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By Jay Huh
I started out cheap, I price things cheap, and I used cheap labor.... until now. Hired an ASE master tech whom I thought was out of my ability to pay.
Last week was his first week and he knocked out 63.5 hours of work!!!!!!! Previous record to that was like 43 hours? Had the highest grossing week in 2 years of business. I didn't give him 63 hours of work.. HE FOUND IT. My car count wasn't different, still the same customers, just a different attitude.
He brought his prodigy so I took 2 of my old guys to my new shop and hired these 2. We open at 8:30 am and expect techs to get there around 8:20, they show up at the shop at 6:45 am.... I had to give them a key lol
Haven't been excited about my business in a while. I pay him flat rate- he was making $28 before but I got him at $25 and promised him $28 in 2 months. I think a big factor was me being able to hire his friend as well. So far so good. Looking back, cheap labor ended up costing me more money with comebacks and inexperience.
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades
Sometimes, with some things, accuracy isn’t all that important. Like in a game of horseshoes or tossing a hand grenade. But the same can’t be said for diagnosing today’s cars. Close isn’t good enough. Today’s professional mechanic doesn’t just grab a component hanging from a branch of the proverbial parts tree and see if that will fix the problem. It requires a diligent effort of testing and diagnostic time to analyze the maze of electronic data. That’s not to say a consumer won’t stumble across a repair shop that still uses the hand grenade method to diagnosing their car. Believe me, there still out there.
Basically, there are two types of mechanics a consumer will run into. One that will test and retest before condemning a component and the other that will swap parts until they’ve solved the problem or give up and send the customer to the other type of mechanic.
To avoid the proverbial slinging of the horseshoe a good shop will listening to the customer’s complaint, following the diagnostic procedures and base their findings on the test results. It’s a far better way of solving a problem than firing the old parts cannon at a job. Testing for a failure or scanning for failed data (or scope) is the preferred method by any good mechanic.
Take a look at any training video out there. They’ll show you how a component or system functions and then get into how to test it for failures. They might use a scanner, perhaps a scope, or even a basic multimeter. But, in all situations the concept is to show the technician the various ways of testing. Seriously, have you ever watched a training video that told you to fire up the parts cannon and take a wild shot at it rather than testing for the failure? I haven’t.
So why are parts swapping repair shops still a big part of the automotive repair business? In my opinion, it’s the lack of training, no time for advance classes, or they believe they can get by without learning something new. Most of these shops are after how fast they can get a customer’s out the door. They’ll spend as little time as possible diagnosing while spending the majority of their time taking stabs at installing different parts that might be the problem. Eventually, they’ll hit the target.
Instead of taking the time to hire qualified technicians these shops have a tendency to hire anybody that has a toolbox, walks upright, and can fog a mirror. Training isn’t cheap, and a trained technician isn’t either. Proper testing takes time, which invariably costs money.
Their methods of repair are quick, cheap, and occasionally spot on. But not always. Then, to top it all off, most of these places will use the second rate components from the local discount auto parts store and not a mechanics grade or OEM level component. The average consumer doesn’t know which part or brand is better than the other. They’re relying on the mechanic and the shop to sort that out for them, and at these shops you can bet the quality of the part is going to be in question. They just want it as cheap as possible and as quick as possible. But, when the old switch-a-roo cheap parts merry go round doesn’t do the trick they’ll send the customer onto one of those other guys. You know, the ones that will test things first.
Of course, by the time the customer has reached a shop that will correctly test the problem they’re already out of cash and have little to no confidence that anyone can fix their car. Now the problem isn’t so much about the cost of the parts or components, but the time (and cost) it will take to correctly diagnose it.
I’ve got to hand it to these stab in the dark parts shops, and those parts stores that offer free code checks. They’ve got the market cornered on convincing the consumer that all it takes to fix today’s cars is a quick glance at some off shore generic code reader and a couple of cheap components from parts unknown. Never mind that there are pages and pages of diagnostic procedures that go along with those service codes.
Of course, when the customer who has already lost their patience and has finally made it to a shop that will actually diagnose their problem you’ll hear, “I’ve already had it tested so I don’t need to pay you to test it again.” Now that’s funny, getting it tested and diagnosed correctly is exactly why they are there in the first place. Go figure.
A good example of this was a rather heated customer whose car had a miss after a tune up at another shop. (One of those parts swapper’s shops) The other shop had already tossed the parts grenade at it and had given up. They tried sensors, computer, the tune up, and just about every other part they could think of. The tech at the new shop looked it over with his scanner and to back up the scanner results he pulled out his scope and checked it in a completely different way than what the scanner was capable of.
Looking at the secondary ignition trace this trained technician could clearly see a problem with the spark plug. The entire problem turned out to be a brand new spark plug that had a slight crack in the porcelain.
Now how long did it take to make the actual repair? You know, replacing one easy to reach spark plug that the original shop had already replaced? Not long at all. But, how long did it take to set up the scope and do the testing and verify the results? Probably twice as long as it took to change the plug. Just goes to prove that diagnosing is a bigger part of the repair procedure than ever before and shouldn’t be overlooked just to cheapen the job.
Parts swapping without testing or simply going off a code as a solution to today’s car problems is like playing with horseshoes or hand grenades. You’re going to get it right some of the time but that’s just sheer luck. You have to ask yourself, “Is close enough good enough when you’re diagnosing and repairing today’s cars for a paying customer?” I think not.
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Second Hand Lyin'
Second hand information can be misleading, even totally wrong. There's always a chance it might be correct, but I wouldn't count on it. It depends on where that information came from to start with. In the automotive repair business if a car was checked out with any degree of accuracy, the information is probably good… But if the person giving that info to the next person can't explain it in a way they both understand, then the results are not going to be as truthful as they could be.
Do you remember when we were kids in school we would form a line, and you said something to the first person, who then passes it on to the next person, so on and so on? Only to have the original information be completely different by the time it gets to the other end? The same thing can happen with a car problem when more than one person is involved in getting the information to the person at the end of the line… and who's usually on the end of the line?… the mechanic.
Just the other day a driver tell his company dispatcher his truck wasn't getting any heat out of the driver's side vents. By the time it got to the shop the entire story was reversed to, "There's no cold air coming out of the passenger side". Really had me wondering what was actually wrong, until I talked to the driver myself.
Take the information given when buying a used car. Occasionally there's a little white lie about the condition of the car,maybe not on purpose, but rather from the grape vine of information being passed along. Of course, selling the car is the goal and informing the prospective buyer of any faults is important, but the car may have problems,and the explanation of those problems might have been twisted around to the point it's not even close to the truth anymore.
By the time the buyer has their chance to take the car to their mechanic, nine chances out of ten there will be some discrepancies between the two explanations. Now the issue becomes "who's right". The owner of the vehicle will almost always side with their mechanic,while the buyer will lean towards their own. All this information gets passed back and forth from mechanic to owner,buyer to mechanic, mechanic back to buyer, and buyer back to owner. This only leads to even more misunderstandings. To avoid any further confusion, the best bet is to have the last guy tell the first guy and everyone else in between.
A few weeks ago I had a problem come up regarding the condition of a car that was up for sale. It was a '97 Buick with low mileage, and had been sitting for nearly 8 years without much attention in a garage. The owner's father-in-law bought the car new before he passed away, and as far as the son-in-law was told by the rest of the family, everything was in tiptop shape. It definitely was clean, dent free,great paint and not a blemish to the interior. As with any of these "moth balled" cars, the first thing that was an issue was the battery. Leaving a battery sit for that long it's natural to have the battery sulfated by now. (Sulfating happens when the lead active material reacts with the sulfate from the electrolyte forming a hard leadsulfate surface on the plates. When there is no active lead material left, and no sulfate in the electrolyte the battery becomes completely discharged. Keeping a battery charged will reduce the amount of hardened material on the plates.)
The owner had it towed to a garage to have the battery replaced. After the new battery was installed, it took a few cranks for the engine to start. After a few coughs and shudders the engine purred like new, however the service light was on. (Which seemed to be the major concern for both seller and the buyer). But, by the time the car arrived at my shop the engine codes had been cleared from the PCM by the mechanic who installed the battery. All I had to go on was the second hand information that the owner over heard from the mechanic who worked on the car.
"The mechanic told me it might need a tune-up, or something," the owner proudly tells me.
It's that "something" that bothered me. A tune-up, maybe… I'm thinking old gas myself, but what's a "something"? It really doesn't matter at this point as the buyer jumps into the conversation and says, "Do a complete checkup for me,and let me know if it's worth what they want for it."
There were numerous small problems to deal with, and a few major issues as well. Everything from an ABS light staying on (which neither party mentioned)to a very poorly repaired alternator main positive lead. With the car in the service bay you could hear the alternator whine grow louder and louder the longer the car ran, but at the battery terminals there was hardly anything in the way of a noticeable alternator output. Between the alternator and the battery was a large homemade connection that was hot enough to fry an egg on. This was causing a rather large voltage drop between the alternator and the battery. In fact the electrical tape surrounding it was almost completely melted off.
After explaining the ABS problem, air conditioning, wiring issues, and all the other problems I found while checking it out, it was clear to me they were not going to purchase the car. (Just too many problems to deal with for them.) The owner, on the other hand, once he finds out what I found wrong with his "tiptop" shape car he's going to blow a gasket, and I'm sure I'll be on the receiving end of his frustration at the service counter.
Needless to say, before I could show the owner any of the results I had a very upset individual at the service counter.
"I was told everything was in perfect working order," the buyer shouts at me.
"Do you want to see what I found out? It would be a lot easier to show you," I told him.
As I showed him the actual conditions, his doubts about what he was told regarding the condition of the car came into question. It was only then that he knew he should have had a mechanic check it out, rather than relying on the second hand information he was told by the family.
Digging through the maze of hearsay information is what a professional technician does every day. Explaining firsthand can reduce the chances of the information being skewed by someone else's explanations. But you know, people are still going to interpret what anyone says into what they thought they heard.
So, the next time someone tells you something, and it just doesn't sound right, find out for yourself first hand, just to be on the safe side. That secondhand information may not be as truthful as you think.
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Here's a link to my latest adventure. I've been signed up for 3 trade magazines for monthly columns. Check out the write up.
Leave a comment if you'd like. Thanx Gonzo