"Check engine" lights have a job to do and that is to FREAK US OUT and make us think we are going to die, and soon, much sooner than if we had been doing something other than driving.

"Idiot" lights were first used by car manufacturers in the mid-1930's as a replacement for gauges because drivers ignored them because no one knew what they meant. Today's vehicles have modern warning lights that drivers ignore because no one knows what they mean but they do look cool when lit up at night.


Just like y'all, I don't know nutin about no check engine lights neither, but decided not to ignore mine when it popped on 24 hours after I dropped $500 at All Pro Service Center for an oil change, and to fix the heater. Instead of taking it back to APSC, I scheduled an appointment with Tuffy Auto Service Center at 2135 Grand Avenue in West Des Moines, which is 2 minutes by car from the All Pro Service Center location, 30 minutes by foot and three days by Big Wheel.

Before we get to the Tuffy review, let's talk about why I didn't just take the Pri-ass back to All Pro Service Center.  It would be reasonable and easy to assume that APSC did something "wrong" to trigger the check engine light, especially since it happened so soon after they worked on my car.


Experience - and 10,456 shop owners and technicians yelling at me about this over the past 8 years - tells me this is not necessarily the case. There are many reasons for a check engine light to come on that are not the fault of the technician who worked on the vehicle immediately beforehand. The biggest reason? Sometimes stuff just happens. As hard as that may be for us car owners to believe, it is easier to understand when you remember these cold, true and wise words uttered at least once in every auto repair shop in America: we didn't build it and we didn't break it. 

Yet in this case it IS harder to give All Pro Service Center the benefit of the doubt because of the "less than optimum" approach they took to presenting the results of their Multi-Point Safety Inspection they (may have) performed on my Prius, which I detailed in a previous secret shopper review.

As for Tuffy Auto Service Center, there are some good things and there are a few small takeaways and there is one jumbo opportunity for improvement.

The good includes Jonathan, the Assistant Manager, who did a nice job on the phone when I called to schedule the appointment and who was equally pleasant in person. He kept me in the loop after I dropped off the Prius, with a call back two hours later to tell me the cause of the check engine light (baaaad spark plugs) and two hours after that to tell me the car was finished.

telephone-woman-from-the-50s "Hello, Jonnie? You can come get your embarrassing wreckage out of our parking lot now."

The shop entrance area was clean. The TV was on when I came in and there were magazines and newspapers, what we call an "active" waiting area. Jonathan greeted me almost immediately and smiled, as did a technician who walked by. The counter was organized and uncluttered. The bathroom looked (and smelled) clean. The total cost, including the diagnostic charge, was the same as he quoted me on the phone - $277.30.

There were also some small but important opportunities for improvement that would help elevate the shop look and feel, and the customer's overall experience.

Give the customer a specific call-back time expectation. "I will be calling you back by 12:30 with an update on your Prius." If Service Advisors don't give a specific time, the customer will create one, and the SA won't like it. Plus, not knowing when the customer is going to hear back from the shop creates anxiety. Customers are on a different clock than auto repair shop employees. Managing expectations helps eliminate randomness and helps build trust and rapport.

Stand up when the customer enters the shop and greet them with a handshake. Yep, it's old school, and it works, male or female customer. Be exceptional. Lean in. Stand up and smile and extend your hand and invite them into your shop like you would invite them into your home. Show you care. Master the small things, for small things add up to large things add up to higher ARO's, more return visits, more referrals, awesome reviews and unwavering loyalty.

Don't use a dim bulb in the bathroom. "What are you hiding?" That is a customer's typical first thought when we walk into a darkened bathroom with a 5 watt bulb in the ceiling light. This bathroom felt somewhat gross and unsafe because of poor lighting, even though everything may have been just fine. Brighten that baby up if it is clean! (Good lighting will also add motivation to keep it spotless.)

dark-bathroom "Toilet? Make a flushing sound if you are here."

Don't ask for my email address by asking, "Email address?" Give customers a reason to give it to you, or at least take a more pleasant approach to asking for it. "Would it be okay if I got your email address so we have a 2nd way to contact you and to send you updates?" And when I say, "I don't really use email," don't respond with, "No problem." THOSE two words can create a problem, as explained in this article in Forbes Magazine.

Remove paper signs from the door (and from everywhere else). There are way too many signs blockin' out the scenery and breakin' our minds, as Five Man Electrical Band famously sang. Signs keep the sunshine out and create a boxed-in feeling. Signs add clutter and generate what we call "customer fatigue," like listening to a radio station that doesn't quite come in, except in this case it is "visual" static. Signs are usually designed for stupid people who don't read them, while they penalize the smart people who do. Plus, most paper hand-made printed off signs are more of an indictment of the business...


...than they are a helpful tool for customers.

The sign on the left suggests the shop doesn't have the funds - or the energy - to create a proper and professional door sign showing shop hours. The sign on the (W)right suggests the shop doesn't have the funds - or the energy - to fix a door that won't stay shut and so is depending on customers to do it for them.

Both signs block out the natural sunlight. They also create an unintended safety and security hazard, as the Service Advisor at the desk can't always clearly see the faces of those who enter the shop.

So yeah, signs are poopy.

Finally, the most important takeaway for Jonathan and every automotive repair professional is this: do proper inspections on every car, every time.

Most shops offer at least two types of inspections. There is the "visual" inspection, also (regretfully) known as the "courtesy," or free inspection.

Here is why I say "regretfully."


We teach our Buyosphere trainees to call it a "Multi-Point Safety Inspection," which beats "courtesy" and "free" like Tom Brady beats the NFL.

There is also a more in-depth inspection, sometimes called a "multi-level" or "comprehensive" or "pre-purchase" or "trip" inspection. Shops often charge a fee for these inspections because they usually take longer to perform, and require a technician with more skills.

I asked Jonathan for a copy of whatever kind of inspection they did on my Prius, and he replied, "We don't do inspections on check engine light issues."

I asked him why and he said, "Most customers don't want to be sold more than what they came in for."

My teeth fell out of my mouth, and I've been flossing daily since 1994. This is the corporate position of Tuffy Auto Service Centers and not just this location, according to Jonathan. It is also the position of lots of auto repair shops across the country, independents and franchises alike.

Unfortunately, this policy is counter-intuitive to everything an auto repair shop needs to be to its customers, and everything those customers need the auto repair shop to be to them. Safety. Security. Trust. Peace of mind. Instead, it creates the opposite. It is like going to a doctor for a migraine and the doctor finds a huge red puss-filled tumor on the back of your neck but doesn't tell you because he/she figures you can't handle the information.

So I have the first auto repair shop (Auto Pro Service Center) who says they did an inspection but perhaps did not. I have the second auto repair shop (Tuffy Auto Service Center) who did not do an inspection, but should have, below.


If you want to know why two thirds of Americans do not trust auto repair shops, you can start with this.

Inspections help keep drivers safe. They are also the life-blood of an auto repair shop. If shops are only going to fix what customers bring their cars in for, they might as well turn their garage bays into a roller skating rink.

The most important point is this:

Auto repair shops have a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to inspect every car that enters their shop, every time, and to share all of the results of the inspection with every customer on every car, every time. Anything that falls short of this commitment is automotive malpractice. 

I eventually told Jonathan I was secret shopping his Tuffy location. He was understandably freaked out at first. I shared my positives, just as I have shared them with you, which he liked. I also pointed out some growth areas, most important of which was Tuffy's "no inspection" policy, which I described to him as a huge institutional flaw. He gave a bit of pushback at first. We had a wonderful conversation about it and I shared some points for him to ponder. Eventually, Jonathan's words towards the end of our chat suggested that he may be doing more inspections in the future.

And that's a great sign.

Jonnie Wright is President and CEO of The Buyosphere and Buyosphere University, a team of coaching professionals dedicated to helping shop clients improve their numbers, their culture, their brand and their impact. Our Buyosphere team works with hundreds of businesses across the country on the art and science of delivering exceptional service to their customers and their employees, for the greater good of us all.

To find out what The Buyosphere can do for you and your business, please fill out the contact information below and we will get back to you within 24 hours. 

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