Sunday, June 18, 2017

Should a customer eat the cost of not being loyal?

For years, M.R.M. had brought her car in for routine maintenance to a nearby family-owned garage. Whether it was for an oil change or a muffler repair, M.R.M. liked the work the mechanics there did and remained a loyal customer. The family actually ran its operations at two locations -- one five minutes from M.R.M.'s house and the other about a 20-minute drive away.

About a year ago, the family decided to consolidate its operations into the location that was further way from M.R.M.'s house. Still, she persisted in loyally taking her car in for maintenance as she needed it -- until about a week ago.

"I was overdue for an oil change and the weeks just got crazy with commitments and obligations," writes M.R.M. She kept putting off scheduling the oil change at her regular garage. Finally, she decided to schedule an appointment for an oil change at a gas station located about a mile from where she lived.

"I felt guilty for not being loyal, but I just wanted to get the oil change done," she writes. "I planned to take the car into my regular place for anything larger that might come up later."

On a recent morning, M.R.M. drove her car up to the garage, waited while the oil was being changed, paid the $60-something for the service, and left satisfied that she had bought herself about 40 minutes worth of travel time it would have taken to get to her old mechanic's shop.

"The car drove fine when I left the gas station," M.R.M. writes. But then she drove about an hour to keep an appointment. Still, no problem. After her appointment was over, she started her car and noticed that it lurched and sputtered a bit when she started the car up and also when she sat idle at a traffic light. It was fine when she was driving on the open road. Then, the engine light came on -- not blinking, but a solid light on her dashboard.

It was a Thursday afternoon. She called her regular mechanic, told him what was going on, and he agreed to fit her in on Friday morning if she could bring the car in early. He told her he had no way of knowing what was going on until she brought the car in.

When she dropped the car off, she told the mechanic she had had the oil changed at her local gas station, but that she could not think of anything else that she'd done differently.

It turns out that the gas station mechanics had not put the oil cap back on correctly, causing her to lose some oil and to need a new cap. Once her regular mechanic fixed those things and re-set the car's computer, she was all set at a cost of $140.

"Do I eat the cost and learn a lesson to remain loyal?" M.R.M. asks. "Or do I take the bill to the gas station and ask them to reimburse me for the expense?"

The gas station owner should do the right thing and compensate her for the cost of fixing his mistake. While M.R.M. might feel bad about not being loyal, having her oil changed at a new place is no sin, although she's decided that the extra drive time in the future is worth it. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Anonymous said...

Absolutely, yes! That mechanic was trusted to do a job he or she couldn't do and charged money for it. The job cost the owner even more money. That mechanic became responsible for the repair as soon as he or she agreed to do it.

I guarantee you that if the mechanic's child was in my math class, he or she would expect me to teach that child the correct way to do math!

Anonymous said...

The one fatal flaw in asking the gas station to pay for the cost of someone else fixing her car is that she didn't report the problem to the gas station first. Thus they were deprived of the opportunity of making it right at no cost to her.

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