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Of Mice And Men - Plans and results... sometimes don't go together


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Of Mice and Men

It’s another morning at the repair shop, with more cars and more problems. As always, everyone is in a rush. “How soon can you get mine in?” “How long will this take?” “I can run and get the parts for you, if it will make the repair go faster.” Yep, pretty much an average day. The plan for the day is to do exactly as my wife tells me all the time, “You can only fix one at a time, so take it one car at a time.”

The basic plan every morning is to delegate the work in the shop, get parts ordered, and try to maintain some sense of dignity for the rest of the day. But, the best laid plans always seem to have some issues, and hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t try to upset the apple cart. The quote From Robert Burns' poem, “To a Mouse”, written in 1786 says it best. “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]”. What was so true back then, is no different today.

Ya never know, it might be the special ordered parts you’ve been waiting on has arrived and they’re the wrong ones, or the part that was supposed to have arrived today (as promised) isn’t going to show up until next week. If it’s not the parts, it’s the car you’re working on that has more than one issue to deal with, or it’s something to do with what the customer wants done that twists and turns the afternoon in the shop.

It can be an uphill battle with no end in sight sometimes. Of course the plan is to get the job done whatever the case may be, no matter what’s involved. You know, get the RO, get the keys, read the complaint, make your initial mental judgment of the problem, and then proceed to the parking lot to drive it into the service bay.

But, not every time do things go according to plan. Say, you’ve grabbed the RO and the keys and are heading to the parking lot. The work order (RO) states, “Brake lights inop.” Shouldn’t be a biggie, I’ll just pull the car into the first bay and take a look at it. I reach for the driver’s door handle and give it a couple of tugs… it’s not opening. Is it locked? OK, I’ll try the key fob …nope it’s useless… alright how about the door key? Nope, still won’t open. By now that internal time clock in my head starts ticking and the blood pressure is reaching the point where a few choice words aren’t going to help the situation. Time to march back to the front office and find out what this is all about.

“Hey, that car I’m supposed to be looking at for the brake lights, did they mention to you anything about the driver’s door not opening?”

“No, they didn’t say a word.”

I’ve always wondered about stuff like this. How is it they can tell you in detail what they think is wrong with the car, or when the problem started, or what they were doing at the time of the failure. More than likely they’ll mention the weather conditions or the diagnostic opinion from their crazy uncle who tinkers on cars, but informing me about the driver’s door not opening? Not a chance. I guess it just slipped your mind. Perhaps I was supposed to notice it when I got out to the car. Yep, I did… great way to start a project by the way. You know you could have at least left the window down, that way I could do a “Dukes of Hazard” slide through the window.

“Well, give them a call would ya? In the meantime I’m going to grab another RO.” (Another plan derailed.)

Now I’m back where I started. Got another RO, get another set of keys, read another description of a problem and head out to the parking to find the car. Maybe I can get this one in the shop.

Just for the record, later that day the front office found out the door on the other car is stuck, been stuck, and they crawl in from the passenger side. Now the brake lights are going to have to wait until the door is fixed so I can get under the dash on that side of the car. I guess the customer’s plans will have to be changed too; at least now I know, I’m not alone in this “mice and men” thing.

Sometimes, even the best laid plans of a few adventurous DIY’rs goes awry. All I was supposed to do was figure out what was wrong with it so the owner and his buds could tackle the actual repair. The car sat at the shop for several weeks while the owner was working up the courage to even attempt the repair. (It was quite an extensive repair) Finally, the day came that the decision was made. He was going to take it home and give it a go, although between himself and his buddies, I don’t think any one of them had a clue what they were doing, and they proved that when they came to get the car.

Instead of calling for a tow truck they were going to use a tow strap and a rented tow bar. After an hour or so of trying all sorts of different attachment points they thought they had it hooked up well enough to make the tow. I looked up from under the hood of the car I was working on just as they pulled out of the parking lot. Mind you, not at any gingerly speed, the guy took off with no regard for what was behind him...like...the vehicle he was towing. Within seconds I heard a huge THUD-CRASH-CRUNCH. I ran out of the shop to see their tow vehicle had turned left onto the main road while the towed vehicle went straight across the street and up over a very high curb. Oil was pouring out of the engine now, and these two guys were standing in the middle of the street wondering what to do next.

Just then a large semi came down the street and was already on his horn as he slammed on his brakes. Between the two guys, myself and the semi driver we managed to push the vehicle off of the curb and back into the shop parking lot.

Later, they got a real tow truck to cart off what was left of their car. The owner looked at the structural damage, the oil pan, and the original repair that needed done and decided it was too far gone now, so it was going straight to the bone yard. (So much for fixing it at home.)


Having a plan is great, accomplishing the plan is far better. Although, sometimes even the best laid plans don’t work out. Ya just have to be able to go with the flow sometimes, even if it is an uphill battle or just up over the curb. I just wonder, if the mouse ever has these problems?

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Gonzo, are you sure you weren't at my shop the other day??? These stories sound very familiar.

No matter where you are... you're there, and that's all that matters. Same stuff, just different location.

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it's amazing what folks go through just thinking they might save a few dollars. If they approached it from a different point of view, like what could go wrong by doing it this way, they be making better decisions and saving money in the long run!

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  • 1 month later...

Some "customers", usually men, have a certain obstinate false pride about having to pay for car repairs and especially diagnosis. It's a mentality that we all have to deal with from time to time. Sometimes it is better to just "cut bait" and let it go. After many years in the business I can tell in the first few minutes of talking to a new customer(in person or over the phone) if this is somebody I even want to do business with. I have the right to refuse to do business with whomever I choose. My automotive repair shop is not a public service. I do not owe anything to anybody that calls out the blue, drops in unexpectedly or even a sometimes customer. A customers lack of planning(taking a bus, getting a ride, borrowing a car while theirs is being repaired) is not my problem. I can have this attitude, it is my choice. I am a professional and I deserve respect.

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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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