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Shop Vultures - Those annoying customers that have to hover around the car

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Shop Vultures

They circle the shop watching your every move. You can’t get rid of them, and you can’t shoo them away. They’re fixated on the service bay where the tow truck dropped the latest dead car. Who are they? They’re shop vultures.

Shop vultures, yes there are a few. It’s unfortunate that a few people don’t trust their car alone with a mechanic. They have to either be in eyeshot of it or worse yet, hovering around the car while the mechanic is trying to diagnose it. I for one, find it rather disturbing and quite annoying to have someone standing over my shoulder while I’m working on a car. I’m never sure if they are just watching to see if I made a mistake, or if the whole thing is some sort of side show performance for them. A few are more interested in the repair and watch things intently. Why, I even had one fella who took notes while I was working on the car. Maybe they’re just checking to see if what I’m doing equates to the charges on their bill. I think it’s the latter, or at least that’s what it seems to me.

I find this type of personality generally doesn’t trust any type of service repairman. It doesn’t matter if it’s the plumber or the mechanic. They can’t sit and wait; they have to be out there checking on things. It doesn’t matter if they are carefully watching everything, while standing at the edge of the garage door, or following a few feet behind the mechanic… hovering. They’re going to keep close tabs on their car no matter what. Sometimes, they don’t even ask if they are allowed in the work area, they just barge right in as if they own the place.


For the ones who barge in and take up residence in the service bay, sooner or later they’ll lean on the wrong thing or pick some greasy part up they shouldn’t have. The sight of the grease on their hands brings on a spasmodic response of quirky arm shakes and facial expressions while in the search of something to wipe it off with. Of course, they inadvertently reach for the same rag the part was wrapped in and end up making an even bigger mess than before. By now, the mechanic has noticed the convulsive antics of the now stammering shop vulture with their greasy appendages, and stops what he’s doing and finds them a clean rag.

Sometimes, it’s not so much the leaning over the other fender that’s annoying, it’s the obscure questions they ask while doing so. Other times it’s the strange looks I get when I’ve taken all the lug nuts off the wheel and the rim is stuck to the brake rotor. Out of habit I’ll take the customary stance and proceed to shove all my weight against the tire while trying to pound it free. Yea I know, it probably looks like a gorilla pounding on a tire swing, but it does the trick. To the startled shop vulture the unexpected King Kong approach to tire removal will mean seeking out a higher perch, maybe a bit farther away.


Sometimes just being in the shop and watching things like a stuck wheel or seeing what is involved in removing a stripped bolt can greatly affect their confidence… for the good, and sometimes for the bad. As well as typically questioning as to why you started with the under hood fuse box when their problem is the tail lights. And no, I don’t know why your car didn’t start one afternoon last year after you dropped your kids off for soccer practice… on a Thursday, even though it was the only day that it rained for weeks.


It’s not that I don’t mind the occasional question or the rubber necking glances over my shoulder all that much, but let me do my job. Even an occasional conversation ain’t bad, but when I have to take the time to explain the inner workings of a low amp probe while I’m trying figure out why my battery is suddenly dead in my scope I might get a bit testy.


Not that I couldn’t answer most of the unrelated questions that throw my concentration off, but why should I? Not to say I haven’t had to explain a PID, or what that squiggly line is on the screen, I have. It’s their lack of understanding after explaining something which leads to even more time spent explaining even more things that gets annoying.

Not long ago I had a conversion van in with a possible battery drain. (As per the work order), I proceeded to do the usual draw tests that I normally perform. I use several different methods to find a draw on these cars. One is the old amp meter method, another is to read the millivolts across each fuse circuits, and the other is using a digital amperage meter specifically designed to read current flow. I used the digital amp meter this time around. Mainly, because it has a large display that both of us could see from a distance. After hooking up the leads I watched the digital display go from a 2.9 amp draw to 0.00 in a short bit of time. Once I zeroed out the meter a second time I reached over and opened the driver’s door. As soon as I did the meter jumped back up showing the draw. Then, in a minute or so, it was back to zero again and stayed there.

I told the now hovering vulture, who seemed to be more interested in the gadgets and not the test results, that I didn’t see a draw on his van. Which led to a lengthy discussion on parasitic draws, what the meter was reading, and what the results of the tests showed. Even after this long dissertation of the fundamentals of Ohms law, and what the meter was showing… he still didn’t get it. He didn’t believe the results. He was absolutely sure he had a battery drain. That’s when the real truth of the matter came out. The battery in the car was just put in at one of those box stores just a few hours ago, and even though his original battery tested bad he didn’t believe it. Sounds to me like the diagnostics results are confirming everything is A-OK, everything that is, except for the battery that isn’t there anymore.

What to do now? How do I show this guy the test results are correct and can safely go hover somewhere else? Well, I did the only thing I could think of. Spend the next 30 minutes teaching him how to do the test with my equipment on another car so he could see how to arrive at the results himself. Case closed, problem solved, even though I think this guy will always be a shop vulture, he’s a happy one.

Obviously, the best thing is to try and keep these rubbernecker’s out of the shop, if at all possible. That’s not to say I don’t have a bunch of friends and old customers that spend time in the shop talking cars, or learning some new techniques. I certainly enjoy their company. It’s the type of person who doesn’t trust the mechanic and are ever watchful for something to happen.



Being friendly, making small talk, that’s OK… shadowing the mechanic so close that you’re likely to get an elbow in your eye… not so cool.

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I simply show them where the waiting area is and put up the chains of the service bay. Give them a longer than necessary expected time of completion. When Asking too many questions I'll direct them to buying a book for their car or taking a class. Sometimes I'll even work on a totally different car for a while on purpose.

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We call them hawk-eye's. I usually tell them mistakes are more likely to happen when I'm distracted, please have a seat in the office. Sometimes I lose patience and make a stern request, as in "your not covered under my insurance so when a car falls on you I'm going to have to hide your body in the forest and I don't have time to do that so please wait outside"

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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