Proactive (Issue 858)

In which we recommend that we proactively recommend strategies to clients in advance, before breakdowns.

“Your fuel pump has failed.”

Not welcome news. Two hours earlier, I’d left my trusty “it was running fine when I left it with you” Saab in the care of my Swedish automobile mechanics for exhaust system repairs. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I asked to speak to the mechanic.

“Yes,” he confirmed, “When I started the car to take it into the garage, it fired up fine. I shut it off and then, when I attempted to start it again, it wouldn’t start. I determined that the fuel pump failed.”

“How can you be sure,” I asked? “I haven’t experienced any signs of failure to this point.”

“I whacked the fuel pump with a hammer and it started. You could probably keep going like this for a while if you have a good hammer, but I advise you to replace it. You’ll have to take down the back seat every time it happens, and you probably don’t want to do that on some rainy or snowy night somewhere.”

I felt lucky that it had failed in the mechanic’s garage rather than 50 miles from nowhere. I approved the replacement.

But, I wondered, how did we get to this point? I opened my Saab owner’s manual, page 247, and scanned the several page maintenance schedule. First, I noticed, it topped out at 100,000 miles. I’m well beyond that. [What can I tell you? I’m a Yankee. I don’t get rid of stuff just because it’s old!]

Second, I noticed, among the pages of filter swaps, tune ups, oil changes, tire rotations, battery replacements, and so on, nowhere did the manual suggest, “Freshen your fuel pump” or “Replace your radiator or “Swap out your starter.”

I guess the idea was, “wait until the parts fail, let the drivers call tow trucks, and let their mechanics replace the failed parts.” Completely reactive and (potentially) terribly inconvenient, even dangerous.

It’s one difference between the “consumer” world and the “industrial” world. Aircraft mechanics, for example, don’t wait for fuel pumps to fail before they replace them. The pump manufacturers rate the pumps to function for X number of hours and, at that point, mechanics pull them out and replace them. Proactive… to make sure there isn’t a failure.

How about if my mechanic had said, a few months ago, “Nick, I notice you haven’t replaced your fuel pump, it’s the original. I know you’ve been very happy with it, but they’re rated to last only X miles. You’re approaching that point now. I recommend you replace it before it fails.”

I might or might not have said, “yes” to that proposal and I’d have completely appreciated the mechanic calling something to my attention, proactively, in advance, rather than waiting for the pump to fail in some terribly inconvenient place or waiting for me to ask.

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