We Take A Look At Dealership Service Departments

Mechanic working on car
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When customers bring their vehicles into the dealership for routine maintenance or for repair work, most are unaware of the process and work flow that each car undergoes while the work is being performed.

Exact procedures vary from dealership to dealership, but they tend to be similar. When a customer first pulls into a dealership's service drive, they are greeted either by a service consultant or a porter who will direct them to an available service consultant.

The service consultant then will ask what the customer needs help with, and write up a repair order describing the work to be performed. Once that's done, the customer signs the repair order--which often has an estimate of the repair costs on it--and heads to the waiting area or gets a ride home or a loaner vehicle, if the car will be in the shop for a while.

Once the repair order, or R.O., is complete, the service advisor will either hand it to a dispatcher, who will assign the work to a technician, or if the dealership does not use a dispatcher, the advisor will assign the work directly.

Once this is done, the technician brings the car to his or her work bay, and begins working. In most cases, whether performing an oil change or major repair work, the technician will need to order parts for the job. Sometimes these parts come from the dealership's own parts department, other times the parts are delivered, if they are not in stock.

Once the parts are in the technician's hand, they are billed to the repair order.

As the technician performs the work, he or she might look for other problems with the car or routine maintenance needs that could be addressed, thus performing an "upsell." It's up to the service advisor to suggest this work to the customer and up to the customer to approve or deny it.

If the customer chooses to deny it, the service advisor will likely write a recommendation in his or her notes on the repair order, in part to try and persuade to consumer to approve the work next time, and in part to note that the customer was aware of the conditions and chose not to approve any work, just in case any safety issues may arise. Either way, for repair jobs that aren't part of preventive maintenance, the service advisor will usually explain what needs to be done and why it's being done, and will need customer approval in most cases.

Once the work is done, the car might be washed (usually at upscale dealerships). Washed or not, it will either be parked in a staging area in front of the dealership (if the customer was waiting on the premises) or in a staging area out back, where it will sit until the customer arrives to pick it up. The service advisor will now complete the billing, adding any discounts. He or she will also determine if the job is being paid for under warranty, if the customer is paying, or if the shop is paying (could happen as a make-good on a comeback for a failed repair, as an example). Any sublet charges for work performed off-premises or by an outside contractor (body and paint repair, towing charges, et cetera) will also be billed at this time.

Once all billing is complete, the R.O. is printed. If the customer is on site, the advisor will walk he or she to the cashier, where he or she will pay the bill (if they're responsible) or sign off on the work (if it's a warranty claim). If the customer is picking the car up, he or she will proceed directly to the cashier. It's at this time that the service advisor will explain what work was done, why it was done, and what may be recommended for next time. The service writer may also look to create a good rapport with the customer, in order to gain trust and receive favorable treatment on any customer-service surveys.

Service advisor pay varies. Some are on salary, some on full commission, some on a mixture of the two. Many stores incorporate customer-service survey scores into pay plans, as well, along with bonuses for upsales of certain items.

Technicians tend to get paid based on how much time that it's expected for them to perform a certain job.

There you have it. If you're looking to set up your own service department, that's a basic look at how the process works.