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Diagnosing a Cancer - - - - Leave a couple of old techs alone together for too long, they'll solve all the world problems.... including the problems in the auto industry


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Diagnosing a Cancer




One of my good friends, who is also a really super diagnostic tech is in the midst of dealing with a diagnostic problem of his very own. He was recently diagnosed with cancer. Not a problem anyone one of us would like to deal with. It started out as a small discomfort and then a nagging pain, which eventually became too much to bear without medical intervention. I'm not going to go into what kind of cancer it is; I probably couldn't pronounce it, or even know how to spell it correctly anyway. It's at least a type that is curable with some degree of recovery.


Bo is his name, a really thoughtful, caring, and quite intelligent guy, who for the most part has seen his share of life's ups and downs. Throughout it all, automotive repair, and his family have always been a part of the mix. It just seems unfair for such a good hearted guy to have to deal with all these medical issues. But, being the good hearted guy he is, he takes it in stride. He's actually doing extremely well, and recently completed the last round of the chemotherapy and medications. There's a 99.9% chance that they caught it in time, which I'm happy to say… shows on his face every time I see him.




Bo's really sharp on O-scope diagnostics and understands the patterns as if he was born to read them. I lean on his expertise occasionally, and hope some of his knowledge will rub off on me once in a while. A few weeks ago he stopped by my shop for a visit and I mentioned a problem I was having with a Ford Focus. I already had it diagnosed and was waiting for an approval from the customer for the repairs. Bo thought it would be a pretty cool idea to test it on his scope, which he just so happened to have with him. Sure, why not, like the old saying; "Two heads are better than one." Sounds like a perfect time to get a second opinion on the problem.


His results matched my results exactly. No#5 cylinder had a low voltage (ground side signal) response from the PCM. It was easy to spot using two channels on the scope and comparing readings from a known good cylinder and the suspected bad one. Bo and I enjoy comparing notes on stuff like this. Hey, it gives us two scope junkies something to do on an afternoon when the shop is slow.


Bo is no stranger to the auto repair business. He used to own a repair shop years ago, and has experienced the different aspects of dealing with the automotive industry. We can sit around for hours trading war stories about car problems, customers, and what it's like to run a small business. Quite frankly, it's a great stress relief to smile and kick back a bit and chat with a fellow tech who has experienced the same things as yourself.


On this afternoon the conversation soon went from cars to cancer. He jokingly laughs at the bills coming in from every different direction. They come in from different doctors, different hospital departments, anesthesiologist, the nursing staff, the desk clerk, janitor, waiting room attendant, on and on and on. Like I said, Bo is not the kind of guy that lets anything get him down. He jokes about it... even as serious as it is....


"I think the parking lot attendant at the hospital is even sending me a bill," Bo laughingly remarks, "You know, sometimes I think they're just inventing people and jobs that I'll have to send a check to. There are so many different people, places, and equipment involved in the diagnosis of this crazy cancer, and everybody wants a piece of the pie."


Bo went on to say, "You know, I don't think a customer in an automotive repair shop would even consider paying for all the different people involved in their car repair. Can you imagine… I'll bet the cost would triple if not more."


I can't argue with that. Here we are, two professional techs examining our "patient" and it's highly unlikely the customer is even aware of the effort that is being put into diagnosing their car. As with a lot of trades, the automotive field is no different, not one person knows it all. There are so many times that a second opinion can make all the difference in the world. I'm sure a lot of techs (including myself) field calls from other techs looking for some clues or information that might help them solve a problem.


It's probably asking too much for a customer to undertake the responsibility to pay for all the services rendered in regards to their car repair. Most of the time they are unaware of the phone calls, research, and thinking that go on between techs to solve a problem. It would only lead to a higher cost and with a lot of folks out there … these days …. It's just not going to work with the economy we're in.


As Bo and I sat there, solving world problems, we both knew that in some cases a few people would sooner look for someone who will do it cheaper vs. a more expensive repair shop. It's always something to think about… the "someone else will do it cheaper" attitude that seems to always be present with a lot of price conscious drivers out there.


Since there are still those repair shops out there that use the "Replace parts until it is fixed" attitude, diagnostics and its cost is still a hot topic with some customers. It seems some people would rather gamble on a few cheap parts than a thorough examination. The likelihood of the general public understanding the complexities of proper diagnostics on today's cars will continue to be over shadowed by the incompetence of some people out there who pretend to be technicians. As Bo puts it, "This is truly the cancer in the automotive repair industry."


Bo mentioned how he had several different diagnoses and how each doctor had their own version of how to make the "repairs". It took several attempts to finally get his cancer problem properly diagnosed and solved. It reminds me of how often someone will go to a shop and have a few parts swapped out, and then to the next shop to have even more parts changed only to finally end up at a shop with the proper tools and equipment that can diagnose and solve the problem correctly. Bo might be right about this one… it isn't the car, it isn't the parts… it's the so called "repair" shops that don't make the effort to diagnose it correctly before twisting nuts and bolts on the car. Our collective diagnosis is… that's one of the cancers that needs cured in the auto industry.


As two old techs will do, Bo and I have discussed these problems and a few other worldly fiascos more than a few times. We're not doctors trying to find a cure for cancer, or working on controlling its effects on the population…we're automotive technicians… working on solving problems, raising the standards of our profession… and yes… trying to find a solution to the cancer in our own industry.



Take the time to work with other techs in your area. There's a lot of knowledge out there and with a little effort on our part we can make a difference in the future of our chosing profession. Bringing up the publics impression of today's automotive tech or bodyshop repairman is one of my goals. We're all part of the solution, because we're all part of the problem. :)

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Thanks for sharing Joe, really sorry to hear about your family's loss due to cancer. Hopefully, my buddy Bo makes it thru.


I've been writing for a number of years and the one thing I still don't know is which article will be in next months column. These "heart felt" stories are published a lot of times. So I try to make sure each month there are a few stories for the editors to pick from.


Watch the trade magazines for my columns... you'll see one of the many articles I put here (first) in publication. This could be the next one.



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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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