Earning a Customer

I took my Honda Odyssey into have its oil changed last week. Within a mile, I have a choice of no less than five quick lube and oil shops. My selection often comes down to which shop has the shortest wait time.

This particular shop I selected has friendly employees and always offers me bottled water, which comes in handy during the hot summers. The technicians replaced the van's oil and filter, and I was ready to pull away when a young woman handed me a mileage reminder sticker and said my transmission fluid was "too dark" and should be changed very soon.

"Can you change it for me?" I asked.

"Nope. We don't do that anymore", she replied.

I asked if she could provide a recommendation, and she told me about another shop up the street. So I drove a few blocks. A woman approached my car, and I told her I just had the oil changed but needed someone to take a look at my transmission fluid to determine if it needs to be changed.

"We can't do that."

She went on to tell me that her shop used to perform that service, but it became too big of a liability.

"What if we forgot to tighten the plug under the engine and all the fluid drains out and your engine burns up?"

"We don't want that!" I replied.

I'm not an automotive engineer, but I imagine each automobile has a number of caps and plugs that, if not secured properly, could cause problems. She said I'd have to find a Honda dealer to have the transmission fluid replaced.

I decided to call one last automotive shop. A man answered, and I told him my dilemma. "Do you think you can help me?" I asked. He felt confident he could do the job, and I drive right over.

He greeted me, told me his name (Eric) and said my Honda engine has an awkward fill spout for the transmission fluid, but that he had a long skinny funnel that would work. So I guess it needs to be changed?

"See this fluid. Yours is black. It's supposed to be red."

Over the next 40 minutes, he told me about how he'd been working at this automotive shop since he was as a teenager. His father owned the shop and taught him everything he knew about cars. He'd purchased the business from his father about five years ago, and still did most of the maintenance and service himself. His greasy overalls and soiled hands told me he was telling the truth.

He took the time to tell me that I should have my transmission fluid replace about once a year. He explained how it takes a little longer than an oil change because he likes to drain as much old fluid as possible, fill with 3.5 quarts of new fluid, and let the engine run for about five minutes. He then drains that fluid to make sure any old fluid is fully flushed from the engine, before filling with new fluid one last time.

Eric earned a new customer on that day. I plan to take my two cars to him for basic service going forward. This experience also serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when you send a customer to another business because you can't or don't want to perform a service they need.

They might not need you anymore.