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Article: Save a dime, Spend a dollar - Cheaper labor is as bad as cheaper parts

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Save a dime, spend a dollar

There’s trend in “out of shop” repairs I’m seeing more and more of these days. It’s been going on since the very first cars hit the open road, but because of the technical advancements and procedural changes there seems to be a lot more cars that aren’t getting repaired properly than ever before. It seems to have more to do with cost than with a general lack of maintenance, and because of the technical and repair procedure changes fewer DIY’rs are adequately prepared to take on those repairs. So, to save their cash they opt for a side line repair rather than a professional shop. Of course, they might have saved a dime by going “rogue” on the repair, but there’s a good chance they’ll have to spend a dollar just to undo the damage done by these back alley repair hacks.

Take the guy who needed a heater core, but didn’t want to pay the professional shop that diagnosed the problem. What he wanted was a cheaper alternative. The next day while at work, he casually mentioned his predicament to a co-worker. The co-worker said he knew a guy who knew of a guy who has a friend of a friend that’s a really good mechanic and would even come to your house and fix it. So, the guy called this traveling tool box connoisseur and a deal was struck up that he would be over by the weekend to change it out, as long as he had the new part waiting for him.

About half way through the repair the “friend of a friend mechanic” found himself with connections and parts he had never seen before. He then tried to start the car only to find out it wouldn’t. Of course, the wiry mechanic friend had neither a clue, nor an educated guess as to what was wrong. All he had to his credit was a vague knowledge of how to remove a couple of bolts and screws and hopefully not to leave a pile of miscellaneous parts under the seat when he was finished.

Outmatched by the new technology and his lack of taking the trade of automotive repair serious enough to warrant any training or certifications, our weekend nut buster and his little cohort (aka “his tool box”) took off for parts unknown (pun intended), never to be seen or heard from again. Which left the owner of the vehicle high and dry with an even bigger problem than he originally had.

It never ceases to amaze me that even with various repair manuals, internet sources, and parts available at the corner parts store, somebody would be willing to tear into a car without a reasonable understanding of what lies behind the dash. That seems to be the perpetual gap between how a professional mechanic tackles repairs and how the “friend of a friend mechanic” does the same job.

There’s something to be said about being in the trade on a daily basis. Most pros will tell you that even a year away from the business can leave you far behind your competition. More often than not, the professional mechanic has to stay up with the ever changing industry, as well as adopting a few tricks of their own or at least finding easier methods than what the engineers originally anticipated. (No offense engineers.)

However, even then, those tricks and short cuts are often omitted in the corner parts store repair manual or YouTube video. Whether it’s due to space, or because some of those mechanic “tricks” aren’t approved by the manufacturer. The manual writers often have to stick with what is “engineeringly-correct” rather than what professional mechanics have found out in the trenches.

Let’s face it, years ago when most systems didn’t use miles of wire with interconnecting information and calibrated components, a good shade tree mechanic could get by without knowing the inner workings of the actual systems. All they needed to know was what part was bad and where it’s located. That’s not the case anymore.

There’s going to come a day when these backyard mechanics are going to reach a tipping point, and not following all the warnings and directions printed in the repair manual will to lead to a catastrophe. Even those repairs that seemed simple in the past will require extensive training to accomplish. With some of the latest systems in production now it’s safe to say we already have reached that tipping point. But, the dollar is still the deal breaker when it comes to professional automotive service. Then again, the typical person who decided to go the route of finding the cheapest ratchet slinger or rely on a friend of a friend carrying a rusty tool box to do their repairs may find themselves still standing in their driveway with a broken down car.

Sure, there’s still a lot of ways to save money on service repair costs just like you can with any type of service work, and not just the family car, either. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Am I willing to take the risk of a failed repair by not calling a professional, and do I understand that it will probably cost more for the professional to straighten out the mess from the last guy?” If not, you might be stuck on the side of the road like the guy with the heater core looking for another “friend of a friend”.

Save a dollar. That’s always smart thinking. Having diagnostics and service work done by some guy you met at the corner parts store who is moon lighting as a mechanic...? Hey, it’s your dime.



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