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A League Of Their Own - "There's mechanics, and then there's mechanic's mechanics."


Gonzo

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A League of Their Own
There’s a mechanic in every town who every other mechanic knows. The go-to person when all else fails. That mechanic seems to have the knack of knowing just what needs to be done. Everyone in the business knows him or has heard of him, and if they get stuck they know who to call. In a lot of towns, there are more than just one these mechanics. Some, are excellent on the mechanical side, some are known for their electrical skills, while others are known for the diagnostic capabilities. They really are in a league of their own, there the mechanic’s mechanic.

High school shops classes, trade schools, technical colleges, and even the good old tried and true “On-the-job” training gives most mechanics their start in the business, but for a few, learning about their trade never ends. They take their training and skills to a whole new level. It could be because they take their job a bit more serious than the next guy, or it might be that “A” personality that does it. Then again, it could be they just want to do the best job they possibly can. You won’t recognize them just by walking down a street, and you can’t tell them apart by their resume in an interview. They’re hidden amongst us all and they’ll blend into the crowd. But, we know they’re around.

To the layman, mechanics are all alike. Badges and patches mean little to them. To most of them, there’s no difference between the guy changing your tire and the guy scanning your car. With a wrench in their hands they all look alike to the consumer. It’s the results that matter to the customer, not the claims they’ve heard about. All they want is their car fixed as cheap as possible and as quickly as possible. What difference does it make who fixes it, as long as it gets fixed? It’s not about the ability to diagnose, it’s about the ability to get it done that concerns them. But, with cars getting much more complicated than ever before, even the consumers are starting to realize there is a difference.

These special types of mechanic, the elite ones, deal with those “other” type of mechanics constantly by phone, in the shop, or by email. It doesn’t take long for these extra exceptional mechanics to figure out what’s the level of expertise of the mechanic they’re talking to. Especially when they come in and they’re asked, “What’s wrong with the car?” and they answer, “I changed this part, and that part, then I tried that other part again.” All the while not mentioning any of their tests results, just parts they’ve changed.

To the educated mechanic, it’s pretty obvious what the problem is with the car… you worked on it. (It’s funny how asking “what’s wrong with the car” turns into “what I did to the car” every time.) But, ask them something significant such as what the short fuel trim looks like, you’ll get the “other” mechanic stuttering around the answer, and eventually spewing out some sort of nonsense that amounts to gibberish. (I hope it’s not the same explanation they gave to their customer.)

Let’s face it, in this fast paced world getting a car in the repair shop and back out the door in the fastest way possible is the name of the game. Most average day to day mechanics can handle most everything that goes wrong. If they get stuck, a lot of them will resort to one of those companies that offer quick fix answers by polling more average mechanics from across the country. They’ll combine their responses and by the law of averages they’ll have it narrowed down to the “most likely” repair. But, when the expected results of throwing parts at the car doesn’t fix it, then they’ve got some back pedaling to do and start calling for help. And, of course who do they eventually call? Why of course, the mechanic’s mechanics.

Who are they? Where are they? Why doesn’t the consumer know? How can you find one of these mechanics who are in a league of their own? For the most part, you already do know, at least most average mechanics do. But, why would the average mechanic at the average garage who does every day, average repairs not want to tell the consumer about those above average mechanics? It’s pretty basic logic at this point. Day to day common repairs are the bread and butter of the average shop. Bring them something that is going to be hard to solve and they’ll stammer around the shop tossing a few parts, or checking for codes. Eventually, some easier gravy-train work comes in the door. They’ll drop your problem and jump on those jobs all the while referring the harder to diagnose job to one of those not-so-average mechanics. (Which is what they should have done in the first place.)

Getting to that above average level takes a great deal of studying and a lot of shop time. Their work speaks for itself. Even then, there’s more to it. Some mechanics have reached that level rather quickly, while others have taken a lifetime to get there. Even still, there are a lot of mechanics that have no ambition to ever try to be anything more than just a line mechanic. They’re quite content pulling water pumps and spark plugs and don’t want to get all wrapped up in all that diagnostic stuff.

One of these days it’s going to be an important thing for the consumer to know, if not right now. The best bet is to pay more attention to those emblems and patches. It’s an indication of who in the automotive repair business wants to let you, the consumer, know they’ve got what it takes to be a better mechanic. Ask around just to be sure. Ask one of those “average” mechanics they know, even if they’re not likely to tell you at first. If you do enough prying around it won’t be long before you’ll know which mechanics in your town are the average type and who are truly the outstanding problem solvers.

As far as mechanics, being the best mechanic there is takes more than a box of tools. Study and practice your trade. With luck, and a lot of effort you can be the go-to mechanic that ever other mechanic knows. You might even hear your name mentioned as one of those mechanics that in a league of their own.


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Good one Gonzo! I think that the regular mechanic needs to start paying the top notch guys a consulting fee. Or maybe the top notch guy can just charge the regular mechanic just a little extra if they do the diagnostics for them ;)

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

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      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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