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A Bad Week Ends Up a Lesson On Life

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We all have had that week from hell. You know, the one week that makes you ask yourself why in the world you ever got into this business in the first place. The week that makes you doubt yourself, your customers and the people around you. And as you push through the week, every turn you make you find another fire to put out, another bounced check to worry about, another comeback that needs to be done over again, on and on and on. By Wednesday you say to yourself, “it must get better, it can’t get worse”. Well, guess what? It can.


For me, my recent week from hell happened this past summer. I came in on Monday morning in the second week of July to find that my service manager was sick and would probably be out until Thursday. I also learned that one of my top techs got into a motor cycle accident over the weekend and was seriously injured, with no information about his return to work. It was 6:45am and little did I know, this was just the beginning, and it was about to get worse.


A Subaru we serviced a few months ago was towed in over the weekend with a seized engine and the owner was blaming us for not putting oil in the engine. He was demanding we pay for a new engine because in his mind, it’s our fault. I gathered my crew together a little before 8am and told them this was going to be a very challenging week. I also told everyone to be positive, work together and we will get through this.


On Tuesday my air compressor caught on fire. The compressor, only a little over two years old, apparently had a defect in the wiring which caused a short and fried the motor. We were one month over the warranty and I had to eat the cost for a new compressor motor.


On the ride into work on Wednesday I called my shop foreman and asked if it was safe to come in. I was joking, but he wasn’t laughing. There was silence on the phone and I asked, “What happened now”? He told me that the transmission we installed in the Dodge Van last Friday was towed in overnight; “the transmission doesn’t even move”, he said. He also told me that there was a note from a very unhappy customer that said she needed the van back ASAP! Then he told me that someone threw a rock through the front window and that the Police are waiting for me. I wanted to turn my truck around a go to the hills and hide. Aside from these new issues, we were getting behind in our work as the problems kept mounting. Somehow, we made it through the rest of the day.


Thursday morning started out ok. My Manager was back and we were well into the process of getting all the issues settled. The compressor motor was due to arrive that day. Luckily we had an old back up compressor which kept us going. The glass company was there installing a new window. Things were looking better, I thought. But, I was wrong. That morning we received the wrong tire shipment, and all the tire sales for that day had to be reordered. We lost electric power from a downed pole around the corner at 10:45am. We did what we could, but we all know how dependent we are with computers, lifts, phones and other equipment. The power came back late that afternoon and we all stayed late into the night to catch up. The push to get the work done was draining everyone, including myself. I could sense despair setting in as the morale in the shop was suffering.


I spent the better part of Friday morning dealing with the customer of the seized Subaru engine. The truth is, there was oil in the engine, but low about 2 quarts and he couldn’t read any oil on the dip stick. According to our records he was 5,000 miles over his scheduled oil service. We only serviced his car once and as I questioned him, I realized he didn’t take care of the car as he should, often going over the recommended interval for an oil change. I asked him if there were any lights on the dash before the engine seized. After a short pause, he admitted that the oil light and check engine light had been on the day the engine seized. Knowing the truth put me in a better position to deal with the problem. He was still angry and wanted to know what I was going to do because we were the last to touch the car, but the facts were the facts and I stood my ground.


By Friday afternoon I was mentally exhausted and was looking forward for the week to come to an end. About 3:30 that afternoon, a long time customer came in for service on her car. I walked over to her to say hello and she started to cry. I sat down in the waiting area with her and asked if there was something I could do for her. She told me that her daughter, 41 years old, just passed away from cancer. She left two young children and a husband behind. In an instant, all the problems that happened the past week took on a different meaning; all of the worry that I had the past few days suddenly vanished. This woman had real issues to deal with; issues about family and life, and in the end, are the only things that really matter.


I sat with her until her car was finished and listened as she spoke about her daughter and family. When her car was complete I walked her out to her car. As I walked back to the office, I started to put things in perspective and realized that all the trouble that had happened in the last 5 days seemed a lot less important.


As shop owners, we face adversity every day. At times I feel we are being tested. Sometimes, things appear to be too tough to bear. Sometimes, just sometimes, the problems we face are just what we need to remind us that things could be a lot worse. For me, I learned a valuable lesson about life. I learned to appreciate the things that really matter in my life and not concern myself about the things that are only part of life, not what life is all about.


Tomorrow is Monday, and I don’t know what the auto repair world has in store for me. It may be hell or it may be paradise. But whatever happens, I’m ready for it.

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  • 2 months later...

I feel like I should stand outside your shop on Friday at closing time with a bugle and playing taps... I think we have all had weeks like yours. Best regards and better weeks ahead.


I'll play slowly... with feeling... and really really long... :) gonz

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