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Just a slick talkin' mechanic

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“You’re Just One of Those Slick Talkin’ Mechanics”

Written by Gonzo Weaver

As printed in Autobodynews - 2010 from my book "Hey Look, I Found the Loose Nut"

A referral came in from and old customer. It was an early 90’s Ford pickup that could have passed for a clown car. This thing had every color of the rainbow on it. Windshield was cracked, and the driver side window was hanging sideways. Even the bed of the truck was loaded down with all kind of debris from roofing shingles to old busted up lawn furniture. Not to mention the interior could use some house cleaning.


These are the type of vehicles I hate to get stuck behind when I’m riding my motorcycle. You just never know when something is going to fly out of the bed of the truck and smack into you.


The only reason I even took this pile of junk into the shop was because it was a referral from a regular customer. Normally, if you pull up to the shop in this bad of shape you better have one hell of a heart bleeding story, or I’ll tell you to get it on down the road.


Anyway, this beat up old Ford had so many problems. I had to do my best to sort though what I could. It was hard to start, and when it did start it had a terrible miss. If you tried to drive it even few feet it would buck and backfire, and eventually start to move, but not without a great effort on the motor’s part.




I called our junk collector and told him what I had found right off the bat, and that it needed taken care before we went any further. The old distributor had such a wobble in the shaft that half the time it couldn’t find the contact points. I thought this was why it was so hard to start, and for that matter the big backfire. Of course a lot of other things could cause the same problem. But this was so obvious any first year tech could have spotted the problem.


“So that’s all there is wrong with it?” he asked. “I seriously doubt that. I haven’t checked it for codes. I haven’t looked at the transmission or fuel pressure, but this distributor has got to go,” I said.


Now it’s a money thing. He told me to go ahead with it, and keep him informed of the results.


After installing the distributor it started right up, even sounded pretty good. Before pulling it out onto the road, I thought I better check those codes. There were 2 codes; One for a TPS, and another for the transmission. I called him and told him what I found.


Now it’s back to money thing again. “OK, go ahead with the TPS. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the transmission,” he told me. This was like putting the curse of Murphy on the truck. Something has to go wrong now.


I put the TPS in, and cleared the codes. The engine started great, ran terrific, and sounded surprisingly solid. All the codes cleared, and no more really obvious problems (I could have spent days straightening things under the hood). It was time to hit the road. Oh, oh. The truck’s transmission was trash. It had all the gears, well, sort of. It would lumber along, drop in and out of gear, and find a new neutral position when it had a chance. For the most part the transmission was in about as good of shape as the rest of the truck. Just plain overworked. You might as well put a fork in this one, because it’s done.


Time to make the call. It seems every time you get this far into one of these never ending repairs it will reach a point where you’re not solving one problem at a time, but creating an even bigger one, the financial one. Almost every time this type of customer will go along with what needs done until he thinks you don’t know what you’re doing, and are just out to take their money. Not so! The whole thing comes down to maintenance. It’s not like everything broke at once. They let it go, then expect a one-fix repair with a discount!


Like I said, the outcome is a little different each time, but the common factor is usually the same. I’m not getting paid for all the work I have completed….only some sort of agreed upon amount of the repair. This guy took it the extreme. When I called him and told him about the transmission he didn’t have the money. I expected this. Oh, he didn’t have the money for the repairs we had already done. What he was going to try to do was talk me into giving the truck back to him, and he would pay so much each week, because he needed that truck to get back and forth to work. If he didn’t have a way to get to work he couldn’t pay me. I told him that he should have thought of that before he agreed to the work that was done, because the car doesn’t leave until the bill is paid. That’s when he started in on me. “You’re just one of those slick-ass talking mechanics,” he shouted through the phone.


“Well that might be the case, and I have called worse, but we did have an agreed upon bill.” I said. “Oh come on man, I know it didn’t need any of that work you did. All it needed was a transmission. So I’m not going to pay for any of it, and I’m picking up my truck today,” he screamed into the phone.


Now there are two things to keep in mind on this story. One, he originally agreed to all the repairs as they were getting done. And two, he didn’t think there was anything wrong with the transmission. Or did I miss something in the conversation?

The screaming on the phone went on for what seemed like hours. There was no getting through to him about the agreed upon work, or the conversations we had about the additional work to the truck. Or the fact that I had originally told him about the amount of items I found wrong with the truck. I could tell I might as well be talking to the wall.


“OK fella, I can see we’re not going to get anywhere. You know me being a slick-ass talking mechanic and all; tell me how much you have and be honest now. If I agree to accept the amount I’ll put your truck out front, and you bring in what cash you have and I’ll give you the keys. Here I am trying to help you out, and now all you want to do is change things after the fact. I didn’t want to do this job in the first place because of the horrible condition it was in, but another customer said you were an upstanding guy. So I did the work. Take your truck home and do whatever you want with it, because I don’t need to make a living off someone who doesn’t trust me. Even if the guy who referred you does.


He agreed to this strange arrangement, but he was still mouthing off when he got to the shop. He walked out to his truck and started right up. He came back in the office still mad as hell, and wanted me to show him which parts I changed, so he wouldn’t change the same ones again. I did, and then he wanted a receipt for the parts. You can figure out the rest, he left the same way he came in. Unfortunately for him, there was no way to show his manhood with a tire squealing peel out in the parking lot. The transmission doesn’t work that well!


Oh by the way, I do feel sorry for the guy, and wish I could have done more for him since he was a referral from a good friend and customer. The money is very important, but I do need to have some assurance that I’m appreciated for what I do. The old customer and I talked about it later. He said he thought the guy was a kind and conscientious guy. He’d never heard a cuss word out of him, since he was the janitor at his local church and all. Go figure.



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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
      At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
      I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
      With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
      Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
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