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Consumer Repair Guide
Good Communication

To receive the most efficient and accurate vehicle repair, a consumer must provide the clearest and most comprehensive information possible. You know your car and will be the first to notice when performance changes. You also know your car's repair and maintenance history. The more information you can share with a technician, the better prepared he is to identify problems.

Many people jump to a diagnosis so they seem knowledgeable -- hoping that a specific request for "just a tune-up" prevents a repair facility from piling services they don't need onto their bill. A better tactic is to describe symptoms as you would with your doctor. It's fine to look at the troubleshooting chart in your owner's manual, but let the expert do the diagnosis.

The more specific and thorough you can be about your vehicle's performance, the more you help the technician zero in on the problem. Be precise. For example, refer to the driver's side and passenger side (not the left or right side) of the car.

If your vehicle has been worked on recently, be sure to tell the technician. During earlier repairs, wires could have been punctured when voltages were checked. A year or two later, there may be corrosion inside those wires, causing high resistance that results in poor engine performance.

Ideally, put your observations in writing. If you go into the shop with a written list, that's a good safeguard that you will provide thorough information without forgetting anything.

Sharing information empowers you and the technician. No one expects you to have the technical expertise to define the problem, but your observations are critically important.

You may feel some of your observations are a little silly or irrelevant, but note them anyway. Full disclosure will save the technician time. If you do not share what you know about your vehicle, the best case is that the diagnosis will cost you more; the worst case is that needed repairs will not be made and you could endanger yourself and your passengers.

Here is an example of a problem description that is detailed and useful to a technician.

  • I notice a rattle under the hood when I reach 40 mph.
  • The car begins to stall when I hear this noise.
  • I notice this problem on warm days after the car has been running about 20 minutes.
  • The car restarts but black smoke blows out of the tailpipe.

Information to share with technicians

  • Are any dashboard warning lights on?
  • When did you first notice the problem?
  • When do you notice it now? (e.g., time of day, after driving a specific length of time).
  • When do you NOT notice the problem?
  • What are you doing when you notice the problem (e.g., accelerating, turning left, going over a bump).
  • What feels different to you? (e.g., steering is loose, brakes don't respond immediately, vibration).
  • What do you hear? (e.g., rattling, backfires, screeching).
  • Are there any special circumstances when you notice the problem? (e.g., when the radio is on, when the trunk is full of groceries).
  • Do you notice any unusual smells?
  • Do you notice any leaks or fluid stains? What color is the fluid? Where do the stains appear?
  • Has the car been repaired recently? Have you tried to repair it yourself?
  • Is the car using more fluids than normal?
  • Do you feel a difference in handling?
  • Under what driving and weather conditions do you notice problems?
  • Does the car pull in one direction or vibrate?
  • Do you smell burning rubber? That could mean overheated brakes or clutch.