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Back Door Irritation


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Here's a guy who just irritated me from the moment he came to my shop, not through the front door mind you, but through the back of the shop, and then through the back door of my front office. The shop isn't setup so you can enter from the working bays of the garage and then to the office area. That's what all the signs are for…. there're plenty of them too. Most of them point right to the front door. But, it's obvious this guy doesn't read very well.


I guess, for some people there is still this "old school" way of doing things. Reminds me of the old TV shows from the 50's and 60's, where the actor playing the mechanic is always some half-wit, dressed in a one piece jump suit with a rag hanging out of his back pocket, leaning over a hood with his always present white socks showing. No doubt he would be wearing some grungy old ball cap covered with theatrical fake grease. The actor playing the part of the customer would walk right up to him, announce he was there, and the old boy would come out from under the hood wiping the fake grease off of the same two wrenches he was using from last week's episode. (I guess they only have two wrenches in the studio.) The customer was always portrayed as an intelligent consumer in the story line, and the mechanic…. well, he wasn't much for manners or intelligent conversation.


These days it's just not that way in every part of the country. Most shops I know are rather protective of the equipment and tools in the service bays. Then of course, there is the liability concerns that comes into play with the shop insurance provider. I don't mind customers in the shop if I know them, or if they are escorted by an employee. But, to walk right through the shop and then to the front office makes me a little suspicious … always has.


Then there are the customers who want to watch what's going on. That's fine… as long as they watch from a distance. I don't need help putting lug nuts on, so don't help me by picking them up and handing them to me. (I had a 70 year old lady who insisted on being next to her car. I used to put a chair right next to it for her. She was like a hawk watching every move I made.)


If I'm tearing out a complete dash, and they would like to see what they are paying for, I'll be glad to show them what their car looks like in a thousand pieces. That usually gets that chin dropping look going. Gotta love the usual next question… you know the question, "Are you going to be able to put that back together?" Too funny… I start laughing before they even finish asking.


But this guy had a chip on his shoulder. Apparently he already made up his mind that all mechanics are cheats, crooks, and dumber than a toolbox. He proved it as soon as he came through the back door and approached the service counter.


"Can I help you?" I asked. (Already wondering what this guy was thinking coming through the back door)


Mad, loud, and obnoxious he said, "Yea, I need somebody to look at my truck."


"What is it I need to see?"


"My gauges are acting up."


"I can look at them, (I grabbed a blank invoice) what kind of truck is it?" I asked.


"What's with the ticket? I'm not bringing it in the shop for you to work on it. I just want you to look at it," my astonished back door user said with an angry tone to his voice.


"Well, sir, we charge a diagnostic fee to cover our time to diagnose the problem."




"I ain't paying any kind of diagnostic fee. I'll only pay for something you can fix, and ya ain't done nothin' yet. All I want you to do is look at my truck. Then I'll let you know if I want you to look at it," he said with an angry snarl.


"Let me get this straight, you want me to look at it, so you can decide if you want me to look at it?" I asked, stunned at to what he just asked.


Now, I'm not sure which "look" he's referring to. Is it the "look" to see if I'm smart enough to figure out where the gauges are, or whether or not I can tell which ones are not working correctly? Gee, I guess if I start looking at the tail gate or the muffler then I might look pretty stupid. Maybe that's why I need to look at it to see if he wants me to look at it.


"So, you're not going to even tell me what's wrong with it, unless I pay you to look at it?" again asking with that same snarl in his voice.


"Mr. . . I make a living looking at trucks, and your gauges are no different. I can give you an estimated repair price if you'll tell me the symptoms. But I'm not going out there and tell you what's wrong then have you run off somewhere and fix it yourself, or find somebody cheaper," I said, now that it was my turn to answer with a snarl.


You know ya gotta love it…..when one of these back door garage seekers gives you the look and walks back out the same door they came in. You know the look, the one that says… "Screw you. You don't want to tell me what's wrong… I'll find somebody else that will" look. Never accomplishing anything, and even more aggravated than when they came in.


I'm sure this guy probably thought it would be no big deal to have me walk out there and stare at his gauges. You know, like a couple of guys on the weekend, cold beer in one hand, standing next to the truck with the two of us snarling sailor talk back and forth. Right, like that's going to happen. I suppose this guy thought I would walk out there while wiping off my two wrenches. I'll bet he even was expecting me to be wearing a one piece jump suit, white socks and greasy, grungy ball cap. Not a chance buddy!


Sorry Charlie, I've looked at all the cars in the parking lot I'm going to look at… it just ain't happening; I've been at this crazy business a long time, and I've seen this same type of kook before. I might be a little stuck on not going into the parking lot, but I'm even more stuck on wanting to get paid for what I do. My old saying: … "I'd rather do nothing and get nothing, than do "something" and get nothing"…


Sometimes in the owner's mind they feel they are the only one in the whole wide world who has "ever" had this kind of problem. That's where the mistake begins. Then they start to think no matter where they take this weird unusual problem the mechanic is going to screw it up anyway. It's just another misconception on their part, which is easy to solve once you explain it to them. That is, if they want to listen.


But, I still don't have to go out to the parking lot to explain it. Too many times I walk out to a car, "look" at the problem and end up fixing it on the spot. It's a natural thing for me do… I see something broke; I'm compelled to fix it. My bad, I know. But what's worse, if it's a simple problem, and I do take care of it…right there in the parking lot… I get a "thanks man" and off they go… never to be seen from again, or… until the next time they have a need of a parking lot repair.


But, when the next problem crops up, and the problem isn't a quick twist of a screw driver, and you tell them you have to charge them for your time… they get really defensive. Usually spouting off something like, "You didn't charge me last time!"


As I've said many-many times. … "The parking lot is a lot closer to leaving than paying…." And that's for sure.


I may be a small shop but, I am a professional, not your second cousin's first wife's uncle on your mom's side of the family, who shows up at your house, drinks all your beer, and spends the day sprawled out under the dash of the family truckster.


The comparison of today's automotive field to the medical field is much closer than it's ever been as far as the complexity of the problems we deal with as technicians. But we are not doctors… damned close though. I'd like to see you try to go into your dentist's office, and ask him to "look" at your problem, so you can decide whether or not you want him to "look" at your problem… See how far that gets ya.


Unless he's an old family friend, I'd say… you're going to get a bill.


Of course, there's one thing you won't see at the dentist office, a back door leading to the front office thru the exam room areas.


So do me a favor, let's all do our best to be professional, use the front door and try not to prejudge a service tech by what they're wearing. This job can be irritating enough back in the shop, and it doesn't help one bit… … … to add another pain in the rear.





I'm So Glad to have a place like ASO... It's not only a great site to find information about today's industry but a great place for guys like me to put their thoughts down. I write for several trade magazines and I'm always looking for responces on my stories. The more you tell me what you think of the articles, the more I know which direction to go for final editing. Not all stories make it, but most do.



I want to thanky you for taking the time to read these articles, please take a moment and leave me a comment.... It really does help.


Visit my website, buy a copy of my book, (I can autograph it if you buy it from my website) www.gonzostoolbox.com


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I couldn't agree any more Joe... Thanx for the comments... ur the best



True words of wisdom, Gonzo. The arrogance of some people and the lack of respect is something that I try to change every day of my life.

We do need to change our mindset. I have been guilty too, of that quick, instant diagnosis. Just because we have seen a problem a thousand times before, does not mean we should give it away.


Let me tell you a true story. About a year ago I hurt my right knee, the pain was pretty severe and I had a tough time walking, especially going up and down stairs. After two weeks, I finally went to an orthopedic specialist. I was seated on that examinations bed (you know, the one with the white butcher paper down the middle). The doctor walked in, I explained where it hurt, he grabbed my leg twisted it a few times and said, "I know exactly what's wrong, I don't need an x-ray or MRI to tell me you have a torn meniscus in your knee."


NOW, in 35 seconds he knew what was wrong with my knee. He did, sort of, a parking lot diagnosis. How did he know what was wrong? Because just like us, his years of experience. But, here's the difference…..the charge for the visit: $250.00.


So, I want to expand on Gonzo's story and make a plea to all shop owners to always convey a professional attitude. And one more thing…WE ARE pros, just like a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, whatever! You want more respect? Start with the way you look at yourself.

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You make me smile Frank... thank you for your comments... I wait each weekend to see what you and Joe have to say about my articles... thanks so much... Gonzo



Gonzo, I like your style and guts! Joe, what you said is right on.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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