The Pen Is Mightier Than The Wrench

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I’m assuming most of you have heard the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword”. For technicians, the pen is mightier than our wrench. When working in a shop, all you hear about is “turning hours”. Turning hours means nothing more than producing hours. We turn wrenches to produce hours, that is where the phrase came from. Another phrase you hear a lot is “flagged hours”. For every job we do, we use a time clock and punch a time card. We punch on when we start and off when we finish. On each time card, there is 10 to 12 (depending on the brand) Stickers (AKA flags). You stick a flag with a on and off punch on every repair order you get. This is how your time gets tracked throughout the day. A lot of places have a fully electronic system so they don’t use a time clock, they just log on and off using a computer. This goes for the technicians writing our “stories” on repair orders which explains what we did to diagnose and repair the customers vehicles. If they use the electronic system, they type the story, not write it by hand with a pen.. Same difference.

If you talk to any good technician, they will tell you that the pen is one of the most valuable tools in their tool box. I am going to try to explain why. What I’m about to write is based on General Motors standards, but every manufacturer wants the same thing. Warranty repairs are paid for by the manufacturer so they want to know everything they are paying for. It’s very simple… If you don’t give them what they want and how they want it, they just won’t pay the claim. This means you and your employer both lose money.

Before I go on about the write up of the repair order. I want to tell you what the repair order is. The repair order is the paper or papers which should have all the customer and vehicle information on it. Vin number, customer name, vehicle year, make, and model. It should have a separate line for each job or customers concern. If the customer comes in for an oil change, a brake noise, a check engine light, and a tire pressure light. Then there should be 4 separate lines, numbered 1-4 with detailed information on the customers concern. The detailed information should be given by the service advisors. The advisors are the people who write the repair orders and rarely get enough information which I will talk about in another blog.

If you are a customer reading this. When you bring your vehicle in for any issue or concern. Give the most information possible. As a technician, we can never have too much info. Whether your problem be temperature related, only happens over certain types of bumps, on certain roads, only when the a/c is on. All of those are just examples. If you give us as much info as possible, you are helping us help you.

When a technician finishes the repair, they are required to fill out the repair order. There are 3 things that we have to write in detail. These things are known as the 3 C’s. which stand for COMPLAINT, CAUSE, AND CORRECTION. Some dealers like to use the word concern rather than complaint which I agree on. Due to the fact that some customers may get offended and take it as you are calling them a complainer. If you know a dealership technician, ask them what the 3 C’s are. They will most likely roll their eyes and then begin to bitch about them as they tell you what they are.

I’m going to use a common problem that every technician sees everyday as the customers complaint/concern, then I will go through writing it up the correct and incorrect way. I want to make this as simple as possible so anyone can follow along and understand the process and purpose.

A customer brings in their 2016 Chevrolet Traverse. They tell the service advisor “My check engine light is on and my car is still under warranty”. They make sure to say it’s under warranty to let you know that they don’t intend on paying out of their pocket. The service advisor writes up the repair order and they write on job #1 Customer states the check engine light is on. Please check and advise.

I’m going to be the technician here. I get my repair order, read it, get the keys, and go to the car. I pull the car in the shop. I see the light is on. I check the codes for the check engine light, diagnose the concern, repair the vehicle, test drive, and park it. Now it’s time to write my repair order and explain what I did to repair this vehicle. Remember, this is the most important part of the job. Even if I didn’t fix that car, the claim will get paid this time around if i write it up correctly. If I don’t write it up the right way, its not going to get paid regardless if that car is fixed or not.

Here goes the wrong way, which is unfortunately the common way. (COMPLAINT) Check engine light is on. (CAUSE) Checked codes and found p0496. Tested purge solenoid and it was stuck. (CORRECTION) Replaced purge solnoid and cleared codes. This is exactly what I would do to fix this car, but I promise you that writing it up this way, the claim will absolutely not get paid. Even though I wrote what I did, its not enough. GM wants details. No details, no pay. You will never win this battle.

Now the right way. (COMPLAINT) Customer states the check engine light is on. (CAUSE) Verified check engine light is on. Checked for codes with MDI and found P0496: Flow during non purge. Followed diagnostic flow chart for P0496. Checked for power and ground at purge solenoid using a test light while cycling the purge solenoid with the scan tool. Test light turns on and off, all circuits are good. Disconnected purge solenoid, hooked up vacuum gauge, started engine, and commanded purge to zero percent. With purge solenoid closed, vacuum gauge slowly climbed to 10in/hg. Purge solenoid is stuck open allowing flow during non purge. Purge solenoid is a sealed unit and can not be taken apart to inspect. Purge solenoid will need to be replaced. (CORRECTION) Replaced purge solenoid. Hooked vacuum gauge up, started engine, commanded purge to zero percent and observed gauge to verify the repair. Vacuum gauge is staying at zero in/hg. System is sealed. Cleared codes and test drove vehicle.

I actually dont do the  majority of the stuff I wrote in the “correct” write up. I just tell them what they want to hear. How i’d actual diagnose this in real life. Is check the codes Disconnect the purge electrical connector, start the engine, pull the vapor line off and stick my finger over the purge. If I feel a vacuum then i know it’s stuck open. It takes about two minutes. I know if i write what i actually did, i wont get paid. So i make it sound like i just performed a heart transplant instead and everyone is happy!

Now you are probably asking yourself why in the hell do I/you have to write all that. Or does it really matter as long as the car is fixed? Yes, it does matter, and I’m about to tell you why. Warranty work is an expense for the manufacturer. Manufacturers make money from selling cars and parts to dealerships, our labor as technicians does noting but cost them money .

I can only speak for general motors write up process. They are a real pain in the a$$ when it comes to their warranty repair write ups. The biggest problem I have with  the entire process is the fact that the people who read and make the decision on whether or not the claim gets paid is a subcontracted company, and their employees know nothing about cars. They know “policy and procedure”.  There is a policies and procedure manual most likely written by some guy named Anthony, who has a masters degree in something that is completely irrelevant to his job. Anthony most likely knows nothing about cars therefore the manual is majorly flawed.

The vehicle is repaired, test driven, and all the paperwork is done. Now it’s time for the warranty administrator to submit the warranty claim to this subcontracted company. So the claim gets submitted. A guy named Stevie will be looking over this claim. Stevie probably has a B.S degree so he’s not quite as smart as Anthony and probably knows even less about cars.  Stevie’s goal in life is to be Anthony so that “Policy and Procedures” manual that he wrote is the Bible to Stevie. When Stevie looks over the claim and repair order, everything better line up with what the manual says, if not, the claim will not get paid. These people looking over the claims know nothing besides that manual and that is all that matters to them. You can call them bitching, moaning, and explaining what you did and why (I’ve tried). It does not work! They will simply say “The policy and procedures manual states blah blah blah” and will deny the claim.

Do yourself and your employer a favor. Write down what they want to see, even if it’s false. You’ll save everyone time and money. Think of it like a marriage.. You’ve all heard that saying “Happy wife, happy life” right? Well pretend that person who pays or the warranty claims is your wife. Keep them happy and you’ll have a much more enjoyable career.


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