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Friday, December 9, 2011

2005 Ford F150 5.4L Trouble

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Another rare Nilson Brothers Garage irate customer interaction day came early in the Christmas season. Two weeks ago a gentleman I’ll refer to as Trucker Ford stopped in with a rough idling 2005 F150 with 5.4L engine. These have individual ‘coil on plug’ assemblies which take the place of ignition wires and single coils like the old days. Care has to be taken with this vehicle because most customers drive them until they miss or the scheduled light duty recommended 100,000 mile spark plug change, whichever comes first. As I’ve covered in older posts COP'sPlugs, this is a very tricky ordeal because the plugs break and strip out the threads in the head. The initial interaction with Trucker went like this.

“My truck just started missing and the check engine light’s on.”

“How many miles are on it?” I asked.

“Ah… about 95,000.”

I’m hoping he’s had the severe duty recommendation for his truck with a 60,000 mile spark plug service done. “Have you ever had a tune up done on the vehicle?”

“No,” Trucker’s eyeballing me with suspicion. “The book says 100,000 miles for spark plugs. Anyway, how much to check it out?”

I quote him my diagnostic fee, which includes testing and my advanced software scanner on my notebook computer which can read the more intricate ‘Mode 6’ data. I explain that to him. Trucker ain’t havin’ any.

“I can get an AutoZone code read for nothing.”

“Yeah, you can,” I agree.

“What if I go get the codes read and come back with the parts they say will fix it?”

“I don’t work like that. AutoZone is a great ‘Do It Yourself’ place for people repairing their own vehicles. I don’t put on their parts or follow their repair recommendations.”

“Okay, fine!” Trucker blurts out with a helpless arm wave. “If I do need a tune-up, how much to do it?”

I’m thinking, hell’s bells… I mean silver bells, it’s Christmas. I explain how I take the vehicle in and after a complete computer diagnostic I wait for the vehicle to cool, take off the coil on plug assemblies, crack the plug loose a quarter turn, and leave penetrating oil in the spark plug wells overnight to prevent breakage which can happen anyway. I quote him the ballpark price for all ‘COP’s’ and spark plugs, along with the various filters. I also tell him I’ll include the diagnostic in the price if it turns out to be tune-up related. I change all the ‘Coil on Plug’ assemblies when I tune these because the surest way to have an angry customer comeback is to not change them. I include them as a package deal at a little over cost, way lower than list. Trucker gets apoplectic. I listen to his tirade for a moment before holding up a hand and interrupting because he’s rapidly nearing the magic words that end in physical expulsion from Nilson Brothers Garage.

“Hold it! You’re under no obligation to do anything here. Please go have your vehicle looked at anywhere you wish. I don’t compete with AutoZone or Tune-up Masters or any other shop. Calm down and I’ll get you a copy of the estimate to take with you.”

Trucker’s still grumbling but waits until I run him off an estimate copy to take.

“Fat chance I’d ever come in here again.” Trucker takes his final parting shot before slamming the driver’s side door and shooting out of the shop.

Trucker Ford came back with his vehicle running even rougher and a receipt that looked like one you get from ‘Back Yard Bob’ – tiny universal booklet type, no business name, no state license, no EPA number, no individual parts list, and one word scrawled next to a hand written labor title: Tune-up. He hands me the receipt, red faced, and steaming.

“I got the damn tune-up done like you said and it runs worse than it did before!”

Okay, now I’ve been around the block a few times. I’m relatively competent in customer relations, even with difficult ones. First step is not to go on defense when I have not yet even laid a hand on the vehicle in question. Since there’s really nothing but a piece of paper with a few hundred dollars gone with the wind noted on it I hand it back to him.

“Mr. Ford, I’ll have to return you to our dimension for this conversation to continue. If you insist on speaking from an alternate reality, this discussion is over. What’ll it be?”

Trucker’s hands tighten into fists, the one holding his sacred receipt turns it into a wrinkled ball. He gradually gets a grip before opening his mouth to recite the magic words of expulsion. “Well… what can you do?”

“A complete diagnostic, only it won’t be included in the work cost.”

“Shit!”

Yeah, I know. You have hundreds of dollars gone and no one to blame but the guy in the mirror. “Have you tried going back to the place that did the tune-up?”

Trucker gets suddenly reluctant to speak. He dances around from one foot to another for a moment while looking around the shop. “It was a friend of a friend. He’s gone back to LA. Can I leave the truck with you now?”

I hesitated because I’m in my seventh decade so problem jobs that an unknown number of hands have already screwed around with don’t excite me like they once did. Trucker’s return from alternate reality has softened me up a little so I write a real estimate and have him sign it. A few good things surface during the physical check, and my in depth computer scan. It appears the misfires have not yet killed the very expensive catalytic converters and the only code is a random misfire code. The fuel pressure and fuel injector readings look good and the physical check reveals LA Bob did not break any plugs although they turn out to be not the updated plug Ford has a Tech Bulletin out on. I call up Trucker and give him the news. He reacts a little off key which I expected.

“You mean to tell me I still need a tune-up and it’s going to cost me three times what I’ve already blown on one!?”

Concise and accurate. “Yes, that is correct.” No use getting wordy here.

“What about the money I already dumped in it?”

“That’s between you and your friend of a friend. I’ll save all the parts for you, but it looks like all he changed were the plugs. You’re lucky they’re only the wrong ones and he didn’t break the old ones or strip the threads taking them out. That’s a blessing. One broken plug repair or stripped thread amounts to more than you paid him.”

“Shit!”

I wait without comment because anything else I say won’t make him any happier.

“Go ahead and do it.”

Since it’s Christmas I kicked in the diagnostic fee; but as I suspected, neither the truck running great nor the reduced bill pleased Trucker. He paid the bill without comment, took the keys, and away he did fly like the down of a thistle. Like I’ve always said, if you want a pat on the back in this business, best to take a couple Advil and do it yourself.  :)

That’s all for this update, but if you’re appreciative of the information, here is a link to my new novel COLD BLOODED for Nook and Kindle. If you’re kind enough to read it and like it, please review it on the site you purchase it from. Thank You! Every little bit helps my writing gig. :)

7 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

Reminds me of the student who insisted I was at fault for her being an hour late to a test.

BernardL said...

LOL! Maybe they're related, Charles. :)

raine said...

As I always say--you deal with your people very well, Bernard.
I have to deal with irate customers occasionally, and I don't always do it well.

BernardL said...

If I can keep them from descending into name calling, I'm pretty good with the customers, Raine. Unfortunately, if I fail in that regard, I'm as susceptible to a negative conclusion as you are. As in the post's reasoning message, we have to be present in the same reality before the negotiations can proceed to a positive conclusion. :)

jstrobert said...

Dejavu all over again, Need help that just happened to me On my 2006 ford expedition,now it's reading multiple misfires , injectors, coils, u2 sensors, so overwhelmed .

Bear said...

I was looking for an answer to a question when I stumbled upon this blog. Your story drew me in... I think you handled this really well and I like "7th decade of life" I'm in my 5th and I hope you many more-with that published book! Love to read it ;)

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Thanks, Bear, we're working on it. :)