Fraud Blocker
Open hood of bright red semi-truck.

Are Semi Dealership Shops Different from Car Dealership Shops?

Several years back, I served as a service manager at a Chevrolet dealership and a Chrysler/ Dodge/Jeep/Indian/Suzuki dealership, and a service advisor before that at a Chevrolet dealer.  You may recognize the typical methods and practices in most dealerships, regardless of brand.  You call ahead or go online to schedule an appointment for your car, truck, or SUV, or if it’s just a routine maintenance visit, you may just show up.  Sometimes, people will drop a vehicle overnight and fill out an envelope, putting it in the night drop slot.  Other times, a service advisor greets you with a smile, records the mileage and at least part of the VIN, begins a repair order, and then gets you a ride or shows you to the customer lounge.

Semi Dealership Service Departments

Imagine my shock the first time I took a semi-truck to a dealer shop and was told to go get my own mileage, the full VIN, DOT number, all my company’s contact information, and other data, because there was no way in heck that service advisor was going to pry himself out of his chair to go get that stuff.  Same deal if you take a truck to a TA, Petro, or Love’s shop.  I guess I was just trained by these folks after a while to bring in all the info beforehand and avoid the argument.  My first thought was back to my days in a dealership where the Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) Survey ruled our world and directly reflected how the customer was treated.

There are some significant differences, besides the initial greeting and information-gathering, when comparing a Mack, Volvo, Peterbilt, Kenworth, or Freightliner dealer to your local Lexus or Chevy store.  There’s no CSI survey for truck dealerships to worry about.  I had no idea until I started driving OTR again in 2007.

Dealership Repair Scheduling & Completion Timelines

With your car, the dealership will schedule jobs accurately and forecast their workload.  With truck shops, I’ve found the practice is quite different.  I’ll explain.

In 2010, I had purchased a Volvo 780 and began to have EGR issues with it.  I called a couple of dealerships around the Louisville, Kentucky area so I could see who could get it in the quickest.  Several shops told me they couldn’t look at it until the next day, but one in Clarkesville, Indiana said I should “come right down” and they’d “get it right in.”  I was told that it might not be repaired that day, but a technician would look at it immediately and get a full diagnosis so they could order any parts they might need.  Sounded fair.

I hurried to their shop, and knowing it likely wouldn’t be fixed that afternoon, got a shuttle ride for my wife and I to a nearby hotel.  Bright and early the next morning, we walked to the dealership to check on our truck.  It hadn’t moved.  I asked the service advisor about it, and he assured me that a technician would be on it within the hour.  I asked the guy about what he told me the afternoon before – he replied that they just couldn’t free up a tech to check it out.  We left, killed some time, went shopping, etc., hoping the truck would be checked out and diagnosed before the 11 am checkout time at the hotel.  No luck, and we checked out and lugged our stuff to the dealer.

We waited several hours, watched the crew enjoying a pizza party sponsored by the Volvo sales rep, and still had no word toward the end of the day.  Back to the hotel.  Lather, rinse, repeat the next morning.

Service Manager’s Explanation

On the third day and still no diagnosis, being a former service manager and technical school instructor, I introduced myself to the dealership service director.  I asked him (with a few extra words) why on Earth they would sell the idea over the phone that the truck would be checked out immediately upon arrival, but after three days, I still didn’t have a diagnosis.

He started down the road about scheduling, yada, yada, yada.  I asked if he just crams as many trucks as he can into the shop and then the truck owners/customers have to wait until whenever it is they get around to it?  He replied “yes” without hesitation.

What he said next floored me, and now I’ve seen this attitude across the industry.  When I asked him about actual shop scheduling, initial diagnosis and promise times, and how he handled them, I added a question concerning lying service advisors making bogus claims and promises.  He said that he had a service advisor once who would only schedule a set number of trucks in and give customers realistic diagnostic times several days down the road, and he fired him.  This method made his shop a lot more money.  Cram as many trucks in there as they can and get to them when they can.

Again, I was floored.  That method went against everything I practiced as a service manager and service advisor.

What Can You Do When Your Semi Needs Repairs?

I honestly don’t know the correction to this ridiculous and unprofessional practice.  Build a relationship with a shop so they don’t treat you like that?  Perhaps, but that doesn’t help when you’re far from home and needing repairs.

One suggestion is to get a note printed onto the repair order concerning when the diagnosis would be done, and repairs started and an estimate of date to be completed.  You can then add that to the total time down should negligence on the part of the shop result in costing you even more income – and you need to pursue litigation.

Read our related post:  Losing Money from Mechanical Problems?

Read other articles by our guest writer, James Lewis:  Depositions and Commercial Lemon Law or Breach of Warranty.