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Repairing by the Numbers - Fix it right is more important than ever


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Repairing by the Numbers

         Now and then, I’ll get a car in the shop that you can clearly tell some amateur has been fiddling around under the hood.  Things are out of place, harnesses and lines are not strapped down, or they’ve come up with some concoction to seal an oil leak.  Nothing surprises me these days, especially after all the years I’ve been at this.  Whether it’s a homemade battery clamp or gobs of pepper poured into the radiator to seal a leak, I’ve probably seen it before… and then some.

         Once in a while, some of these in-the-ditch repairs truly are a road side emergency, but I tend to believe with proper maintenance even those repairs could be avoided. I’m not saying you won’t break down on the side of the road, I know I have, but we aren’t driving around with points and condensers or 2 ply tires anymore.  Cars have far more reliability built into them than the cars back then.  Even though the number of repairs has dropped considerably, the number on the bottom of the repair invoice rises with every new technology added.

         Like everything else in the modern world, it still comes down to the numbers.  The dollar number that is.  Car repair can be expensive, especially considering the amount of training, tools and equipment needed to perform the various diagnostics and repairs. However, there are still a number of people who take car repair and maintenance as something that can be taken care of with cheap off shore parts and a shade tree, no matter what the problem is. That number is soon to change.

         The number of sensors, cameras, and multiple layers of high speed computer data in the modern car changes the way a lot of repairs that once were simple, like a cracked windshield, or a piece of trim falling off into a calibrated control system service.  A consumer, or for that matter a repair shop, who is unaware of the complexities of these new systems and tries to penny pinch a seemingly minor problem, may inadvertently be putting themselves, their passengers and the other motorist at risk.

                  The days of bailing wire and homemade repairs has reached the end of the road.  Cars are far too sophisticated and complex for shoddy repair work from either the unaware motorist or those repair shops with antiquated repair methods. This is where training the consumer about their car is just as important as training the technicians. 

Things like replacing an outside mirror after Junior clobbers it backing out of the garage, aren’t as simple as before. Now, they’ll need to be calibrated and realigned because of the cameras and sensors in them.  Even minor fender benders can’t be taken as lightly as before. A few stray piece of duct tape might hold the bumper on, but cover up a radar sensor.  However, with these systems in working order, the likelihood of getting in a fender bender or getting too close to the garage door has been diminished by those very same cameras.   

         Cars aren’t built like the solid tanks of yesteryear either, and why should they be?  The technology and the way the vehicles are built goes hand in hand, and it’s not just about fuel economy or creature comforts, it’s about the safety of the occupants as well.  

         In short, the modern mechanic is going to have their hands full programming, calibrating, and setting up the modern car for those minor mishaps that the average motorist gets involved in. Even now, insurance companies offer better rates if your car is equipped with some of the latest radar and protective systems, such as crash avoidance and lane departure awareness systems. 

Keeping these rolling computers in working order isn’t going to get any cheaper, either. Someday you might even count the number of times the technology in your car made a difference to you and your family’s safety, and for those reasons the numbers don’t matter. Saving a dollar is a smart thing to do, cutting corners on repairs isn’t.  Repairing the car by the numbers just doesn’t add up when it comes safety and reliability.


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Great read Gonzo !  In the article you mention about cost of repairs etc.. I had a customer yesterday come in for a simple mindless tire plug, we charge 16.00 cheapest around. They guy bitched about the price. I told him go across to the station across the street and see what they charge, I know for a fact they charge 23.00 . Then he went on to say how he fixes his own cars since everyone charges too much.. of course that makes my blood boil since we are not charging enough for repairs.. I told him I use to make good money, put money away, now I pay bills. The price of repair has not kept up with the advancements in the automobile. I told him there is no more replacing parts everything needs to be programmed or calibrated and to do so you need someone with the know how and the proper tools none of which is cheap. He then asked about his A/C , we are cheap here too I told him 140.00 to vacuum, charge, dye and check for leaks (his system was very low cycling fast) again I can just get a can of Freon and do it my self.. Go for it ! They are fast to bark at a price for their cars, but if it was their home a/c and they guy comes out stays 30 minutes charges 500.00 they don't blink an eye .. people just don't know about auto repair anymore . So I urged the guy to use other stations in the area for repair and when he was fed up with them come back and see me. Have a nice day oh and I didn't plug his tire in the end since he wanted it done for 10 bucks. 

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Gonzo: Funny how everything else besides automotive repair goes up in price, people grunt and except it! But when it comes to auto repair it's called a ripoff and folks don't want to pay the higher prices. Why is this? My guess is they don't want to accept the fact that automobiles have gotten more complicated and with that costs go up.

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Excellent article, Gonzo! Great reading.

I spend a lot of money on testing equipment and training, I also train my guys all the time, I hold formal classes for them. I have dealers send me their people, and I am picky on whom I train.

What's the difference between my shops and the competition, 1. We strive to know the science better than anyone. This in turn delivers efficient service to our customers.

I had an old guy deliver a great compliment to me yesterday, he said "Harry, you are expensive as Hell, but I be damn if I will go somewhere else to get my car fixed. I like it fixed right the first time with no bullshit." This was his granddaughter's car that had bounced around a few shops after a collision, the culprit? A forgotten ground strap that was left off at the collision shop. Yes my friends, electronics need solid signals.

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43 minutes ago, xrac said:

SKM, that customer sounds like the one who tried to make an appointment with us on line.  Not only did he want to bring his own oil and filter in for us to use but then on top of that wanted to use a $3.00 off on an oil change coupon we have on line.  My response back was he could not use the coupon. I did not want that guy as a customer and he did not come in.  

xrac,  Some have the attitude you must take care of all the customers, but over the years I have found that this only leads to problems of all sorts.. A lot of the time it is best to let them go especially when they try to make their problems your problems.. I don't know about you but I have enough of my own problems I don't need someones else's . Besides, half the time you take more time arguing over price than the repair takes LOL !

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2 hours ago, HarrytheCarGeek said:

Excellent article, Gonzo! Great reading.

I spend a lot of money on testing equipment and training, I also train my guys all the time, I hold formal classes for them. I have dealers send me their people, and I am picky on whom I train.

What's the difference between my shops and the competition, 1. We strive to know the science better than anyone. This in turn delivers efficient service to our customers.

I had an old guy deliver a great compliment to me yesterday, he said "Harry, you are expensive as Hell, but I be damn if I will go somewhere else to get my car fixed. I like it fixed right the first time with no bullshit." This was his granddaughter's car that had bounced around a few shops after a collision, the culprit? A forgotten ground strap that was left off at the collision shop. Yes my friends, electronics need solid signals.

I too pride myself on learning the science behind the technology.  Which in turn, makes repairs a lot easier to understand.  AND, like you said, I've had customers tell me that I'm the most expensive-best money they've spent-and wouldn't change a thing-repair shop.  Still, I do get the oil change coupon jerks on occasion, and it's sad to say, but I chase them out the door with my usual sarcastic attitude....which usually ends up with me looking like the bad guy....which at this point in my career...I couldn't give a sh'''''t less about.  It's quite simple, you want the best...pay for the best.  You want the best training...pay for the best training.  We can argue about cost all day, but it still comes down to who knows what they're doing and who doesn't.   

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15 minutes ago, Gonzo said:

I too pride myself on learning the science behind the technology.  Which in turn, makes repairs a lot easier to understand.  AND, like you said, I've had customers tell me that I'm the most expensive-best money they've spent-and wouldn't change a thing-repair shop.  Still, I do get the oil change coupon jerks on occasion, and it's sad to say, but I chase them out the door with my usual sarcastic attitude....which usually ends up with me looking like the bad guy....which at this point in my career...I couldn't give a sh'''''t less about.  It's quite simple, you want the best...pay for the best.  You want the best training...pay for the best training.  We can argue about cost all day, but it still comes down to who knows what they're doing and who doesn't.   

Exactly! People that nickle and dime you and have no clue about what it takes to deliver a great service will always waste your valuable time. I learn long ago not to waste my time with those people.

One of the first things I teach the service advisors is not to feel bad when someone declines a service, specially people that have no clue how a car works. There is a certain segment of foreign people that now live here and this is their first time owning a car, they have no clue as to what it cost to have a car service, but anything that cost anything is too much for them, heck, even with the free maintenance option they don't have their car service. This as told to me by the Ford dealer down the street.

Like one of the SAs told me, they want to get a free coupon for the free coupon inspection they are redeeming for next time. Next, they will want us to pay them to let us work on their cars, lol.

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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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