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Trade Secrets -- Are there trade secrets???


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Trade Secrets



I'm often asked by a customer or another mechanic if I have some sort of trade secret for

finding a short in a car. The answer is No, I really don't have a trade secret or some trick to finding them faster than most. In fact, I can only explain it in one simple word, "Practice". Years of practice.


The automotive trade is unlike most other forms of labor intensive jobs. You can't use the same methods of repair from year to year. No offense to the other professional "blue-collar-trades" trades such as brick layers, plumbers, heavy equipment operators, steel workers, etc. I know full well these trades go through many changes from year to year, but in the auto industry change is a constant thing, and there is no "one" method I know of to learn how to do it all. Technicians have to continually update their education to be able to keep up with the constant change. This can be from the good old school of hard knocks to advanced classes.


If you're a dealer technician chances are you'll learn the new systems for that particular manufacturer, and learn certain tricks of the trade or methods that will aide in diagnosing problems on that brand. But, if you're an independent shop that works on several different models you'll have to learn the differences between each of them in order to be able to repair them properly without the aid of the manufacturer.


For instance, back in the 70's and 80's I could tell you flat out why the headlights would blink on a Ford or Chevy. It was nothing to trip the voltage regulator to full field on the old internal regulated Chevy through the little hole in the back of the alternator. If I needed to bleed the air out of a power steering system I had a little trick for that too. All of which was learned from sharing tricks of the trade from one tech to another.


Each vehicle had its quirks, and for each there was a trick or a short cut to solve the problem quicker and faster. None of which is very useful today. Those systems have changed so much that the knowledge and tricks of those days are all but useless.


Calling them "tricks" is probably the incorrect way of describing them. They are part of the daily diagnostics that technicians develop by studying those systems. Today is no different, we still have to find time to study and find those tricks just as we did back then.


Some people want to know the "secret" to fixing the problem on their car. Why? What secret? I think they just want bragging rights around the office cooler, so they can show off to the office crew they know how to fix their own car. If it's a paying customer… I'll be glad to explain the test procedures. But, just try to walk into my shop and ask me how to repair your car or point you in the right direction on how to fix your car with no intention of paying me for my time… Oh, I'll point alright… right in the direction of the front door.


I've spent a better part of my life just trying to keep up with the changes, learning the tricks of the trade, and being able to provide a service that is worthy enough to earn me a living. I can't imagine why I would want to freely give out my "tricks of the trade" (if I even had any) to people who are only going to use the information for their own good and not support my shop or techs.


So, are there tricks of the trade that we conveniently keep to ourselves as technicians? Sure, not like they are only mentioned after the secret handshake and the correct password is given, no, not hardly. They are shared in different groups across the internet as well as between techs at conferences, meetings and social events. But, there are still a few things a tech might want to keep to himself. (Even the manufacturer has a few trade secrets they don't like to share.)


Think about it for a second. Why do you pay a professional? Knowledge, skill, and background are what you're paying for. I call it "Time and Talent". It's the same in any profession.


Just the other day a guy dropped a car off that had a problem with the door locks. I diagnosed it, had the repair authorized, and had it done that same day. Later that afternoon I called the owner and told him it was done, and he said he would be over before I closed to pick it up. When he got to the shop he told me he called another place, and they told him they could have done the same job for half as much.


So I asked him, "Why didn't you have them do it in the first place?"


He said, "Because they already looked at it last week, but didn't know how to figure it out. But I won't be bringing any work here again… you're too expensive."


Even though I had a method of finding out what was wrong with the door locks, and spent the time to confirm the diagnosis, and had the repair price authorized by the customer before I started the work and made the repair, I still had to deal with an upset customer in the end, because somebody else told him they could do it cheaper. (Gee, and only after they knew what was wrong with it.) That's a poor trick of the trade, and it's no trade secret how some shop operators influence customers. Quite honestly, that's not even professional.


When it comes to automotive repair, find a good shop. I'm sure they'll have a few tricks they can use to solve your car problems. A good independent shop with the right tools and the right attitude is not going to be the cheapest shop in town. I'll guarantee you that. But I'll bet they're pretty darn good at what they do. It's no magic act, it's training and talent, and that's "NO" trade secret!



Someone asked me where do I get my inspirations for articles? Where? Right here at ASO, at trade shows, or just going to work everyday. Sometimes it's just a story I think everyone can relate to. Working on cars is hard enough, dealing with the ever changing industry is hard too, but the one constant that we can somewhat perdict is the customers reactions and other shops reputations. In some small part I think some of my stories help us all learn how to cope with those parts of our daily jobs.


Leave a comment, tell me what ya think.. good or bad. It does help and it does make a difference of which story goes into print. Thanx ASO memebers... you guys and gals are the Greatest!

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I think I know what your problem is Joe. YOU are To MUCH LIKE ME.!!! (I don't think that's a bad thing) LOL You know in the years that I've been leaving comments and stories here at ASO I don't think even once you and I have ever disagreed on anything. You mentioned how sometimes some of my stories get your bloodpressure up, well, how do ya think I write them. Usually ticked off at something. LOL


It's a fact that writing these stories brings up a lot of issues in the repair business that are never mentioned in any text book or conference I've ever been to. BUT, there are important situations that ever shop owner, tech, service writer, parts delivery person...etc... needs to know about because... you will experience them. Sooner or later.


The part about the new tech and the starter is a classic. (I've got one of those unfinished stories in my files related to that very same thing) It's all experience that makes it all work. You can't learn it all in one night, and you'll always learn something new everyday.


Don't give away your service.. Don't be the cheapest.. Don't be afraid to stand up and get paid for your time.

Ok time for a couple of cold ones... ya got me riled up Joe.. LOL Oh, here's one for you too.



Gonzo, I don't know where to start with this one. You know you have that knack of pushing my buttons right???


First, there is no substitute for experience, but as you pointed out, talent has a lot to do with it too. People like you combine talent, experience and A LOT of hard work to perfect their craft, and it SHOULD NEVER, NEVER be given away. Period!


The problem with many of us in the industry is that there are always those shops that will undercut someone else. It's like they need to "prove" to the world that they can do it cheaper. Why? Are they that unsure of themselves or are they that desperate for the work? I do not want to be known as, "The Cheapest in town".


Let me tell a true story. They say you should never base your labor rate by the other shop down the block. I agree and don't agree. For years I would call my friend at the Chevy Dealer and ask him what his labor rate was. I knew he did the math. If he said $80.00, I would make mine $85.00….This is the truth! I never thought of myself less than the dealer. He was working on Chevys….I was working on Chevys, Fords, Chrysler, BMW, Mercedes, Land Rover, Subaru, Nissan, Toyota, Lexus, Saab, Renault, boats, small engines, generators, space ships, and any other thing that was either driven or pushed into my bays. I even fixed a Lionel Train transformer for a customer!! Charge LESS! Never, Charge More!


One more thing about experience. I had a new tech install a reman starter a few years back. He parked the car outside and I asked him how many times did he start the car. He said once. I told him to go out and start the car at least 10 times. He said, "Why". I told him, "Just do it". Well, on the 6th try, the starter he just installed just clicked; a defective part. Now, I had no way knowing that beforehand, it's just one of things we learn thru the years. But, to this young tech….I was a genius!


Sorry for being so long-winded. I think I need to hook up a blood pressure monitor when I read some of your articles…

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      A recent study, done by Harvard Business School, concluded that the real problem with attracting and retaining employees has more to do with the workplace environment, not pay or benefits. While the study did find that an adequate pay plan and offering an attractive benefits package did help with recruiting and retention, it’s not enough to satisfy the needs of employees, especially those of front-line workers.
      The study also stated that in 2021, many companies were convinced that giving raises, sign-on bonuses, and other perks would solve the worker shortage problem and prevent people from quitting. However, this strategy did not work. So, what does work regarding attracting quality people and keeping them employed?
      Essentially, it all comes down to the culture of your company.  Management: do all it can to consider the individual needs of your employees. Your employees want to feel that they have a voice, that their opinion counts, and that their role in your company is both respected and recognized. Yes, pay and a great benefits package will go a long way toward making your employees feel secure, but that’s only financial security. People want more than money.
      To attract and keep top talent requires creating a company that people feel proud to work for. You need to reach the hearts and minds of your employees. Become a leader that people are enthusiastic about working for. You want your employees bragging to their friends and family that your shop is a great place to work!
      Step one to attracting and retaining quality employees: Create an amazing workplace environment for your employees!  Trust me, happy employees make happy shop owners too!
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