Shop Stories

Many stories from real experiences as a shop owner are used to teach students.

This one was a life changer.


            What happens when all your best efforts at customer service fail?   Why I am no longer the owner of a profitable automobile service center.    

The following is a true story. Names are changed to protect the guilty and innocent. Soon after all this my wife and I placed our successful, very profitable business on the market. The five bay, high tech shop sold with in the week.                                                                     

            What happens when all your best efforts at customer service fail? What do you do when nothing works? Do you lose a customer? So what, you can get another. Even if replacing an existing one with another the process will cost more than keeping the one you had. We all agree on this fact of life of the service business. Maybe some are not worth the effort. We all know some just can not be pleased. You know them, the ten percent that give eighty percent of the problems. One Monday I was taking care of business at my shop and a man dropped a car off for repair. We had given him an estimate the week before for the repairs, $480.00 to replace the timing chain that had gone bad and caused an oil leak on his Nissan Sentra. We would replace the chain set and oil seals with updated units from Nissan. We fixed this problem more than a few times each month. Mr. Sams says he will pick the car up Friday and please fix the turn signal light on the left rear also. At 11:30a.m. Mr. Sams returns and gets in my face calling me a rip off and worse. Mr. Sams says “I went to the dealer and they said they would fix my car for $80.00.” I inform Mr. Sams that we are not in competition with the dealer for his work and to leave and take his foul mouth and car with him. The next day I went to the dealer and see the Parts Man to buy some parts. I ask about Mr. Sams. The Parts Man says” Yeah a man came in and asked what could cause a Sentra to leak oil and how much to fix?” I told him about $80.00 to put in a seal if the chain was not bad.”  I thought no more of this until a man comes by later that week with a Summons to court. Yes, I was being sued, Magistrate Court, Small Claims, Like Peoples Court on the Tube. Guess who                            


is guilty until he can prove he is innocent. The summons reads on the line that gives the complaint “Mr. Reeves told me I had an Oil leak”, Duh! How do you reason that out?

You have to go to court. I did some detective work. I called a few shops that I knew that service Nissans. Bingo! A friend of mine had repaired Mr. Sams car. As soon as he left my place he went to the dealer and then to Bill’s Shop. Bill gave me a copy of the repair order. The cost to replace the Timing Chain set and oilseals on Mr. Sams car had been $520.00 and they did not fix the turn light. Why was I being sued? I showed up in the court at the time on the summons, 9 am. Two hours later I am watching real live T.V. like Peoples’ Court only no one is filming. A woman is on trial for not paying a note on a trailer she bought from a local dealer nine months ago. He has a stack of papers to prove his claim. The dealer asked the Judge to put her out so he can reclaim his property. The Judge says to the women” Is there a reason this Court should not Dispossess you of this house?” The women responds “We were gonna pay Mr. Brown $484.00 Friday, but we had to go to my sisters last Thursday and we left the money with the babysitter and she spent it on dope.” The Judge hung his head.  It was clear he had not wanted to put this mother out of her home. The Judge said” Your excuse for not paying a legal debt is that your baby sitter spent it on Dope?” “Yes sir Yo’ Honer “she replied. “ Dispossessed “the Judge ruled and his gavel came down several times to quiet the room. The woman shouted “I want a Lawyer!” The Judge looked out over his courtroom and asks” How many Lawyers are here today?”  Ten or so hands were raised. The Judge said to the woman       “Pick one, get two, everyone has a right to a lawyer”, and his gavel came down. When the court settled down a few more cases were called. A few hours’ later Mr. Sams vs Reeves Auto Service is called. Mr. Sams is asked to explain his case. He begins by cursing me and all my ancestors. The Judge brings down his gavel and several bailiffs restrain Mr. Sams. The Judge says” Mr. Sams I can see you are angry, what has Mr. Reeves done to make you so mad?” Mr. Sams rants and raves turning the air blue with his curses, some directed toward me and some toward the Judge. Once more the gavel comes down and the bailiffs restrain him. The Judge says” Please explain what Mr. Reeves has done to you?” Mr. Sams repeats his performance with help from his son and all are escorted from the court as the gavel comes down on more foul language. I walk away thinking “What a Circus!”  I still don’t know if the Judge thinks I am guilty or what do all those people believe about me now. Out in the hall Mr. Sams jumps me, and a friend who is a Sheriff handcuffs him. Now I know what Lawyers are for. They could have helped these people. But no! We have the Peoples Court.

         Almost a year later we take in a 95 Nissan truck for major service and repair. A local used car dealer requests the best for his wife’s truck. He tells me “Spare nothing, do all the required maintenance and fix anything you see it needs.” We check the truck out. The brakes are past the squealers, way into the metal. The engine won’t run fast enough to get out of it’s own way, the oil is down three quarts on a four and a half quart engine. The engines’ coolant looks like red mud. The timing belt is 20,000 miles past due and more. A clear case of car abuse.

Well we did our best. The best parts and the best technicians to service this truck. The customer had sought us out, driven past many shops to get to us and we were pleased he chose us. A week later we hand the used car dealer, Mr. Blue a bill for Eleven hundred and change. He pays in cash and leaves with a smile, the truck runs like new. Three days later we get a call. Mr. Blue is saying” My wife is not happy with her truck.”                                                                                     

We ask “Can we come and get it? What’s wrong?” “She will call” he says and hangs up. Two days later on Friday I take a call; a man is cussing and fussing about Mrs. Blues’ truck. I ask for a name he refuses to give one just says he is her “Mechanic.” I tell him he does not add in this equation and hang up. Later Mrs. Blue calls, she will be in with her truck at 5:45 to show me and my technician what’s wrong with it. Only she said” I’ll be there in 30 min. to show you @#$%*** Bozos what you messed up on my &*^%%$ truck.” At 7:30 pm a Black 1994 Nissan Truck pulled in on two wheels and the maddest woman I have ever seen flew out of it. My Service Manager and I watch as she walks a little unsteady towards us. She wants to know which one of us has got her money and she wants it, now! I ask her to calm down and quit cussing or leave. I explain all of the repairs to her vehicle but to no avail. She wants the money now because any bozo can see we did nothing to her truck. I refuse and attempt to show her some of the new parts that you can see like the new belts and the brake rotors. She refuses to look saying her “Mechanic” said they were not new.” Mrs. Blue calls some one on her cell phone cusses them like a yard dog using my name in vain several times. The truck leaves in a scream of tires and burnt rubber. I turn to my service manager and tell him “I did not know a Nissan truck would hold first gear all the way to the intersection over a mile away with the pedal to the metal.”  A week later I am handed the summons to magistrate court to respond as to why I ripped off Mrs. Blue. The summons reads “Failed to fix, did not replace, Overcharge, Did not repair, Fraud”. I could not be under a more stressful time

period I had thought, then this! Last week my best technician left for greener pastures. I had injured my back lifting a transmission two days before. The usual Monday morning snafus were always there. I called around and found out nothing this time. No one knew of the used car dealer other than he was in financial trouble. I go to court the appointed day. I left my wife to run the shop. My service manager is out sick. The Peoples’ Court is jammed full of all sorts of people, GQ dressed lawyers, business people, housewives, blue collar workers, street people and me with my ASE master technician patch on my companies blue cotton work shirt. I have no idea what I am in for. At least it is Monday and I don’t have anything else to do. 

       Our case is called and Mrs. Blue and her “mechanic” are testifying to all the wrong done by me to this poor lady with three small children and the used to be like new truck. On her opening statement Mrs. Blue says” Mr. Reeves did nothing to my truck and charged me $1100.00 for not working on it. I want all my money back!” It does not get any better for me. Mrs. Blue then produces a letter from an out of town automobile dealer that claims they inspected her truck and found no evidence of any repairs. She then produced a letter from a shop in town that said the same thing and listed the needed repairs and claimed that the prices I had charged for not repairing the truck would cover the needed repairs twice over. Both letters ended with glowing words of scorn for the shop and robber that would rip off an innocent female motorist. The two letters were then reinforced by her expert witness, her “mechanic” Bob. Bob came to court with samples of the coolant, ugly red mud stuff, a jar of motor oil from the truck, looking black and very dirty. The judge allowed him to refer to the thief, crook and liar that had said he


worked on the truck but had not. “The fact is your Honor Mr. Reeves took advantage of this poor woman and she trusted him with her truck and hard earned money. He ought to be hung for what he did to her!” Bob said in closing his mournful plea.  I was ready to supply the rope. I actually was wondering by now if some one had swapped the trucks. I even asked the judge to consider checking the VIN to see if it matched the repair order. The judge allowed she did not have that information. Mrs. Blue and Bob were asked if there was more and then with baleful eyes asked “ Do you have anything to say to these charges Mr. Reeves? “ as you would ask a guilty school boy what he has done. I walked to the front of the room on the hardest journey of my life. I had walked the streets of Hue as a teenager, but I had my brothers with me then and now I was all alone. Everyone was quite as I spoke and explained what we had done. I had statements from my technician who did most of the work, his notes on the shop repair order and my computer generated repair order. The judge did not read the statements nor did she look long at the repair order before asking about the mileage recorded on the repair order. She said”why is the enter shop and exit shop mileage the same? Should they not be different if you really did work on this truck?” I tried to explain to no avail, even offering a toll free number so she could talk to the people who sold the management system to me. My service manager had not change the miles recorded on the repair order. We had discussed this problem but the program we were using was not user friendly. No fortune was to smile on me thru her eyes. I guess I had already sealed my fate when we were discussing A.S.E.  Neither judge nor Bob the Mechanic had ever heard of a National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence certification. The judge asked “Where had I bought it?” Then she admitted she knew nothing about cars and I said “Yes, I noticed.”  My case went downhill from there! After all this, the ASE part took 30 minutes and the mileage discrepancy took 1 hour, I was done. I had no points with the judge or the court. One question I had asked was never answered “Why was I here? Was I being accused of negligence, of doing shoddy work? Or was I being tried for outright fraud? “No one replied to that, it was like I had not spoken. Mrs. Blue still had me on the bottom of the ocean. Mrs. Blue was asked “Are there any more questions you have of this court or Mr. Reeves? “ “No” she replied like something smelled bad.  It was my last chance. I politely requested that the truck be towed to the nearest Nissan dealer of Mrs. Blues’ choice and disassembled by Nissan Technicians in the judges and our presence. Well the judge thought that was a great idea. Mrs. Blue and Bob protested loudly that it was a plot I had come up with so I would have time to get out of town. I told the judge I was not leaving I would have to give up being scoutmaster, resign from being on the board at my Church and after living here 27 years I kind of liked it here.  We finally agreed that I would pay all expenses incurred   in towing and tear down. I then had to sign that I would pay the Nissan dealer to fix the truck as per Mrs. Blues orders. All this was if I was wrong on any one point of the suit. I did not sleep to well that night “What if they swapped the parts around? What if they were right all along and this is some cruel joke? “I pondered through the long night.

         The next day I went to the Nissan dealers place. I knew it well; I had designed the shop and was the shop foreman for ten years over eight years ago. The service manager and the owner did not welcome me. They considered me the competition since I had opened my shop specializing in Nissans. I felt they wanted me to lose. I had my technician with me who completed the repairs and the owner of the parts store who’s’ parts were I hoped were still on the truck. We all were there for the autopsy for the truck did not run and would not start by now. Mrs. Blue and Bob were whispering to each other and sometimes I thought were just a little to close. The Judge was there trying to look important and at the same time looking out of place for the Nissan Master Technician who was disassembling the truck held the spotlight.  We all watched as he inspected the fluids saying” The coolant is new looking, Good and green, test to –25” “Yes” I almost screamed out. And so it went. Timing belt, rotors, pads, and spark plugs; each part was there and the master technician described how each appeared to him to be correct. Mrs. Blue was undeterred saying “Well. It won’t start!” The Technician said “The battery failed the test I did on it, but it’s not on the repair order. “ I pointed out that it was in the comments section of my repair order as being marginal on the test we did. The judge requested our presence the next day in her chambers for a ruling and left. Tuesday morning we were sitting in comfortable chairs in the judges’ office me and Mrs. Blue that is, Bob was not there. I happened to be on the local pistol competition team with Federal and State parole officers. Seems they knew him well. Recent cocaine troubles had him in their care and Bobs’ parole officer was a teammate. He told me all about Bob and his new girl friend Mrs. Blue. It seems they were in heat and liked the white stuff so Mrs. Blues’ husband had divorced her and agreed to fix up her truck one last time. Only her “mechanic” wanted the money to fix the truck. Mr. Blue paid me and they wanted that money to buy drugs. My teammate advised Bob the “mechanic “to back way off.  Well anyway, we are there with the judge and she asked Mrs. Blue if she is happy now with her truck? Mrs. Blue replied” I seen all them parts but it still don’t run right.” The Judge looks at me and says” What are you going to do about that Mr. Reeves?”  “Not a thing! Your honor” I shoot back. For the first time I am visibly angered.


“It is my understanding that I was accused of not doing any work to Mrs. Blues’ truck, of being dishonest in my dealings with her, I will not do anything to that truck now that it has been proven that I was honest and true!” “This point has been proven in my favor, Right? Your honor?” I stated. “Yes” the judge replied softly “ Mrs. Blue will have to prove that the truck does not run as it should and take me back to court on that charge” I said. When I saw that the judge and Mrs. Blue were not going to speak I said” And further more if I was the real crook that ya’ll tried to make me out to be, You and ten more like you could not have proven anything, I know so much about automobiles that you would never know it if I had set out to be a crooked mechanic.” At this point Mrs. Blue broke down and started to cry, saying” How sorry she was, that it was her boyfriend Bob that planned this.” The judge sat without a sound. It was over. I forgave her. I invited the Judge to the class I teach at the local College on Saturdays. It is called “Everything you wanted to know about your car but were afraid to ask?” She never came. What did I learn from all this?  You should keep good detailed records. Write your repair orders with care. Know and communicate with your customers, always inspect what you expect from you employees work, and finally anyone can make mistakes.

All things worked out. A year later we sold the shop at a profit to our service manager. He went bankrupt in 6 months. My wife and I both teach now, she teaches science and I teach Automotive Technology in the high school a few miles from home. We take long vacations sailing with our teenage sons. We never looked back, even if I did sell the business I feel I have just begun to contribute to the Industry and our craft. 


  Semper Fi!

Sonny Reeves

4 Responses to “Shop Stories”

  1. Ron Kennedy Says:

    Sonny ,

    Thanks for sharing such heartfelt, painful happenings.
    For you to take the time to put out the information … you are special.
    Shirley Huitt , one of my best ever customers and IGO/ASA Garage owner in Anderson SC once told me … “boy” ain’t ever go’in home at nite tired and broke. I too sold my equipment business based on hearing Shirley’s advise. For a man to have a name like “Shirley” … he was special.
    Feel like I’m back in business supplying a quality product. This is my 10th. year here at this school .

  2. Joe Glassford Says:

    Great story. Very interesting. Glad you are in the teaching business.


  3. Nathan Banke Says:

    Thanks for sharing your story Sonny

  4. Says:

    We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your web site offered us with useful info to work on. You have done an impressive job and our whole community might be thankful to you.

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