Getting Technical by Ken Adams
Helping Your Technician Fix it right the first time
The goal articulated in the Mercedes-Benz service slogan “Fix it right the first time” is more than just an MBUSA business initiative to increase customer satisfaction and reduce costs.
It is also a source of pride for us as technicians. Achieving it represents a feeling of accomplishment and a commitment to our clients. However, there are challenges that make this increasingly difficult. Vehicles have become more complicated, and expectations of both customers and our executives are higher than ever.
As technicians, we realize it is our ultimate responsibility to achieve this goal. Often, however, there are bits of information that we don’t have that would have gone a long way in resolving problems the first time. Having been in the Mercedes-Benz service business for more than 20 years, I can’t tell you how many times a repair order has been given to me with vague descriptions of the client’s concern.
There is a perception that the onboard computers that monitor and store fault codes will tell us what’s wrong. While this is partially true, these fault codes sometimes only give us a clue as to where to begin our diagnosis. Proper diagnosis can only begin when we can clearly duplicate and identify the problem.
Good communication at every level is paramount. As a client, you can help by giving your technician an accurate description of what is or is not happening, the driving conditions, the speeds at which the symptoms occur, how long the vehicle must be driven before the symptoms manifest, and any other pertinent information.
Your service adviser is responsible for recording this information on the repair order so that the technician has the best chance of identifying the problem and ultimately making the correct repair – the first time.
Consider this: Let’s say you bring your vehicle in for making a noise when driving. You meet with your service adviser and he or she initiates a repair order listing your concern. The job is dispatched to a technician, who reads on the order, “Owner states there is a noise when driving.” The technician test-drives the vehicle on his normal route but does not hear anything abnormal. He closes the repair order, writing something along the lines of “unable to duplicate.” You pick up your vehicle and continue to experience the same problem. Not surprisingly, you’re frustrated from spending valuable time and sometimes money, only to leave with the same problem.
What might have enabled a successful repair? Perhaps more detailed information conveyed to the service technician, for example, “My vehicle makes an odd noise when driving, but this only occurs at freeway speeds usually after driving for 10 or more minutes. I also hear the sound when accelerating slightly from 50 mph.” Remember, in most cases, the more information, the better.
As a technician, I would then know to plan on driving the car on the freeway with the proper diagnosis equipment in hand or connected prior to the test-drive. I might want to bring electronic “chassis ears,” an example of the modern equipment that has proven invaluable in locating and solving difficult-to-find noises.
Chassis ears consist of a series of wireless transmitters with clamps that can be attached under the vehicle to components such as differentials, transmissions, and suspensions. These transmitters are secured to the vehicle with Velcro straps and transmit wirelessly to a receiver in the vehicle. As many as six transmitters can be used simultaneously. The technician can then listen to each channel individually via headphones to isolate the source of abnormal noises. A fantastic tool for sure, but the point is that knowing what’s needed to duplicate the concern helps the technician prepare for the diagnosis. Setting up the chassis ears, for example, can be time consuming initially, but if technicians know what they are trying to resolve, they will take the extra time for the proper setup.
Because most good technicians recognize the time savings in the long run, this is time well spent. Often there are other variables, including traffic, distance to a freeway, and weather conditions, that play a part in the equation.
Communication is critical to duplicating, identifying, and resolving the problem. In today’s high-tech environment, there are many ways to communicate. Most dealership service advisers use e-mail to correspond, an ideal way to convey a difficult problem to the service team. A customer’s e-mail can be printed and attached to the repair order to aid the technician. If you’re not an e-mail user, even simple observations written on a napkin are helpful. Some situations warrant a test-drive with a technician to demonstrate a concern. Don’t be afraid to ask; we are more than happy to provide this extra measure of service.
Finally, please allow ample time to meet with your service adviser. The typical check-in takes approximately 20 minutes. Too often I notice clients who want to get in and out as quickly as possible. These days, vehicle check-in is quite involved. Writing down your concerns or e-mailing them in advance speeds up the process. You could save valuable time and money in the long run, so don’t shortchange yourself by rushing.
Just the Facts; All the Facts
Following are the key questions you need to answer to help the technician resolve issues “the first time.”
• When does the symptom occur? After sitting all night, when starting up after stopping, or after being driven for a while?
• Does the symptom occur at idle or under way and, if so, at which speeds?
• Does the symptom occur under load? Deceleration? Braking? Turning?
• Does ambient temperature have an effect?
• How long must the vehicle be driven before the symptom arises?
In short, any information helps. The more details you can provide, the better.
Ken Adams is a Mercedes-Benz Master Technician at Park Avenue Motors in Palo Alto, California. For more information, visit www.parkavenuemotors.com.