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Temporary Helpers - - - Some people are rather creative as to how they riggle their way to be next to their car in the repair shop.


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Temporary Helpers


There are times I find I have more helpers in the shop than I have on the payroll. I didn't ask for this extra help, but there they are, right there in the middle of the shop. Who are they, where did they come from? Ah, yes… it's those customers who have to keep an extra keen eye on their ride. They're pretty sneaky how they manage to get past the front desk, the waiting area, through the service door, and squeeze by the tire racks. For safety reasons its best that the customer keeps to the waiting room, but for some of these adventurous individuals they feel they need to help me out no matter what.


There are too many hoses, cords, and dangerous types of equipment to be spending the afternoon in a place you're not familiar with. A lot of times an unsuspecting "helper" just won't notice that floor jack, or those sharp tools at the edge of the work table. To some of these new helpers it doesn't matter, they'll still want to wander back there and help me out.


I can usually spot who's going to be the next shop helper. All I have to do is pull their car into the shop. If there's a fresh icy drink in the cup holder, an open pack of cigarettes and lighter lying on the passenger seat, a book, or a laptop, there's a good chance they'll be popping their head around the corner.


"Do you mind if I get my drink out of the car?" my new shop helper will ask.


Well, what to do…can't say no… "Sure, go ahead, you can grab it," I'll tell them… (Grudgingly)


Now, sometimes… they grab their drink, and they head right back to the waiting room. Other times, I'm not that lucky. It's their perfect excuse to hang around the car.


Soon the new shop helper is leaning over the fender with their ice cold drink watching the process of me figuring out what's up with their ride. At times, it's rather interesting; other times… it's simply annoying. I can never tell until the conversations start. If the first question is, "What do ya think it is?" I know it's going to be one of those days. Like most new helpers, they're unaware of the dangers of posing such an inappropriate and pointless question at this point in time. I'd rather not guess at this stuff. If I guess they'll think that's the answer. If I'm wrong, the next thing you know I'm trying to explain why whatever I thought it was.. isn't the problem. Thinking just gets me into trouble; let's try verify, diagnose, and then repair for a change of pace. So I think… I'll find out what's wrong first.


"Let's run some tests, and then we'll know for sure," I tell them.


Some get the idea they're out of place and should probably stick to watching the ice melt in their drink. Others, well… let's just say it wouldn't take much to reach over and pick up a wrench or two. They'll lean on the A/C recovery machine while it's running as if it's an old fashioned hitching post, or stick their head through the passenger window while I'm under a dash. I have to keep from laughing watching their spastic reactions to the recovery machines unexpected clicks and groans, as they stand there trying to act casual. Oh don't worry, no matter how clumsy it may look with all their uncoordinated antics, they're still going to keep a firm grip on that drink.




This little trip into the back of the shop isn't so much to check up on their car, but more as a way to observe the process of diagnosing the problem. It's as if it was some sort of exhibition. They'll look high and low throughout the shop, take a few sips from their drink, and then pay attention to what I'm doing to see how I find out what's wrong. The new help will concentrate on what I'm doing, so they can go home and tell their friends about some sort of wild looking machine or technique they watched me perform on their car.


A while back I had an old fella who wanted to be next his car the whole time. He was one of those "helpers" who had stories of car repairs from years gone by. Interesting, yes… helpful… not a bit. He was really interested in seeing how it was done in a modern shop. The project for the day was to find out why the service light was on. In this case all I needed was a scanner. I grabbed it, hooked it up to the car, and turned the key on.


"That's one of those new fangled scanners I've heard about," the old timer tells me.


"Yep, it sure is. I'll go take a look at the codes now, I'll be right back."


I guess he thought I was going to get another tool or something. What he didn't know was the scanner I was using was actually a wireless unit hooked up to my shop computer in the back office. So, while he was standing by the car waiting for me to return, I was busy pulling the information up on the computer in the comfort of the air conditioned office. Once I had the code, I had a pretty good idea what was wrong with the car. I came out of the office and headed straight for the gas cap, and screwed it back on.


"Ok, that should do it. I'll be right back," I told him.


"Is there anything you need me to do?" the old guy asked.


"Nope, you're fine… I'll clear the code, and check the rest of the car's systems. Be back in a minute."


My bewildered helper stood there… speechless, as I ran back to the computer to clear the code and get the print out for him. When I came back I reached under the dash and unplugged the scanner.


"So are you going to be able to find out what's wrong with it?" he asked.


I flipped the key off and said, "Already got it, we're all done here… the reason for the service light was because your gas cap was loose."


"You're already done? I guess things have really changed since the days I worked on cars. You really didn't need my help at all did ya? These new cars and scanners are pretty smart." the old guy tells me.


Yea, things have changed from those old days, and I guess in another decade or two, I'll be the old guy hanging around the next generation's repair tech. No doubt I'll be that unwanted temporary helper telling the stories about how I used to fix cars, too. Yep, that day's coming… don't know when, but it's coming. Guess I better prepare … now where did I put that ice cold drink?




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I'll buy the first round of cold drinks. LOL



Nice touch and a real nice story. Yes, one the things we can never control is time. And if we are lucky enough to be around the next couple of decades, we should see a few mind-boggling advances to the automobile.....mind-boggling to us....Ah, the cylce of life...

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Got your attention? Good. The truth is, there is no such thing as the perfect technician pay plan. There are countless ways to create any pay plan. I’ve heard all the claims and opinions, and to be honest, it’s getting a little frustrating. Claims that an hourly paid pay plan cannot motivate. That flat rate is the only way to truly get the most production from your technicians. And then there’s the hybrid performance-based pay plan that many claim is the best.
      At a recent industry event, a shop owner from the Midwest boasted about his flat-rate techs and insisted that this pay plan should be adopted by all shops across the country. When I informed him that in states like New York, you cannot pay flat-rate, he was shocked. “Then how do you motivate your techs” he asked me.
      I remember the day in 1986 when I hired the best technician who ever worked for me in my 41 years as an automotive shop owner. We’ll call him Hal. When Hal reviewed my pay plan for him, and the incentive bonus document, he stared at it for a minute, looked up, and said, “Joe, this looks good, but here’s what I want.” He then wrote on top of the document the weekly salary he wanted. It was a BIG number. He went on to say, “Joe, I need to take home a certain amount of money. I have a home, a wife, two kids, and my Harly Davidson. I will work hard and produce for you. I don’t need an incentive bonus to do my work.” And he did, for the next 30 years, until the day he retired.
      Everyone is entitled to their opinion. So, here’s mine. Money is a motivator, but not the only motivator, and not the best motivator either. We have all heard this scenario, “She quit ABC Auto Center, to get a job at XYZ Auto Repair, and she’s making less money now at XYZ!” We all know that people don’t leave companies, they leave the people they work for or work with.
      With all this said, I do believe that an incentive-based pay plan can work. However, I also believe that a technician must be paid a very good base wage that is commensurate with their ability, experience, and certifications. I also believe that in addition to money, there needs to be a great benefits package. But the icing on the cake in any pay plan is the culture, mission, and vision of the company, which takes strong leadership. And let’s not forget that motivation also comes from praise, recognition, respect, and when technicians know that their work matters.
      Rather than looking for that elusive perfect pay plan, sit down with your technician. Find out what motivates them. What their goals are. Why do they get out of bed in the morning? When you tie their goals with your goals, you will have one powerful pay plan.
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