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Mechanic's Eye - - - Everyone has a touch of it, mechanic's just use it more often.


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Mechanic’s Eye

When your livelihood is primarily working with your hands, they become an extension of your eyes. Feeling around corners, finding odd placed bolts, and examining the area where your eyes can’t reach are all part of the job requirement in the automotive field. Learning to “see” with the tips of your fingers is a trait every seasoned mechanic is familiar with. Being able to place an open end wrench into a cavity, and only use the tip of one finger to locate the nut or bolt are just some of the ways mechanics for generations have solved, or perhaps cut the hours on a job.

The mechanic’s eye isn’t just at the tip of his fingers; it’s the ability to reason through a problem, and come up with a solution that will get the job done faster and more efficiently than what is described in the service manuals. If mechanics always followed the engineering instructions on how things needed to be removed or replaced, there’s a good chance a lot of repairs would have been slowed to a crawl. As a mechanic, I appreciate the efforts of all those dedicated engineers, but in the field some things work better when we, (mechanics)… well… let’s say… cut a few corners.

I don’t like to call them “short-cuts”, they do save time in most cases, but it’s more of a way of examining a problem and figuring out the easiest solution. There are several reasons for all of this fuss. In some instances it’s to avoid marring the paint or finish to the car, or causing more problems with the number of other unrelated components that need to be removed. I, for one never like those jobs that require the mechanic to disassemble an entire section of the car just to change one component. Finding ways of combating these before they become issues is part of having that “mechanic’s eye”.

Here’s a simple test of your “mechanic’s eye”. Stand at a doorway where you can reach around to the opposite side of the wall. Stand close enough to the edge of the doorway trim where you can still reach both hands around the corner. Now take a bolt and nut, place the head of the bolt flat against the other side of the wall from where you are standing, and with the other hand screw on the nut. Don’t look around the corner, don’t lean around the wall… you stay on one side, the bolt and nut on the other. Can you do it? I know you’ll try it. If you have to fumble around a bit… you need some practice. If you can do it on the first try… you’ve got that mechanic’s eye for sure.

Some time ago, well… many years ago, the old Camaros had an issue with the blower motor when it came time to replace it. The blower motor was actually tucked in the far corner behind the inner fender. (Several other GM products were like this, too.) You could possibly get all the bolts and screws out of it, but it wasn’t going to come out of the hole. By proper procedure guidelines you were either to remove the fender, or the inner fender to gain access. In those days the inner fender wasn’t plastic like they are today, and it took a lot of effort to wriggle that hunk of metal out of there. So, what did the mechanic come up with? Cut an access hole into the inner fender and remove the blower that way, then make a patch for the inner fender. Soon after this became the standard practice, a patch piece was developed (I suppose by the engineering department) with detailed instruction on how to cut out the inner fender.

Nowadays, it’s plastic, plastic… and more plastic, and even more hidden components than ever before. That “mechanic’s eye” is just as important today (if not more) as it was back then. Plastic has a tendency to snap, not bend out of the way like the metal body parts of the older vehicles, which makes the job even tougher when it comes to moving things around. Just the other day I had a 2001 Cadillac in that wouldn’t change from the floor vents to the defroster. It was the mode actuator acting up. From under the driver’s side of the dash I could just make out the mode actuator, but only a glimpse of it. If you look up the labor time on this job you’ll find it requires removing the entire dash out of the way. (Practically an all day job.) However, if a mechanic has some dexterity and willing to reach you can do the job in no time. You just have to have that “mechanic’s eye” to get it done. Like many of these situations, you have a pretty good idea of the location of the screws, the shape of the part, and how it comes off, but ya just can’t see the screws or the part. You’ve got to trust the end of your fingers, as your mind’s eye puts the puzzle together.

After taking the three screws out that secure the actuator to the housing, the only thing left to do is remove the radio and use that opening as a way to pry the old actuator off of the housing using a large, flat screw driver. Mind you, the tension on which part of the plastic parts, and where you are placing the tip of the screw driver is all done by feel. Is this technique by the book? Nope. Can it be done? Yep. Just takes that mechanic’s eye on the tip of your finger to do it.

There are so many examples of reaching into an engine cavity or behind a dash that it’s impossible to list them all. Any seasoned tech can probably tell you a thousand ways they have worked on a project, and then suddenly have a “Eureka” moment of a way to simplify the repair, even though it isn’t mentioned in the step by step procedures. It could make the entire job easier, and all it took was some good old fashion ingenuity.

I’m constantly listening up for any new techniques that other mechanics have come up with to solve some sort of problem in the field. Whether it’s from an internet forum, convention, trade magazine, or emails … anything to make my job easier. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to tackle some of these odd problems. As a mechanic we all have the same goal in mind, “Finish a job as efficiently and as quickly as possible with the least amount of disturbance to the rest of the vehicle.” And that takes a little more than just a quick glance at a problem… that takes a mechanic’s eye.

 

 


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To me this is an important part of being a mechanic you may have all the schooling in the world but unless you have that mechanics eye you may not ever be as good as you really could be.

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Take a cheap #2 phillips head screwdriver. Cut the end off and weld it back to the screwdriver at a 90 degree angle so that you have about a 1/4 inch offset. You've just made the tool to take out a Lexus RX300 blend door actuator without removing the dash.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         3 comments
      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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