Giammalvo Files
Mark Giammalvo

Mark Giammalvo specializes in driveability diagnostics at his family business, Sam Giammalvo's Auto Sales & Service, Inc. in New Bedford, MA.   

Mark, who has been with the business for over 20 years, is an ASE  Master Technician and Parts Specialist. He also holds the ASE L1 certification, and has an associates degree in business management.
Mark is also a writer for Motor Age Magazine and is the past secretary of the Alliance of Automotive Service Professionals, (AASP).

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Emergency service, what is it, and do you even offer it?

(Printed in the Journal of The Alliance of Automotive Service Providers, AASP) 

When you think of the term ‘emergency service,’ you might think of police, fire, ambulance and those public ‘911’ related services. But what emergency service do you offer your customers, if any at all? Can a customer call you at 1:00 AM because their car broke down and they need a tow? Do you offer a published 24-hour service telephone number? Perhaps you give them the phone number for the 24-hour towing service that you use or maybe you recommend that they become a member of a service like AAA? Many shops that don’t own a wrecker have wrestled with the emergency service issue.

Whatever you decide, I hope your customers never have to go through the experience that I had to endure this past December. Although the emergency was not an auto service issue, it was still quite an eye opener for me as the prospective customer.

Of all the possible days to find out that your home heating system is no longer working, can you say; the night of the blizzard of 2009? Well, technically, it was in the hours just before the blizzard that my home started to become, oddly cold. My heating system is only six years old so what could possibly be wrong? A trip to the cellar was all it took to find out that, no pilot light, equates to no heat.

I attempted to relight the pilot several times, per the instructions that came with the boiler, but no dice. “Turn knob to pilot, hold down red button, light pilot with match, let button up after 1 minute, pilot should stay lit.” Well, I tried it three times and the pilot went out each and every time I released the button.

In the past, I have read articles that the ‘thermocouple’ is a common replacement part that can fail and cause this condition on a constant pilot boiler like mine. The thermocouple acts sort of like a vehicle’s O2 sensor and creates a small voltage, although not due to oxygen, but due to the heat of the pilot’s flame. If the pilot blows out, the thermocouple stops producing voltage, and this causes the regulator to close off the small gas supply to the pilot so your home does not start to fill up with gas. In addition, when the pilot is out, and the boiler calls for heat, the regulator will not let the gas valve open to the ‘fire’ position, which could really fill up a cellar with gas quickly.

In any event, I have a blizzard coming in 3 hours and I have no heat in my home. Although I didn’t look it up in the dictionary, I think this qualified as the definition of an emergency in my book.

I decided to call the gas company, as I know they offer 24-hour emergency service. A lady at the utility company answered the phone right away and I explained my dilemma. The next thing she asked me was a question. “Do you have a service contract with us?” At this point, I remembered over the summer getting several mailers from them advertising some sort of service contract stating that, for 139.95 per year they would come out and service “certain parts” on my heating system, free of charge. I politely stated that I did not think I had a service contract. The lady at the utility company then looked up my account to verify this and then stated that they would not be able to come out because they only come out for service issues if the customer has purchased a service contract. That being said, she then advised me to call a plumber.

Nice, that’s what I get for giving them 2,400.00 bucks last year in gas and electric business. Thanks for the great service! There’s nothing like getting turned down for assistance when you need it the most.

My next step was a call to the plumber that had sold me this heating system and installed it. For sure he would know what to do and whom I should call if he couldn’t come out. (Let’s just say that, as of this writing one week later, I never even received a call back from him and I left a message on both his cell phone and house phone). Great service again. Thanks buddy!

Now, even more frazzled, I decided to call the plumber that I use occasionally for leaks, faucet and toilet repairs. Now, remember, this is a Saturday afternoon, with a blizzard expected that same evening. Within 30 minutes my plumber called me back to state that he was “on the way”.

Shortly after his arrival, he came back up from the cellar and stated that he had found the culprit and that it was the thermocouple. After a quick replacement he bid me happy holidays and stated that he would send me the bill in the mail. Now that’s what I call emergency service!

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