Think Pieces

Michael's thoughts on the auto industry, its products, and/or this website.

Ear infections and loose gas caps

When my children were very young they often had ear infections. Each time I'd go sit in the pediatrician's waiting room for thirty minutes to an hour, then spend another ten to fifteen minutes waiting in an examining room, all so a doctor could look in my child's ears for (maybe) ten seconds and say, "It's an ear infection. I'll write a prescription for antibiotics. Come back in two weeks so I can check that the infection is gone." So for each ear infection I spent two to three hours waiting so a doctor could do a couple minutes of work.

As a result, I ended up switching pediatricians. The ones I had been using were otherwise excellent doctors, but they clearly didn't think my time was valuable.

Why am I mentioning this here? Because car dealers are often the same way. In a repair trip reported by a panel member, the Check Engine Light (CEL) had come on, so the owner took the car into the dealer. It turned out that the gas cap hadn't been tightened enough--a common cause. So all the dealer had to do was reset the CEL, which takes a minute at most. The dealer kept the car for a day and a half anyway.

My initial reaction was that I might have to add yet another item to the survey to identify this sort of issue. After all, should I be counting something so minor as a trip to the shop?

But the more I thought about it, the more I felt I should leave the form as it is. The CEL did light up, and the owner was without the car for over a day. Clearly there should be a better way for the manufacturer and dealer to handle this. For example, they might have everyone calling about a CEL check the tightness of their gas cap before bringing the car in. And the CEL might be designed to reset itself if this is the cause. Even if the latter is not possible, the dealer might simply reset the light in the drop-off lane, and not even take the car into the shop.

Update: Some VWs apparently have a separate "loose gas cap" light that turns back off once the cap is properly tightened for just this reason. Similarly, some GM cars tell their drivers to check the gas cap. Great ideas that demonstrate how smarter thinking can reduce trips to the shop.

Someone once asked me how I'd handle it if I learned that a manufacturer tried to "cheat" on my research by having dealers stock more parts, so fewer return trips would be necessary. My response: that's exactly the sort of influence I hope this research will have.

The same goes for this CEL example. Too often dealers keep a car for a day or two just to attend to a simple issue. No one currently reports days in the shop. But TrueDelta will. Not only this, but while a shop visit that requires less than an hour will count as a trip, it will not count as a day. Dealers could take steps to get vehicles with simple problems in and out of the shop more quickly. Hopefully this information will provide just the incentive they've been needing.

Thanks for reading.

Michael Karesh, TrueDelta

First posted: January 4, 2006
Last updated: November 15, 2006

Website Security Test