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I think we all know that diagnostics is the most costly service we provide in the automotive repair business today. In today's automotive repair environment, you need to be selling diagnostics, and getting paid for it. I'm looking for feedback on when things don't go exactly as planned.
Let's say a car comes in and you sell some diagnostics, by the hour, or from a menu. After you complete that work, and you still don't have an answer, do you go back to the customer and sell some more? Do you continue at your expense? If you do go back to the customer, and you have nothing conclusive after that, then what? Do you keep going back and selling more diagnostic work until you solve the problem? If you continue to go back and sell more, how many times can you do that? We've all had that car that we've worked on for weeks to find some strange problem. I doubt many customers are willing to pay for the 40 hours you spent on the car.
Now lets say after 5 hours of work that the customer agreed to, you are no closer to finding the issue than when the car came in. Do you charge them for the 5 hours and send them down the road even though you have not provided them with a diagnoses? Do you start spending your time trying to solve the issue because you have a hard time charging for 5 hours and are unable to provide any answers?
I'm asking these questions as I am rethinking my business strategy on diagnostics a little. Our shop is known for its abilities to diagnose problems. We have other shops bringing cars to us on a regular basis because of these abilities. I actually get several calls and emails weekly from across the county for help diagnosing problems. There are times, a lot of times, when I think this is more of a curse, than a blessing. I know we are in the business of fixing cars, and we need to be able to find problems if customers are going to keep coming back. But after my lead tech and I spent a considerable amount of time over the last 15 days diagnosing the strangest intermittent no start issue on an Audi, and watching his frustration grow everyday, not because of the difficulty of the issue as we both love the challenge, but because it held him back from addressing the other work that was coming in the shop.
So, as rewarding as it was to solve that mystery, I can't help but look back at what it cost me financially, and the frustration to the technician, and realize we have to come up with a way to try to avoid going down those rabbit holes. Right now my idea is to give it 1 hour. If after an hour, we are not relatively certain that we will find the issue, with another hour or two, then let the car go. Let the customer know that it's not that we can't fix the car, but that we cannot fix it efficiently. If I lose that customer, it would probably still be cheaper that working on his car for 2 weeks.
Love to hear your thoughts.
Of Mice and Men
It’s another morning at the repair shop, with more cars and more problems. As always, everyone is in a rush. “How soon can you get mine in?” “How long will this take?” “I can run and get the parts for you, if it will make the repair go faster.” Yep, pretty much an average day. The plan for the day is to do exactly as my wife tells me all the time, “You can only fix one at a time, so take it one car at a time.”
The basic plan every morning is to delegate the work in the shop, get parts ordered, and try to maintain some sense of dignity for the rest of the day. But, the best laid plans always seem to have some issues, and hardly a day goes by that something doesn’t try to upset the apple cart. The quote From Robert Burns' poem, “To a Mouse”, written in 1786 says it best. “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]”. What was so true back then, is no different today.
Ya never know, it might be the special ordered parts you’ve been waiting on has arrived and they’re the wrong ones, or the part that was supposed to have arrived today (as promised) isn’t going to show up until next week. If it’s not the parts, it’s the car you’re working on that has more than one issue to deal with, or it’s something to do with what the customer wants done that twists and turns the afternoon in the shop.
It can be an uphill battle with no end in sight sometimes. Of course the plan is to get the job done whatever the case may be, no matter what’s involved. You know, get the RO, get the keys, read the complaint, make your initial mental judgment of the problem, and then proceed to the parking lot to drive it into the service bay.
But, not every time do things go according to plan. Say, you’ve grabbed the RO and the keys and are heading to the parking lot. The work order (RO) states, “Brake lights inop.” Shouldn’t be a biggie, I’ll just pull the car into the first bay and take a look at it. I reach for the driver’s door handle and give it a couple of tugs… it’s not opening. Is it locked? OK, I’ll try the key fob …nope it’s useless… alright how about the door key? Nope, still won’t open. By now that internal time clock in my head starts ticking and the blood pressure is reaching the point where a few choice words aren’t going to help the situation. Time to march back to the front office and find out what this is all about.
“Hey, that car I’m supposed to be looking at for the brake lights, did they mention to you anything about the driver’s door not opening?”
“No, they didn’t say a word.”
I’ve always wondered about stuff like this. How is it they can tell you in detail what they think is wrong with the car, or when the problem started, or what they were doing at the time of the failure. More than likely they’ll mention the weather conditions or the diagnostic opinion from their crazy uncle who tinkers on cars, but informing me about the driver’s door not opening? Not a chance. I guess it just slipped your mind. Perhaps I was supposed to notice it when I got out to the car. Yep, I did… great way to start a project by the way. You know you could have at least left the window down, that way I could do a “Dukes of Hazard” slide through the window.
“Well, give them a call would ya? In the meantime I’m going to grab another RO.” (Another plan derailed.)
Now I’m back where I started. Got another RO, get another set of keys, read another description of a problem and head out to the parking to find the car. Maybe I can get this one in the shop.
Just for the record, later that day the front office found out the door on the other car is stuck, been stuck, and they crawl in from the passenger side. Now the brake lights are going to have to wait until the door is fixed so I can get under the dash on that side of the car. I guess the customer’s plans will have to be changed too; at least now I know, I’m not alone in this “mice and men” thing.
Sometimes, even the best laid plans of a few adventurous DIY’rs goes awry. All I was supposed to do was figure out what was wrong with it so the owner and his buds could tackle the actual repair. The car sat at the shop for several weeks while the owner was working up the courage to even attempt the repair. (It was quite an extensive repair) Finally, the day came that the decision was made. He was going to take it home and give it a go, although between himself and his buddies, I don’t think any one of them had a clue what they were doing, and they proved that when they came to get the car.
Instead of calling for a tow truck they were going to use a tow strap and a rented tow bar. After an hour or so of trying all sorts of different attachment points they thought they had it hooked up well enough to make the tow. I looked up from under the hood of the car I was working on just as they pulled out of the parking lot. Mind you, not at any gingerly speed, the guy took off with no regard for what was behind him...like...the vehicle he was towing. Within seconds I heard a huge THUD-CRASH-CRUNCH. I ran out of the shop to see their tow vehicle had turned left onto the main road while the towed vehicle went straight across the street and up over a very high curb. Oil was pouring out of the engine now, and these two guys were standing in the middle of the street wondering what to do next.
Just then a large semi came down the street and was already on his horn as he slammed on his brakes. Between the two guys, myself and the semi driver we managed to push the vehicle off of the curb and back into the shop parking lot.
Later, they got a real tow truck to cart off what was left of their car. The owner looked at the structural damage, the oil pan, and the original repair that needed done and decided it was too far gone now, so it was going straight to the bone yard. (So much for fixing it at home.)
Having a plan is great, accomplishing the plan is far better. Although, sometimes even the best laid plans don’t work out. Ya just have to be able to go with the flow sometimes, even if it is an uphill battle or just up over the curb. I just wonder, if the mouse ever has these problems?
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By Joe Marconi
AutoZone continues to show that it is a major player in the auto parts business. With many independents experiencing a roller coaster ride with regard to sales, part companies appear to be doing ok. Below is a link in Aftermarket Magazine.
By Joe Marconi
Here are the result from a recent Tire Business Magazine online poll:
Question: Since Congress reinstituted the 2 pecent payroll tax, have your sales been affected?
35% - Slightly down
26% - Sales have tanked
24% - Stayed the same
12% - Up a bit
3% - Sales have soared
This is not the best news, but there may be other factors. How have your sales been the first quater of 2013?