Visiting The Service Department

Green Garage Community Car Clinic 6.8.17
All Photos by Randy Stern

Service. It is the most important part of the automobile ownership experience.

If something is wrong with your vehicle, you want it fixed. If you are unable to do your own maintenance, the service bay is where they can do it for you. When a recall notice is sent out, the service team is obliged to apply the fix to fulfill the requirements of the manufacturer.

As vehicle owners or lessors, we demand a lot from our mechanics. We want our vehicle's problems resolved. We want our vehicles to operate at peak performance and that everything inside of them works accordingly. We also want to make sure they meet the standards set by the manufacturer.

It sounds simple, but it is not.

A service department at a dealership or an independent garage is our assurance that anything that goes wrong with our automobiles has a resolution. If it is fixable, then it should be to the satisfaction of the vehicle's owner. It should also be reasonable for the owner to pay for the cots or to see if it is covered by a warranty, recall, or service agreement. If there is not a fix, at least the service department should discuss options with the owner as to a different fix or replacement.

If you take the perspective of the service advisor, they have to apply their knowledge of the vehicle to record the problem or to find a quick resolution to avoid being on the lifts. They also must be knowledgeable of warranties, service contracts, and service bulletins from the manufacturer. As vehicle owners, we must put our trust with our service advisor, as they are the one point of contact through the process of the service being requested.

Again, this all sounds simple, but it is not. Like your vehicle, servicing it is as complex these days. You can plug in a tool, work through the computers inside of the automobile to find the exact problem towards the fix. Or, it could as visible as a broken part that is repairable – simple or not.

I try very hard not to bring in vehicles for service. Not because I want to avoid the dealership, quite the contrary. I know that I have friends and contacts in the fixed ops world to go to when I have specific branded vehicles needing some attention.

However, I took a car I worked with to do a 5,000-mile service and a recall fulfillment. These may seem routine in today's automotive world – yes, the recall fix, as well – but, it gave me an opportunity to experience what it is like to use a service department at a dealership to measure how customers deal with the routine of ensuring their vehicle is in tip-top shape.

The vehicle in question was the 2018 Toyota C-HR XLE. When it was delivered, the maintenance reminder light came on. The delivery person and I discussed whether I should take it in for the required service. I volunteered to do so. Therefore, I began looking for local dealers to see whether they would take the C-HR for the scheduled service.

I called two dealers a couple of hours after taking delivery of the C-HR. One Toyota store seemed too busy to really care about assisting me. They scheduled it for a Friday appointment – two days later than my call into them. The second Toyota dealer not only was very helpful, the appointment maker informed me that the service was covered under Toyota Care and could take me in a few hours later that day.

That second dealer was Rudy Luther Toyota in Golden Valley, Minnesota – which was my nearest Toyota store to my home. Let me just say that it was the best choice to take the C-HR in for that scheduled routine maintenance.

The 5,000-mile service was an inspection that encompassed everything. Toyota does not perform an oil change, along with a change of other fluids and filters, until the 10,000-mile service. Under Toyota Care, those services are covered at no additional cost. The people at Rudy Luther – both the advisor in the service lane and the call center person I booked the appointment with – explained this to me. Furthermore, this was performed on a vehicle that was delivered to another dealer in another state.

Where the other dealer lost my business was that the call center person did not state the service on the C-HR was covered under Toyota Care. I asked how much for a service and was quoted a charge for an oil change.


When I took in the C-HR for the appointment, Rudy Luther's staff honored the Toyota Care program without question. The service advisor was helpful, even when things were very busy during an afternoon rush. They explained what was going to happen to the C-HR. Plus, they also informed me of a recall that was on the C-HR which required approximately an additional 90 minutes for the service to complete.

On the latter point, I explained that I was to meet some people afterward my original appointment. They went ahead and scheduled the recall work the next day when they had more than enough techs to perform the recall fix. Everything was agreed upon and I actually felt satisfied with my first service engagement with Rudy Luther for the C-HR.

I settled in briefly at the service lounge, where you had coffee, tea, and other beverages and snacks available. It was a comfortable place to be. Then, the service was complete. The advisor explained what was done and that everything checked out to Toyota's specifications. I settled with the cashier to ensure that Toyota Care will cover it, and I was on my way.

My second visit was exactly what they stated regarding the recall repair. They advised me that they would have to download the fix via their Wi-Fi system. The actual timing would depend on the traffic within their system. As a precaution, I stayed off the Internet to allow them to do the fix. In fact, it took less than 90 minutes to complete. The C-HR was done with Rudy Luther in better form than it arrived in the day before.

While I relaxing in the service lounge, I noticed the level of satisfaction on almost every customer. They knew what to expect, though a couple had to be explained that additional services needed to be done, such as a bulb replacement in one case and a battery replacement in the other. What I noticed was the advisors were up front on these services and advised on when they should consider replacement if it was not replaced while they were there. They were also informed of the estimated cost.

A lot of customers would balk at these recommendations. They did, but they understood what was needed and asked if there were any alternatives. The conversations were calm on both sides – which was exactly how they should be. It is an automobile, and, yes, they need to be in tip-top shape for it to run through its lifespan of ownership. I only noticed one customer who was a bit concerned about getting their vehicle complete. I did not gather as to the reason why the wait was long, but the customer was calmer as the advisor assured of its completion and the reason for the delay.

All of this are examples of what should happen at a service department of a dealership. It is driven by one overarching principle: excellent customer service. I felt at ease at a Toyota dealer, as I would at a Lexus dealer or a Mercedes-Benz one.

This is not the first time I engaged with a service department. I dealt with tire replacements at a local Lexus dealer to tire pressure gauge resets at a few others. For the most part, the advisors were superb and the work performed was done accordingly. I had a couple of service visits that did not go well. I will not name the dealerships and the nature of the inquiry, but I did leave rather pissed off that (a) the advisor did not know what I was talking about and (b) did not know how to resolve it. One such visit had a third party to deal with. That was exacerbated by the third party having to transfer us multiple times to various departments, along with giving us multiple answers.

Not every service engagement will be the same unless you are a satisfied and loyal customer of a dealership. And, keep in mind that your service experience may vary. But, always consider a few things: you want a problem resolved, so explain what you know. If you really don't know what the problem is, listen to the service advisor who truly knows what could be the problem. If it takes more money, have them explain your options if you do not have enough to pay for the incidental repair, Ask questions – and there are no dumb questions, honestly. Lastly, be calm, cool, and relaxed throughout the entire process. If there are any issues, do not be afraid to ask for a supervisor – just like any customer service scenario.

Common sense? Absolutely. Ultimately, it is your automobile that you trust to have the problem resolved. No matter if it is a dealership or an independent garage, everyone should be satisfied in the end – the service advisor included.

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