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As shop owners, we sometimes feel that we need to answer every question and handle every situation. While you need to be proficient as a business owner, you also need your employees to think for themselves. Empower your people to solve problem. Ask them for their opinions and don’t be too quick to jump in on every situation. The more you jump in and solve their problems, the more they will rely on you. This is not to say you don’t have their back; but a team functions best when everyone takes ownership of their position and takes responsibility to take care of problems. Will employees make mistakes? Yes. But there isn’t a shop owner on this planet that has a perfect record at making decisions. We all make mistakes. As a shop owner; teach, mentor and coach. Include your employees in on decisions that relate to their job position. When employees feel you trust them, they will begin to solve their own problems. This will set you free to work on the things that will bring you greater success.
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Article: Drain the Swamp - Sometimes you're asked to repair a car...not count the alligators along the way.Drain the Swamp and Count the Alligators Occasionally the customer has more confidence in you than you do yourself. The old farmer tells his hired hand, “Get down there and drain that swamp today.” The hired hand says, “Looks like there’s a heap of alligators in there.” “Don’t ya never mind about them gators, you just get that swamp drained!” the old farmer explains. Some days I feel like the hired hand. I’ll get a job in, and I already have the feeling there is going to be a whole heap of alligators between me and draining that swamp. This time around it’s a 2004 Nissan 350z with a non-functioning convertible top. The top was up, but wouldn’t move, other than unlatching the rear (5th bow) window section of the top. Jim is an old customer who loves his little Z car, and was well aware of a few of the alligators lurking under that deck lid. How did he know? Easy, he already tried to get it repaired at a convertible top shop, but they weren’t up to the task of taking on this alligator infested swamp. Jim’s only comment to me was, “I don’t care how many problems you find, just get it working for me.” After gathering all the TSB’s, wiring diagrams, procedures, and any other bits of info I ventured out into untested waters to see what I could find out. All the test procedures started out by checking pin-out voltages and resistances at the convertible top ECM, and guess where that is?… under the very same deck lid that isn’t moving… hmm, imagine that. The trunk is the only option. You’ve got to crawl in there and find the cables to release the deck lid manually. You could tell somebody else had already been working on it; the emergency cables were nowhere to be found. I looked like some sort of contortionist trying to get down into the small little opening at the bottom of the trunk with my bore scope. I had to wiggle it around in there, until I found the very thin wire cables that would release the latches. (They were pushed back under the lining of the storage area, which is not accessible from the trunk area) Ugh, I haven’t even moved the top yet and I’m already swimming with the gators… what could be next? Once I got the deck lid up I could then remove the interior trim and test the ECM to see what needed to be done. The output voltage for the 5th bow actuator motor was coming out of the ECM, so unless the wires are broken or disconnected the motor must have failed. Ok, now crawl out of the storage area and wrestle my way into the passenger compartment, then pull the trim piece on the back window up to expose the 5th bow motor. The motor brushes were shot. Lucky for Jim, I just happened to have some brushes that were a perfect fit. Might as well replace the brushes and see if it will work. I gave it a try. With a flip of the control button the 5th bow swung up into perfect upright position, but the top wouldn’t move. What now!?!? Back to the ECM and check the stop switches and motor voltages to the top. This time the alligator is in the ECM. Inside the ECM I found the circuit board lead to the top motors was burnt in two. Ok, fix the circuit board and try again. The top moved smoothly through its folding process. As the top closes the 5th bow actuator has to rotate in the opposite direction, so it will sit flush inside the convertible top storage compartment. As the bow moved to its next position the whole thing quit again. Oh come on… enough already… more alligators?!?! Yes, more alligators. Another trip back to the ECM, this time I found the stop switch for this position wasn’t working. Somebody had bent the micro switches so far out of whack there was no way most of them were ever going to work. By now I’ve called Jim at least a dozen times to keep him informed of what I was up against… his only answer, “Keep draining the swamp” Ok, Ok, I got it… I’ll put my waders on and crawl upside down and sideways to get this thing working… but…man these alligators… they’re everywhere. If you counted the different movements from completely up to fully down there are 12 separate electrical/mechanical operations the top has to go through, AND they all have to work in the correct sequence. One micro switch out of position and something else begins to move at the wrong time. I thought I was done with my alligator counting by the time I had the last micro switch in place, but the first time I got the top to fold up and drop into the storage area, it would stop about an inch or so from completely going down. Seriously? More gators on the prowl? What did I miss this time? I went thru all the electrical and mechanical diagrams again… Nothing, every step was correct, but there had to be something missing. Then I found the answer on one page. One short reference to some elastic straps that connect the 2nd bow to the 3rd bow. These straps spring the 2nd bow towards the rear of the car to allow for clearance, so the canvas and all the linkage arms can drop that last inch or so into the storage compartment. I did some more searching and found the part number 97150-CE01B “strap, elastic, convertible top”. I called the dealer and gave them the number… “Yea, it’s a good number, but we’ve never sold any.” I’m shocked. From what I found out lots of these convertible tops had the same problem. I figured they would have changed hundreds of these. It looks like it’s a common alligator in this part of the swamp; seems to me every top should probably have these replaced with the new part number, (know somebody with one?… give them that part number). “Well, get me a set of them.” Once the parts came to the shop, installing them was a piece of cake compared to everything else I had to do. At least now I could see the bottom of this swamp. No more alligators, no more swamp to drain… I’m done. I found 20 different problems in the top mechanisms and electrical components. That’s a total of 20 alligators that were lurking in this swamp. What a job! It took a lot of effort to solve all the problems that I found. It didn’t matter much to Jim how many things needed taken care of, the smile on his face as the 350z top worked like new made all that gator wrestling worthwhile. I almost gave up on it several times, but Jim insisted that I keep at it… I’m glad I did. So the next time I take on one of these gator infested jobs, I know exactly what I’m going to do. Ignore the difficulties, and do just like the old farmer told his hired hand to do. “Drain the swamp, and don’t pay no mind to all those alligators”.
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So, What’s Wrong With Your Car?
It’s the typical question asked at the service desk of automotive repair shops across the country. You’d think the answer would be simple, you know, just tell the service writer what ails the car, but no… that’s not the typical answer from the do it yourselfer.
When asked, some people have a hard time keeping things simple. Their answer isn’t really an answer, it’s more of a statement of the things they’ve done to their car. Now why is that? How come when the service writer asks, “So, what’s wrong with the car?” the answer is, “I changed the battery, the alternator, and I rewired everything under the hood.” Which sounds more like what they did to the car, rather than what is wrong with the car.
It troubles me to hear things like this over and over. All I want to know (as the mechanic about to service the issue) is what is wrong, not what you’ve done. Believe me, any mechanic worth his salt will figure out what you’ve done to the car. What he lacks is the reason you’re here in the first place.
I’ve even tried to rephrase the question, “So, what brings you here today?” That doesn’t seem to work any better. It’s like some unwritten law of responses; the DIY’r type customer has to begin their dissertation with what they’ve done and not the actual problem that brought them to the repair shop in the first place.
Now, if the service writer starts the deliberation with, “In as few words as possible, tell me what is wrong.” It doesn’t seem to help at all, and if the question asked is, “So, what did ya do to it?” that only puts them in a defensive mode which doesn’t improve the answer or any further forthcoming information. Ya just gotta stand there and listen intently and with unbiased interest in their tale of tales.
I often wonder if the whole thing is a pride issue with some of these guys. Maybe what they are really telling the service writer is more in line with how they tried to fix it but failed, rather than actually trying to explain the problem they can’t solve. Somehow the mere explanation of all the individual parts that were changed is supposed to inform the mechanic of things they shouldn’t assume are the problem.
There are those who finish their story with, “and, everything checks out good.” How’s that ever happen? If everything is “good” you wouldn’t be having a problem.
From the mechanics point of view, “everything” has to be rechecked under the guise of the proper identification of any components replaced, the quality of those components that were replaced, as well as checking the wiring. Once all that is confirmed then the mechanic can check the signals and voltages. It’s one of the many things that separate the DIY’r from the professional. A pro will diagnose things rather than simply change parts. A systematic list of diagnostic procedures isn’t that hard to follow, but understanding the results can be.
Apparently that’s where I find it hard to follow some of these DIY’r logics. They’ll come up with some goofy name for a part or symptom based on their background or something they’ve overheard. None of which have anything to do about automotive repair or cars in general. But, you’ve gotta listen to their story, no matter what they say.
I’ve found over years of being behind the service counter, you should never ever interrupt or correct their explanation. Just let them get it all out, and then hopefully work back to “So what’s wrong”. I’ve been tempted more than once to stop them in the middle of their story, hold my hand up and say, “I didn’t ask you what you did. I asked you what’s wrong.” I’m not sure that would go over that well.
While they are well on their way of their next novel and spilling their tool box of parts they’ve changed in verbal form, I’m trying to keep up with it all by writing as much of it down. Usually, I’m crossing off things as their explanation goes further into the story about how they don’t want you to check that part (because it’s new) or that particular part they just mentioned was changed years ago and hasn’t been a problem since, but for some reason (which they’re not sure of), it suddenly has become extremely important to inform me about it. By the end of the story I’ve gone through a blank invoice on both sides, a scratch pad, and ran out of ink in the pen.
To top things off, a lot of these home garage repairmen insist on waiting, or in a lot of instances want to watch. This for the most part, can be just as frustrating for the mechanic as listening to their saga. Most shop insurance policies frown on having a customer in the shop area due to the numerous pieces of unusual and dangerous types of equipment, let alone getting in the way of the process of diagnosing the problem. If you want to watch, go find a You Tube video on the problem, the repair shop is not an educational outlet for the uniformed.
Sometimes, the DIY’r is pretty sharp and might actually have a working knowledge of their car. It’s rare, but there are a few who really could tackle their problem without consecutively changing the alternator five times in a row. Let’s face it, car repair isn’t rocket science, but as the technology proceeds into even more data lines and computer systems it might as well be. Which to me, means an even wider gap between the DIY’r and the professional mechanic, and probably a whole lot more unbelievable stories at the service counter.
Will the question at the service counter change? Will the answers from the DIY’r get to the point before the service writer has to break out a second scratch pad or a new pen? Probably not. There’s something about fixing your own car that brings out the mechanic in all of us. Whether it’s a pride issue or to save the cost of a professional mechanic, DIY’rs will still give it a try with little to no information. Just wing it and see what happens.
Don’t worry, they’ll still sell parts, and they’ll still sell tools, as well as the good ol’ free code read at the part stores. Oh, and there are manuals at these parts stores too, but you don’t need those. They are for someone who doesn’t know about cars, not somebody like yourself? (I’m being sarcastic, of course) So there’s plenty of opportunity for a new “So what’s wrong with your car?” moment at the local repair shop.
When stumped, they’ll find a pro to check their car out. And, I’m sure they’ll still tell the service writer their entire story about all the parts they’ve changed, all the books they’ve read, and how many You Tube videos they’ve watched, without ever getting to the “what’s wrong” until the very end. It’s just the way it is.
But I already know what the service writer is thinking after they ask, “So, what’s wrong with the car?” and the answer turns into a long winded story. Yea, he’s got a pretty good idea what’s wrong with the car...you worked on it first.
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