As you visit your preferred service provider, or perhaps search for a new service provider, one of the topics to understand is how the shop conducts inspections.
In years gone by, during simpler vehicle technologies, many inspections could be done visually and perhaps without need for removal of parts to access needed areas of the vehicle. A visual inspection is just that – visual – and it does not include the removal of items to access the components to properly check for mechanical fitness. For example, many vehicles today have batteries located in areas that cannot be easily reached. Therefore, to conduct a proper battery test, it may be necessary to remove components to access the battery.
A visual inspection may be used to recommend a full inspection and courtesy or free inspections are often visual.
What’s important for you as a consumer?
When you request a seasonal check this fall, you need to know what is being inspected and how. For example, is your battery is being checked, or not? In many cases, service provider shops will check batteries that are accessible but require your approval (as there may be an additional costs) on batteries that are not accessible. The best way you can be sure what is being checked or not is to ask your service provider to use a documented checklist. You will receive a copy of this checklist with your invoice and be assured that the shop, the technician, and even you (if you decline to have the battery checked) are accountable for the work performed. Some shops also use electronic inspections that allow you to access your inspection results online.
When it comes to components such as brakes, it’s important for you to know if the shop is conducting a visual inspection or a “tear down” inspection. A visual inspection on front brakes would have the technician look through the wheel to see if the brake pads are looking low. At this point they may suggest replacing pads and rotors. The difference comes when a shop conducts a brake inspection by removing the wheels. In this case, the service technician removes the caliper bracket (that houses the pads) and then removes and measures the brake pads. At this time, they also have access to the rotors which would be measured for thickness and a decision can be made on whether the rotor can be machined or should be replaced. It’s also possible for the technician to test the caliper and determine if it is working properly or if it needs replacing.
So, as you can see, a visual inspection may not cost you anything at the beginning but could bring future “surprises” that cannot be determined unless a full inspection is conducted. Service providers will normally charge a fee for a full inspection and with that you should get a detailed report showing all items inspected. You should also expect a detailed written estimate that clearly distinguishes the needed items vs. the suggested items (the subject of my next blog). With a full inspection, you can make an informed decision as to the level of investment required and avoid surprises from not knowing what may lie below the visual inspection.
Rui Martins is the Vice-President of AAEC – Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre, a company dedicated to the professional development of service provider shops. If you have any questions related to this blog Rui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org