking, try parking over a piece of cardboard. When it’s stained with fluid, take it to the shop with you to help the technician diagnose it.
Annoying rattles can be interior panels or vehicle components banging against each other. But before you take your vehicle in, empty everything – the glovebox, door pockets, centre console, and any storage bins it has – and then see if the noise is still there. You’d be surprised by how many shops “fix” rattles by cleaning out the stuff that’s rolling around in these compartments.
Your repair could be delayed if you haven’t handed over everything it could take to get into your vehicle. If you have wheel locks, the technician may need the special socket that removes them. Leave instructions if you have an aftermarket security system. If it’s a problem that could involve the keys, such as power locks that aren’t working properly, bring in all the spare keys in case they need to be reprogrammed.
In a perfect world, the service or parts department calls you right away when your car is repaired or your parts are in. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect world, and people forget. If you’re past the promised time, call in to see what’s happening.
Repairs don’t always go as planned. Sometimes the problem is more complicated than originally thought, or the parts have to be ordered. If you’ve purchased an extended service contract that includes a loaner vehicle, ask for it right away, to give the dealership time to make arrangements (almost all loaners come from third-party rental companies). Even if you don’t have a contract, see if the dealer will provide one, either at no cost or at a reduced rate. It might not happen, but it never hurts to ask.
Some issues are tougher to diagnose than others, especially if the problem is intermittent. If the service advisor just writes NFF – for “no fault found” – insist on a work order that explains your complaint in full, and exactly what the technician did to try to solve it. This can be important paperwork if the problem crops up again, especially if you initially complained while the car was in warranty and it has since expired.
Sometimes, there’s only so much the service manager can do on your behalf, especially if you’re out of warranty but think you should still be covered. Try talking to the dealer’s factory representative. If you have a case, he may be able to arrange coverage, or pay a portion of the repair. Be warned: he will be hard to reach. You’re more likely to get him through the dealer, since manufacturers usually don’t release their reps’ information.
You may be able to bring in CAMVAP, the Canadian Motor Vehicle Arbitration Plan. If you think your car has a manufacturing defect, or the manufacturer isn’t standing by the warranty, CAMVAP can go to bat for you. There are some restrictions: the automaker must be in the program (not all of them participate), and if you go through the process, you must accept the outcome as final, even if it’s not in your favour. But it’s simple to do, and best of all, it’s free.