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YOUR WHEELS / RALPH VARTABEDIAN

Service Advisers Are Part Salesperson, Part Mechanic

April 22, 1993|RALPH VARTABEDIAN

Question: Is it true that service writers or service advisers work on commissions?

--L.S.

Answer: Most dealerships and many large independent garages pay the service adviser a commission amounting to 10% of the repair orders written, in addition to a base salary.

The friendly, well-dressed service writer, who sometimes wears a lab coat with his or her name on the pocket and who pleasantly greets you in a professional manner, is really a sales person.

Mechanics and auto body technicians also work on a commission basis, creating an incentive to work efficiently and intelligently. But the service writer's commission depends on how much service he can sell. All too often, you will find the service writer querying you on the last time you had your timing belt changed or whether the car needs a tuneup.

The service writer may look over the car, inspecting the cooling system hoses or the engine belts to see if they need changing. He might be providing a valuable service, if your car needs these items or a rip-off if it doesn't.

At a distance, the commission arrangement could appeal to the worst instincts in any business--inflating repair bills to rake in a fatter commission.

In practice, however, highly ethical and professional service writers can work on a commission without fleecing customers. It isn't the commission that makes for a bad service writer.

A good service writer is a good sales person--someone who wants to build a trusted clientele for the garage. All too often, motorists have no idea of a car's problems. So the service writer is part mechanic, part diagnostician and part psychoanalyst.

Cars are getting extremely complex and it requires an enormous amount of training to diagnose the computer-controlled fuel, ignition, brake and transmission systems.

If you want competent work performed on your car, you often are going to need highly paid service writers and mechanics--regardless of whether they earn a commission or are on a straight salary.

Conversely, newer cars require less basic maintenance--fewer tuneups, oil changes, chassis lubrications and alignments. So, some service writers may have greater incentive to find additional work on the cars that drive through the door.

You should be wary of service writers, for example, who recommend routine maintenance not suggested in the owner's manual or doing it more frequently than suggested. It may be a valid recommendation (in the case of oil changes, for instance), but the service writer should be able to clearly defend the additional work.

You also might want to have more than one garage. You might want a low-cost corner gas station for your oil changes, a discounter for tires and a dealership for periodic maintenance.

Finally, look for a garage that has certified mechanics and that belongs to organizations trying to improve the business. Two of those include Automotive Service Excellence and the Automobile Service Council.

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