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Some Fatherly Advise


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Some Fatherly Advice Gonzo 2010


Before my father passed away we spent several years under the hood of cars working together at my shop. He was an old school repair guy. Always looking out for the customer, and wanting to do that little bit extra for them. You know, adjust that crooked license plate, grease the door hinges before they pulled away from the shop, that kind of thing.


I usually did the diagnostic work, and he would stick with the mechanical repairs. But most of the time his favorite thing to do was to entertain the customer while I figured out the problem. The one thing that would give him fits was the way a customer would react after I diagnosed the problem, especially if I diagnosed it quickly. A quick diagnostic might be fine for some people, but others it was more of a matter of pride that their "regular" mechanic hadn't found it so quickly, or that the customer themselves didn't find it so easily. It didn't set well with them. I got the impression that a quick diagnosis led to some sort of mistrust with my abilities, or that I didn't thoroughly examine the problem to their satisfaction. A lot of times it had more to do with the previous technician taking so much time and not coming up with an answer, so they think it can't be that simple.


Dad had his own answer for it. He was going to get one of those aluminum foil fire suits, a couple of tall curtains on moveable stands, a disco ball, and some strobe lights. His idea was to pull the car into this "special" diagnostic area turn on the strobe lights and hang the disco ball over the car. Stick the suit on and make some comment like, "I'm going in…" and then let the light show begin. After a few minutes, come out from behind the curtain wall, whip off the aluminum fire suit hood and say something like, "Whoo that was a tough one." Maybe then, these types of people would be more likely to believe the results of a quick diagnosis.


We never tried it, but I think about doing it from time to time. With the advent of the scanners to read and show detailed parameters diagnosing has taken on a whole new approach. A lot of problems are a matter of following the diagnostic tree correctly to get to the source of the problem. (Codes don't fix cars… codes are the starting point) Sometimes it's a quick trip on the diagnostic ladder, and other times it's quite lengthy. It really depends on the problem, of course.


Trying to be quick and on the right track with every diagnosis is what makes the money in the shop. Stalling the results just for the sake of making it look like it was an extensive search to find the problem doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Then on the other hand, I sometimes believe this is one of the many reasons why a doctor has you wait so long for his 10 minutes of time. Even though he may have walked into the exam room, looked at the chart, took some quick looks at you, and back out of the exam room in less than 10 minutes, I'll guarantee his bill isn't going to show a 10 minute charge on it. But, in my business, time is money… and most customers are watching the clock.


Back in the days when my father and I worked together, he came across an old Bosch injector tester for the early K and L injection systems. The old tester was done for. Not only was it dated, it had several missing connectors and the information booklet didn't come with it. I took it apart and rewired it as a large volt meter, with a lighted buzzer attached to a separate set of wires. We then rigged up a swinging arm mounted to the wall out of PVC pipe. The pipe contained the wires to the tester that we mounted on the wall. It was more for decoration than usable, but it was kinda cool in its own funky way.


Anytime we got one of those "lookylews" (one of my dad's favorite words), you know the type, the kind that has to hover over the hood while you're working on it. Dad would motion to me to wire up the buzzer to the battery, and use it as a way to find the draw or short in the car. His job was to entertain, while I looked for the problem. Most of the time, I'd study the wiring diagrams, determine the most likely spot for the problem, and find the solution. As I would get close to the problem I would intentionally ground out the buzzer on the wall, and it would make a horrible noise. Dad would make a comment to the customer as to what was going on. His old school charm was what made the difference. At times this whole thing would get quite humorous. I'd be lying under the dash zapping the buzzer and good old dad would be working his magic with his broad smile, and his quirky sense of humor.


These days the electronic scanners have somewhat evened the playing field. To some degree the abilities of a good tech are now wrapped up in a good quality diagnostic machine. But it still takes a good tech to understand it, and evaluate the information he/she sees on the screen.


I still try to diagnose things as fast and accurately as I can. I don't have the old buzzer, or my dad's inventive conversations with the customers to help me with the diagnostics. It's a memory I'll never forget. But, I'll always keep in mind some of those lessons from my father… "Take your time son, you're good… but they (the customer) don't know how good you are… so you'll have to prove it to them each and every time."


Old school wisdom is still important, and fatherly advice is some of the best.





Thanx for taking time to read my stories. These stories are here for your enjoyment and before final editing. As a shop owner, an author, and a syndicated columnist I spend an equal amount of time writing as well as turning wrenches. So each week I try to introduce one new story for everyone to read. Your comments are extremely valuable to me to find out what you think of the stories.

Leave a comment and visit my webiste www.gonzostoolbox.om for more auto info.

Thanx again, Gonzo

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Edited by Gonzo
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Joe, you are always welcomed with your comments. I see I accomplished what I set out to do in this story. Have guys like you and me read this, and walk away with a better outlook on what we do. A little self gratification is what I call this article. Like ya said, it's a roller coaster of emotions. It makes ya think of the past and the future at the same time. I can't think of a better way to express it than the way I wrote this article. I'm sure one of my editors is going to pick this one up and print it in one of my columns. I think it's a story that needs to be told to everyone out there in the business.


Thanx again Joe, as always... I'm very appreciative of ASO, it's my pleasure to share my thoughts and stories with everyone. All the best... Gonzo


Wow, is it me or are there multiple messages all wrapped up in one story? My emotions were on a roller coaster ride as my mind shifted from the customer, the new technology, how we did things in the past and even brought back memories of my own father.


Here's personal note: Thanks! Thank you for explaining in one article why people like us choose this business and why we are the best of the best!


I was having a tough time today thinking about an article for the next ASO newsletter….well thanks to you I know what to write about.

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It's timeless... I don't think it will ever change in this business. All the tomorrows start with doing a good job today. you can quote me on that one... LOL


I love the quote at the end. Very important message to remember.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Auto shop owners are always looking for ways to improve production levels. They focus their attention on their technicians and require certain expectations of performance in billable labor hours. While technicians must know what is expected of them, they have a limited amount of control over production levels. When all factors are considered, the only thing a well-trained technician has control over is his or her actual efficiency.
      As a review, technician efficiency is the amount of labor time it takes a technician to complete a job compared to the labor time being billed to the customer. Productivity is the time the technician is billing labor hours compared to the time the technician is physically at the shop. The reality is that a technician can be very efficient, but not productive if the technician has a lot of downtime waiting for parts, waiting too long between jobs, or poor workflow systems.
      But let’s go deeper into what affects production in the typical auto repair shop. As a business coach, one of the biggest reasons for low shop production is not charging the correct labor time. Labor for extensive jobs is often not being billed accurately. Rust, seized bolts, and wrong published labor times are just a few reasons for lost labor dollars.
      Another common problem is not understanding how to bill for jobs that require extensive diagnostic testing, and complicated procedures to arrive at the root cause for an onboard computer problem, electrical issue, or drivability issue. These jobs usually take time to analyze, using sophisticated tools, and by the shop’s top technician. Typically, these jobs are billed at a standard menu labor charge, instead of at a higher labor rate. This results in less billed labor hours than the actual labor time spent. The amount of lost labor hours here can cripple a shop’s overall profit.
      Many shop owners do a great job at calculating their labor rate but may not understand what their true effective labor is, which is their labor sales divided by the total labor hours sold. In many cases, I have seen a shop that has a shop labor rate of over $150.00 per hour, but the actual effective labor rate is around $100. Not good.
      Lastly, technician production can suffer when the service advisors are too busy or not motivated to build relationships with customers, which results in a low sales closing ratio. And let’s not forget that to be productive, a shop needs to have the right systems, the right tools and equipment, an extensive information system, and of course, great leadership.
      The bottom line is this; many factors need to be considered when looking to increase production levels. While it does start with the technician, it doesn’t end there. Consider all the factors above when looking for ways to improve your shop’s labor production.
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