Over 15 years ago, I was teaching a “Ladies Car Care Clinic” class and used the following example of how terminology in the automotive industry has changed:

“According to our DRB3, your TPS is OOC. It’s NIS in the DC but can be here ASAP on UPS.” The purpose of that example was to demonstrate common terms that we use in our work that may not mean anything to the customer. I then told the class, “When you check out at the local grocery store, you know everything that you have just paid for. Make sure you understand what you are getting when you pay for automotive repairs or service.”

Today those technical terms are ever increasing. Terms like hexadecimal six, CAN networks, and autonomous driving are now commonplace. Understanding those terms ourselves and being able to explain what it all means to our customers is vital.

No one likes being “talked down to”. You need to be able to read your customer and explain things on their level. It’s OK to even ask them what level of understanding they may have already and how much explanation they need to be able to make a decision. I remember an advisor trying to baffle a customer once by calling an Oxygen sensor a HEGO sensor. The customer was educated enough to know that those are the same part, so the advisor lost credibility with that customer. If you get caught trying to deceive the customer in one area, then they question everything you’ve said before.

Be careful not to try to dazzle them with your brilliance when you don’t fully understand the subject yourself. It is an ever-increasing occurrence that tech-savvy people are checking out what we say online. I recently had a customer whose truck was not going to be ready for pick-up at the expected time because of a broken manifold bolt. Shortly after sharing that with him, he called back to let me know he had checked out my story online to verify that it was a common failure and that we had permission to continue. I’ve also had customers that want to know what codes we are finding so they can check out our diagnosis themselves.

As an advisor, you may not be turning wrenches and not need to know all of the super technical aspects of what a technician does, but you do need to know enough to be able to understand and explain it to your customer. I have often told my techs “If you want me to sell it to the customer, you need to sell it to me.”

Transparency is another “hip” new term today. Basically, it means tell the truth. Our industry has long had the black eye of being deceptive and selling things that are not needed. Having worked in the dealership world, I saw a lot more of it. I left two of those dealerships because of the “smoke and mirrors” style of selling practices that were expected to go on in the service department as well. The concept of a long-term customer as opposed to the “sell what you can today” idea seemed foreign to them. It’s been proven that a long-term, satisfied customer will spend more money with you than the one time “get all you can get ‘cause we’re never going to see them again” customer.

In the diesel world, they have their own terminology challenges too: SCR, DEF, ELD, ULSD, and so on. Heavy duty trucks are not held to any kind of universal diagnostics like global OBD2, and each manufacturer can and does have their own individual software. The transmission, brake system, and even some of the HVAC systems have their own diagnostics software. With each manufacturer, the terminology can also vary.

Then of course, there are the new terms related to systems like collision avoidance, LIDAR systems, and all of the various options for hybrid/EV vehicles.

Fortunately, another bonus of technology is you can easily look up any terminology that you don’t thoroughly understand. There are a number of “Automotive Terminology” glossaries and dictionaries online.

Staying up-to-date on the technology and terminology in our industry is not just a good idea. If we want to be able to properly advise our clients and be capable of explaining some of the terminology we use, then we need a thorough understanding ourselves. And remember, it’s always better to say “I don’t know” than to try to BS your way through a conversation. It’s way too easy for a customer to “Hey Siri” and check out what you are telling them.

Article By: Bruce McDowell

Bruce is currently a Service Advisor for Garber Diesel Service Truck & Trailer Service Center

Bruce’s credentials include: AMAM through AMI, ASE Certified Service Advisor, Ford Motor Company – Master Service Manager, Master Service Advisor, Master Parts Manager, Master Warranty Administrator plus 2 Management Degrees, Stationary Engineer License, and Retired Navy. And above all… modest.