Nearly every shop I’ve worked in has had a form of some kind that technicians were supposed to complete on every car they worked on. Some called it a preventative maintenance inspection, others called it a vehicle safety check and still others made it a point to brag about how many “points” they were inspecting. Often, the motive was to drum up additional business by finding upsell items. Don’t fool yourself. If that’s your primary motive, it shows when you present those findings to your customer.
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Instead, provide your inspection service on every car for the real reason it should be done. The moral and ethical responsibility we hold as professional automotive service technicians to provide our customers with the full benefit of our knowledge and experience. To point out service needs that will impact their safety if left unattended, and/or will increase their overall costs if not addressed.
Bring those findings to your customer from that perspective, and you’ll earn their respect and their business. Here are a few areas I’ve found techs overlooking (for whatever reason) over the years.
The braking system should be at the top of the list in any vehicle inspection. It starts with a check of the master cylinder fluid level. Fluid level in the reservoir will drop as the caliper pistons move outward with pad wear, providing a good visual indication of pad loss. When the fluid level is at or near the low mark, recommend a complete system inspection to your customer.
And please, don’t add fluid to a system that comes in low. You’re defeating the whole purpose of the brake warning light sensor in the master cylinder. Brake fluid doesn’t disappear. The components are either worn or leaking if the level is low. Repair the problem and then top off the fluid level.
What you can do with the reservoir open is sample the fluid condition (see related article in this month’s issue). High copper or moisture content is sufficient reason to recommend fluid replacement. Don’t forget to shine your light where the master cylinder and booster meet. Fluid leakage here is usually from the secondary seal in the master cylinder, and can lead to vacuum booster damage.
Disc brakes can be checked for wear by simply looking through most wheels at the pads. But if you can’t see it there, you can usually see the inner pad once the car is up in the air. Drum brakes often have an inspection plug on the backing plate that allows you to see the wear on the leading shoe. If you have the customer’s permission, go ahead and pull the wheels to do a more accurate check. Just keep in mind that some states require that permission before you can proceed. While you’re checking out the underside, be sure to take a hard look at the system’s plumbing, looking for leaks or corrosion damage that may soon lead to one.