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Poke It With A Sharp Stick - car repair is so simple...even a cave man can do it (NOT!)


Gonzo

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Poking it with a Sharp Stick
 
      It's not so much that I work with the general 
public in my daily business, it's more of what 
kind of 'public' gives me the business.  I'm not 
talking about people who can think and reason 
like most educated, knowledgeable people.  It's 
that ever present cave man mentality.  You know the type, the guy who's elevator doesn't go to the top floor, or the couple who can't seem to keep both oars in the water.  The all seem to lack one simple characteristic, common sense.  The very quality that every halfwit adventure I've either seen, (or been a part of) have in common.  (I can't leave myself out of this one... guilty as charged)
 
      It stands to reason if some of these mental giants were among the intrepid pioneers who crossed the great divide in a Conestoga wagon, they probably would be the ones that never made it. But, with so many modern conveniences like diet, clean water, and modern medical care, these half-wit trail blazers roam freely throughout every part of the countryside. 
 
       There was a comedian some years ago who told a story about his ancestors from the Stone Age.  He commented on how some people felt it necessary to leave the safety of the cave to take on some huge beast with nothing more than a sharpened stick, only to be trampled to death by the same prehistoric behemoth.  He went on to say, “My relatives were the ones who stayed in the cave... how else can explain my being here?!  If my ancestors were the ones who got killed off, how would it be possible for me to be standing here telling you all about them? My relatives had the good sense to stay out of harm’s way.  Were my ancestors brave? Sure they’re brave, they’re just not stupid.”  
 
       “Oh look, large man eating beast outside the cave, I’ll stay here… you can go out there.  I’ve gotta sharpen my stick, and while you’re gone I'll paint your picture on these cave walls. Our ancestors will think you’re great hunters that way.” 
(“Right, when in fact they’re running for your lives…!”)
 Funny, yes, true... I guess so, and in similar ways, it’s how some people tackle car repair.  
 
       In most states there’s no regulation to keep someone from poking their pointed stick under the hood of their car, or hanging a shingle on a shop door and call themselves a “mechanic”.  The unsuspecting consumer is at the mercy of the phone book (and other sources) to find a shop that can actually make the appropriate repairs on their car.  It's like the car has turned into a huge mammoth, and the person attempting the repair is just taking stabs at it with a sharp stick.  No training, no experience, and more than likely no clue what they are doing.  This is but one of the many reasons why the automotive field gets such low marks in the consumers’ eyes.  As one of my customers told me, “It's getting harder and harder to find a good mechanic these days”.  And, from what I can tell, it hasn’t been much better in previous decades either.
 
       A typical example of this was last week.  An older gentleman came into the shop with an air conditioning problem on his 1967 Thunderbird.  Sweet ride, entirely original... just the way he liked it.  He had been to several shops trying to get the air conditioning working.  This car was factory equipped with the old style compressor and A/C lines that didn't use a Schrader valve, but instead had the hand shut off valves that you moved (in the correct direction) to recharge or change the compressor.  The owner’s story was that every place he went to, no one knew how to use the hand valves correctly to refill the system.  They were all good at replacing parts, but had no clue as to how the system worked.    I'm old enough to have worked on these when they were very common.   All the previous shops could have figured out how they operated, if they would have just put down their pointy stick, and did a little research.  (FYI - There's only 3 positions to be concerned about: Front seated blocks off the compressor, Mid-position is used to allow flow between entire system, compressor, and the gauge port, and the most important one, back seated, which allows the entire system to work normally.)
 
       Turned into an easy job for me; all in all, the A/C system was blowing cold air in no time.  All it took was a little basic knowledge rather than guessing at it. (No telling what parts actually needed replaced, by the time I saw the car everything was new, oiled, and mounted correctly.)  Too bad for the owner though, he paid each and every one of them to do what I just did... make cold air. The T-bird owner was overjoyed to finally have his air conditioning back in working order.  (He did tell me he wasn't about to use those other guys ever again.)  I guess after so many pokes with that sharp stick the T-Bird owner had had enough.  
 
      Then there’s the DIY'r trying to repair the car in the family cave.   First it’s a jab with the pointed end of their stick, then two, then another, until they either figure it out, or they find the information they need to make the repairs.  There's been a lot of talk lately about the factory information not being available... really??  What Neanderthal told you that?   I've been working professionally in the car repair business for a long time and I've never had any problem obtaining factory information. The hard part is getting the right scanners (at reasonable prices) and education these days.  It's out there; it just may take a little poking around to find it. (Pun intended)  The big thing is, it’s not free, never has been.  Poking the sharp end of your stick at the manufacturer and expecting him to roll over like a wounded mammoth and hand you the information for free … just ain't happening… ever.  
 
     I have this mental image of a DIY'r and their protégé the “untrained mechanic” as the cave men portrayed in the painting with the great mammoth in center.  The cave men are throwing their spears into the beast, but the huge behemoth of prehistoric times still isn't quite finished off.   It's not a futile effort, if they keep stabbing at it they’ll eventually get the job done.  Gee, doesn’t that sound just like a couple of guys trying to figure out what’s wrong with the car by throwing part after part at it?  It does to me.   
 
      Poking around with that Stone Age sharpened stick method of diagnostics is a slow and unproductive way of making any kind of automotive repair. But, I still see the same kind of poor workmanship even today.  Working on modern cars, and even one from a few decades ago requires the right tools, the right information, and some good old fashion common sense.  If you’ve got all that, you’ve got half the battle won.  That common sense and good repair practices goes a long way. One thing’s for sure… it beats poking it with a sharp stick.  

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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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