Communication: Auto Repair at Its Worst

When an auto repair transaction turns sour, an important element is the communication that transpired between the shop and the customer. It often boils down to what the customer feels was promised and what the shop thinks is an unreasonable demand. 

The auto repair environment can be full of obstacles to customer satisfaction. Working on a complex machine, under time and monetary constraints, lends itself to unfulfilled expectations. At the core of this is the communication deficit created by the language of auto repair.

Speaking the Language

Long before Magellan and Garmin GPS systems a friend once remarked that he didn’t know that there was anything in his car that had to do with driving directions. I asked what he meant and his response was,” Well I had to get my M.A.P. sensor replaced,” This incident points out a real problem with auto repair – its lexicon. Some of the terms seem to be designed to instill fear- master cylinder,universal joint and planetary gear are examples.

Other part names and terms use a sea of acronyms that bedazzle the uninitiated. “Your car came in with the MIL (Check Engine Light) on. The DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Code) tells us that it’s an under performing EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation) valve. But don’t worry we’re replacing it with OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts specific to your TBI (Throttle Body Injection) equipped vehicle.We should have you out of here quicker than you can say EVAP system.”

What’s going on here? Is it just jargon or is it some conscious effort to keep you in the dark about your car? The answer is yes to both of these questions. There is a need within the industry to streamline the terms for the sake of efficiency, unfortunately the use of the terms many times carries over to conversations with car owners, who have little or no background in things automotive. And yes, in any sales scenario knowledge is power, so the less you understand the easier closing the sale becomes, but there is a remedy to that.

How Can You Help?

While no one would expect you to become a SAE fellow in the course of bartering for a brake job, it would be nice to learn something while you’re spending your money. So, the antidote to an avalanche of technical lingo would be to ask,”What does that mean and what will it do?”. You might want to pay attention to the answer because it may reflect on your auto repair shop’s willingness to educate and their confidence in their own expertise. A comfort level with imparting information usually indicates a higher level of knowledge. The antithesis of this would be the shop that responds, “You wouldn’t understand it even if I explained it.” If you get this response, it would probably be in your best response to demand an explanation or find yourself a new auto shop. 

A resource for technical automotive terms is the Motor Era web site specifically But you won’t have to go there for the meaning of the two bunches of letters I didn’t identify. MAP refers to manifold absolute pressure and the SAE is the Society of Automotive Engineers.