To fix or not to fix, that is the question

In my last installment we began discussing what to tell a customer who wants to know if his or her vehicle is worth fixing. This was prompted by an excellent email exchange that went on between me and some of my independent car repair shop owner friends. Here’s a summary of that lively exchange:

“How should I respond when a customer asks whether the vehicle is worth investing the money for repairs?”

We began by agreeing that no technician can answer that question for a customer. It’s our job just to provide them with a thorough inspection, all the facts, and let them decide. The vehicle inspection sheet should include what looks great and what may be needed in a year or two, or in the next 20,000 miles.

It’s especially important not to insult a customer who is driving something we would consider nearly worn out, as it may seem like a part of their family! Start by researching the current value of the vehicle on a website like kbb.com or edmunds.com. Would the needed repairs increase the trade-in value of the vehicle? As always, it’s vital we are honest with the customer and imagine the customer is a family member asking for advice.

A technician should ask customer the following questions:

  • Do you like this vehicle? If there is a sentimental attachment it changes everything.
  • Does it meet your current transportation needs?
  • What are your driving habits? How many miles do you drive in a week?
  • Before this repair came up, how long were you planning to keep the vehicle?
  • Do you think you could find another vehicle that would be in as good a condition and pass inspection for the amount of the repair investment?
  • How much are you willing to spend in a year’s time to keep any car on the road?
  • Is the vehicle paid for? If you put $1,000 into a car that lasts two years longer, that makes the monthly cost $40—substantially less than a new car payment.
  • How important is timing to you? We can take care of this repair just a day or two. Searching for another car may take days or even weeks.

One thing that some customers forget is that getting another vehicle does not mean all repair issues will disappear. This vehicle is known to them.

Another vehicle would have an unknown history and the possibility of other repair expense.

Of course, if our customer decides the repair expense for the current vehicle is not worth it, we explain our pre-purchase car inspection program, or “car physical.” We highly recommend this complete inspection which saves our customers from obvious lemons, and gives them information to negotiate a fair price for another vehicle.