Mike Wilhelm is a service and parts director at a car dealership in Michigan.
He says drivers have some misconceptions about car repair and how EVs differ from gas-powered cars.
Here’s his advice for car repair and maintenance, as told to the reporter Alexa St. John.
Mike Wilhelm is a 44-year-old parts and service director at Tamaroff Honda and Jeffrey Automotive Group in southeast Michigan. Wilhelm has held various auto-service advisor roles in the industry for more than 22 years and has spent six years with his current employer.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When I was growing up, my father was a mechanic and owned his own independent shop (which my brother owns now). I have a lot of knowledge about cars and experience with cars, but I’m more passionate about dealing with customers and the customer satisfaction aspect of it.
I get to the store before the day begins, review the appointment schedule, and review my customer-satisfaction index scores. I also review what the day is going to be, what hurdles I foresee happening, and what issues might potentially come up.
People assume repairing cars is a dirty job, but that’s far from it
People often expect that servicing cars is a dirty job, but that’s far from reality. Technicians are very intelligent, and it’s an entirely different world than what it used to be. Being a technician is a quality job.
The cars have absolutely evolved. Different skills are required of the technicians in order to diagnose problems.
There’s more technology in the car now, with features like collision-mitigation systems and adaptive cruise control. As that technology evolves, so does our training and our approach. You wouldn’t think that some of these software updates fix portions of the car that they fix, but they do.
We’re still learning the EV market — and they still need some of the same services as gas-powered vehicles
The brake fluid and things along those lines may need a little TLC here and there. You have to keep the tires rotated to prolong their life, watch the wear patterns, and check the brakes. Having air filters is also the same.
But it’s definitely going to be far from what we know on a day-to-day basis currently.
The quality of cars has improved over the years — but some customers forget cars shouldn’t sit for long periods of time
Maintenance varies by car make and model. Some people push their vehicles too far and then have problems that could have been easily prevented. People are also keeping cars longer, too. The market’s not helping that.
You also have fallout still from the pandemic. People weren’t in the office that much, so they weren’t using their cars that much. They sat for a while, and there hasn’t been as much driving. With those vehicles that have been sitting, there’s a ripple effect where they start to feel the wear and tear.
Car maintenance is about more than just oil changes
The machine still needs to be maintained and repaired. The more you maintain and repair this machine, the longer it will last and the more effective it will be. But you have to understand it’s still a machine at the end of the day.
There’s more to maintenance than just oil changes and tire rotations on the car. Cars have to be maintained. This includes everything from servicing the batteries, to changing out the coolant, to servicing the transmissions, and checking the brake fluid. I would suggest car owners do a little bit of homework on car maintenance and why it’s necessary so they can understand the importance of it.
Some of the biggest service challenges that impact customers are parts and labor
We run out of things that you just don’t think we should run out of or there are delays on them. We’re told we’re going to see the part the next day, but the next day comes and we still don’t have it.
Finding technicians is also a challenge.
It doesn’t help to lie when you go in for service
Just be transparent with the advisor. You can’t go to the doctor and give them half the information and expect a perfect diagnosis. You have to go in there with all of the information. Same thing with a car. Come in with exactly what you have going on so we can actually help you. If you have a question about something, ask it. In some cases, do your own research.
It’s amazing how many people come in and just won’t tell us the complete truth. They took their car to an aftermarket mechanic, put four or five different parts on the car, and came to us saying no one’s ever touched the car. That’s difficult to diagnose. They can really make us chase our tail, and it’s a lot more time-consuming and expensive. If we get all the information when you bring it in, we can definitely fix it faster.
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