The Free Parking Lot Opinion

The Free Parking Lot Opinion
Selling hours means the shop needs to bill customers for technicians’ time. (Photo: Huw Evans)

What’s the cost of a free parking lot opinion (FPO)?

How long does it take to recoup the cost and lost revenue? And how does a free parking lot opinion affect the professional image of your shop and others in your market? Here’s what’s behind this month’s subject.

No invoice

A client called for an appointment to have a check engine light diagnosed and repaired. She was at a cottage, returning home in two days. Apparently, she was worried about making the two-hour drive home, so she stopped at a shop near the beach to ask if it was OK to drive with the CEL on. This shop’s manager attached a scanner, read the code and gave his opinion of what might be wrong with her vehicle. No invoice was written, no fee charged for the shop’s time, use of the equipment, their knowledge and experience. The client was given a verbal report and told nothing needed to be fixed right away.

When this client called our shop originally, we explained the process in diagnosing and solving the issue and what the likely fee would be. After the client received her FPO, she called our shop and explained that she didn’t require a diagnostic test because she’d been told that probably just a vent valve or purge valve or something like that was needed.

Charge for diagnosis

I had to try to explain to her that the FPO she received was only a code read and a guess at what the probable solution could be—not an accurate diagnosis of her exact problem. The client now has the impression that a professional service has been performed; she doesn’t need to pay us to find out what needs to be done to solve her issue. Now we must qualify why we’re going to charge to properly diagnose the issue.

My explanation of why we needed to perform a proper diagnostic procedure and inspection (charging for time and knowledge) was met with an awkward silence, but she reluctantly accepted my advice saying she’d probably show up for her appointment and proceed as we suggested. I could tell by her tone she was confused and still questioning how to proceed.

Frustrating situation

As you might expect, I was very frustrated with this situation, and I felt like the shop by the beach had let our profession down. I’d like to ask that shop why they didn’t agree to look at this client’s vehicle, properly write a work order, proceed with the reading of the code and provide the client with options to fully diagnose and repair her issue for a fair and honest fee.

Because of this, I knew I had to qualify why we charge for what we do, possibly looking like the bad guy in this client’s view for charging for something another shop willingly gave away free.

The business model isn’t complicated—you open a shop, invest thousands of dollars in monthly overhead costs. You hire technicians paying them by the hour for their time and knowledge. You purchase thousands of dollars in equipment and tools to help the technicians perform their duties. You then sell the time and knowledge of those technicians to clients needing their vehicle serviced or repaired.

Your secret to success is to sell all the hours you purchase from your technicians to the clients requiring your services. The key word is—SELL time and knowledge— not give it away for free.

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