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I Just Don't Get It - How do ya leave your car at a shop for months?


Gonzo

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I Just Don’t Get It

Help me out here. There’s something I just don’t get. How in the world do people leave their pride and joy, the family trickster, the old jalopy, or whatever they want to call it at a repair shop for an extended amount of time? Every day while driving to work I’ll pass numerous little shops, and a few big shops that seem to have the same cars sitting in front of their bays. They move them around a bit, you know, kind of like shuffling chess pieces or something, but they never seem to leave. What’s going on?

Then, every once in a while I’ll get someone that comes into my shop with this same old story, “I had my car over at this other shop for the past month and they still haven’t found out what’s wrong with it. So, I got tired of waiting and had it dragged over to you.” Usually after they’ve finally decided that leaving their car at one of these phantom repair places wasn’t a good idea. Sound familiar? Well, if you’re a shop owner you’ve heard it before. What’s surprising is that it happens a lot more than most people realize, and what really surprises me is how somebody could be without their car for such a long time, then finally decide to pull it to another shop. I mean seriously, what did you buy the car for? Was your goal just to make the payments while it sat in front of this obscure repair shop rusting away? I just don’t get it.

How’s this possible? I mean, does this shop have some sort of charismatic charm that convinces someone to leave their car there for months on end without ever getting it repaired? Or is it one of those, “I’m in no hurry. Take your time with it.” stories? For me, it seems every time somebody tells me they’re not in a hurry is when they call back in an hour or show up the next day wanting to know what I’ve found wrong.

I’ve never dealt with anyone who has just left their car for me to casually work on it whenever I feel like working on it. Oh, they’ll tell me to take my time but, they really don’t mean it. I have the time. I’m in the business of repairing cars. I’ll make the time or I’ll hire more help, whichever or whatever way it takes to keep the customer happy. At my shop, the norm is that everyone is in a hurry and can’t wait even a few hours for me to get to their repairs, which seems to be the complete opposite at these main street rest stops that call themselves “repair shops”. Now, if all these shops are doing is providing a free space for an extended stay at the “Shady Rust Hotel”, well, that’s not what I’d call a really smart business decision. Maybe keeping the parking lot full is just their way of showing off how many cars they have to work on, or should I say… trying to work on?

I’ve often wondered about the true status of those cars at these repair shops. I’m pretty convinced that it’s not because these stationary cars all have some sort of exotic part that has to be shipped in by a row boat from some far off island country. I really think the reason these cars are spending their day taking up valuable space in front of these shops is because the mechanics at these shops don’t have a clue how to fix them. Let’s face it, if they’re in the business to repair problems on customer’s cars (just like I am) then by all rights fix it! Make room for the next one!

As one good ol’ boy mechanic from one of these “We’re always busy” shops stated to me the other day, “Well, I just keep trying different parts until I get’r runnin’. If’n I run out of idears I let er’ sit until I think of somethin’ else ta do. I’m only bringin’ ya this here car cause the owner was getting a bit riled up over it takin’ so long.” Seems like a poor way of diagnosing problems and even poorer way of taking care of their customers if you ask me.

But, we should also look at it from the other side of the coin, the customer side that is. They’re just as much to blame for all this waiting around for a repair that probably ain’t going to happen. Obviously it’s not time that worries them, so it must be the cost factor they’re concerned about. Talking with one customer who had their car at another shop for so long that cobwebs had spread across the motor told me, “Well, he’s good and cheap. That’s why I left it there for him to give it a try.” I can believe the cheap part, but good... I don’t think so.

When are they going to wise up about it all? That is, the shop that doesn’t have the skills to repair the car properly and uses whatever charm or magic they have over the customer to leave the car at their shop for so long. Along with the car owners who simply pinch pennies on their car repairs and aren’t concerned with quality. But, they’re willing to put their own kids in their family trickster that was repaired by somebody with questionable knowledge and skills. This car repair stuff isn’t some kind of kid’s game or something that should be left to chance. It’s a highly skilled trade with highly skilled individuals who dedicate their life to performing intricate diagnostics and repairs to their customer’s cars with sophisticated equipment and continual education on the latest systems being developed. Of course, I’m leaving out those parking lots that claim to be repair shops.

For something that has evolved into a computerized and mechanical machine that is rarely understood by the average owner, and something that nearly every person owns, has been left to the whims of an unregulated and unlicensed repair industry. It just completely boggles my mechanical mind. It’s a wonder anything ever gets accomplished, or that good mechanics stay in the business and further their education to do even higher quality work than before. I mean seriously, you’ve got to have a license to sling plumbing pipe or cut hair, but hardly any kind of quality check for the person doing the repairs on your family jalopy that zooms down the road at 75mph. I just don’t get it.


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I've had cars for multiple months, but they were jobs that were not factory repairs. Recently we had a VW that the customer requested a custom intake manifold. Took the supplier 3 months to come through!

 

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Great article Gonzo ! my thoughts exactly, I actually emailed two letters the other day , but as usual no response. I think by this time they have a filter on my emails straight to file 13 LOL. That won't stop me, it is sad when you work with the same guys you are writing about, only difference is they don't have to take the cars very far they just hand the ticket to me or just keep coming up to me , "hey I have this code or the car is doing this, what could it be?" of course I give the huge long scenario of what it could be and have you checked this and that and what readings do you get on this? Then I get the owner coming to me can you take a look at this car it has been her for almost a week now..

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I've kept cars waiting on parts many of times. However, most of those cars are left inside. But, it never fails there's always one junker that gets left by a customer who fails to return phone calls and I then have to get rid of it myself. (probably a new story about to come out of that LOL)

 

But, with that said, I pass by so many places that have piles of cars sitting around and I just can't imagine all of them are waiting on parts. To me, shop space and parking space is a premium commodity. Wasting space on storage of somebody's car is just crazy, maybe for one or two... but a dozen (as in the case of one particular shop I pass) is nuts.

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Gonzo, You just energized me to get this stuff fixed or send out letters. I do have one car I did a 3 grand rear end job on his SS Impala, 5 months ago. The guy paid me a grand down. Nicest guy in the world. Now he is in jail for selling drugs and will not be getting out . It was his dream car, Looks like my dream car now. Just what I wanted !!!! This outcome will be a good one. I am sure of that. Great write up.

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I'm guilty of having cars for a month or more at times, as a one man shop, if it's a second vehicle and non critical the customer doesn't seem to mind. I work on it when I can, but I focus on cash flow jobs to keep everything flowing smoothly.

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I've had lots of cars that hang around for months... there are 3 usual reasons.

 

1- Big project, small budget. One way I can keep the cost down a bit for them is to use it to fill any dead time I may have and not otherwise let it get in the way of better paying work.

 

2- Engine damaged beyond repair, can't find another one. If the customer really doesn't want to give up on the car they can pay a small fee to leave it with me and we keep looking for an engine.

 

3- Customer decided car was not worth repairing. Sometimes I see one I like and buy it, but it will have to wait til I have dead time since it is my own pet project.

 

It's very rare that they hang around because I don't know what's wrong with them and when I do get one that difficult it's a week or two, not months.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         5 comments
      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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