I think we all know that diagnostics is the most costly service we provide in the automotive repair business today. In today's automotive repair environment, you need to be selling diagnostics, and getting paid for it. I'm looking for feedback on when things don't go exactly as planned.
Let's say a car comes in and you sell some diagnostics, by the hour, or from a menu. After you complete that work, and you still don't have an answer, do you go back to the customer and sell some more? Do you continue at your expense? If you do go back to the customer, and you have nothing conclusive after that, then what? Do you keep going back and selling more diagnostic work until you solve the problem? If you continue to go back and sell more, how many times can you do that? We've all had that car that we've worked on for weeks to find some strange problem. I doubt many customers are willing to pay for the 40 hours you spent on the car.
Now lets say after 5 hours of work that the customer agreed to, you are no closer to finding the issue than when the car came in. Do you charge them for the 5 hours and send them down the road even though you have not provided them with a diagnoses? Do you start spending your time trying to solve the issue because you have a hard time charging for 5 hours and are unable to provide any answers?
I'm asking these questions as I am rethinking my business strategy on diagnostics a little. Our shop is known for its abilities to diagnose problems. We have other shops bringing cars to us on a regular basis because of these abilities. I actually get several calls and emails weekly from across the county for help diagnosing problems. There are times, a lot of times, when I think this is more of a curse, than a blessing. I know we are in the business of fixing cars, and we need to be able to find problems if customers are going to keep coming back. But after my lead tech and I spent a considerable amount of time over the last 15 days diagnosing the strangest intermittent no start issue on an Audi, and watching his frustration grow everyday, not because of the difficulty of the issue as we both love the challenge, but because it held him back from addressing the other work that was coming in the shop.
So, as rewarding as it was to solve that mystery, I can't help but look back at what it cost me financially, and the frustration to the technician, and realize we have to come up with a way to try to avoid going down those rabbit holes. Right now my idea is to give it 1 hour. If after an hour, we are not relatively certain that we will find the issue, with another hour or two, then let the car go. Let the customer know that it's not that we can't fix the car, but that we cannot fix it efficiently. If I lose that customer, it would probably still be cheaper that working on his car for 2 weeks.
Love to hear your thoughts.
This is an article I wrote several years ago for a trade magazine.... I think it's still true today... Love to hear your comments.
Diagnostics fee or not
This has been an issue since day one. Should we charge to diagnose the car or should the estimate be free. Let’s define an estimate first.
What is an estimate?
An estimate is a list of all the parts and labor involved in making a repair. With the possibilities of adding supplements to the original estimate if other work is deemed necessary after the initial work has started.
Ok that’s an estimate, or is it…? Let’s try this again.
What is an estimate?
It’s a guess……. With the chance that I might get it right but more than likely the final bill will be different than what was original “estimated” at.
Hmm, the two definitions are different but at the same time mean the same thing… What about the diagnostic side? Ok, how about that… that diagnostic thing.
What is a diagnostic?
It is the process in which a technician is able to determine the cause or failure of a piece of equipment, vehicle, or appliance.
Did ya get that? … One more time …
What is a diagnostic?
It is the process used to determine the root cause of a given mechanical or electrical problem that has become an issue with a vehicle, appliance or piece of equipment.
Sounds the same doesn’t it…. hmm, maybe we are getting to the real issue… MONEY
The diagnostics may take some time, may even require a few sophisticated scanners, wiring diagrams, and tools. Time is money as we all know, of course, knowledge, expertise and experience is a commodity that should always be respected no matter what field you are in. A service charge for such “diagnostics” is essential in the continuing financial stability of a shop or for that matter… any service oriented business.
Once the diagnostics has been completed an “estimate” can then be given to the customer for their approval. This should also be noted that if a “diagnostics” is preformed and the problem turns out to be “intermittent” or none exciting a fee still applies. The time has already been spent to figure out that there was nothing wrong. That brings up another touchy issue. For some reason the customer feels cheated if you charge for nothing found… now wait a minute, how was it determined that nothing was wrong… ah…the diagnostics lead to that result. Then the problem isn’t the problem anymore, it’s the time spent looking for the problem that is the problem. To ease the customer’s woes you could always give them a time table for future re-evaluations. (30 days is a good round number) Note; It wouldn’t be the first time I have diagnosed a car for a customer only to find out that their complaint is from lack of understanding of their vehicle or dare I say… their just another fruit basket behind the wheel.
Now I’m not in favor of a free diagnostics (if you couldn’t tell already) and I’m not too fond of the free estimate. If there is any “man hours” that are part of any job a “man” wants paid. If that “man” is working on a commission basis, I can assure you that he is going to rush through the “estimate” in order to get to the real money end of the job.
However a diagnostic is a totally different thing, I don’t think I could have made a living without charging for the time it takes to figure out some of the strange pr oblems I’ve encountered over the years. Some things were easy to diagnose, some took hours. But I believe it’s the standardization of a diagnostic charge that would make things a lot easier for the customers to understand the complexities of today’s problem evaluations.
If a tech couldn’t figure out a problem in a reasonable length of time … say an hour… then it’s quite possible the shop is going to be losing money if they kept him on that job. The next best thing would be to move him off that job. Put another tech on who might be able to figure out the problem in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, the shop is already behind the 8 ball, since the first tech didn’t get the job done, but in the long run… it will get done, there will be an estimate for the customer explaining the repairs needed.
I don’t know which is more of a problem, the shops out there not willing to charge for estimating… Oops I mean diagnostic time… or the customer who doesn’t feel that it’s a necessary part of the process. Then again, these are not yesterday’s cars.
It’s about time there were some standards that everyone in the industry had to go by, be it from the independent side or the dealer side. Regulation or self imposed limits as to how much can be charged across the board for various levels of diagnostics. Not to say diagnosing a bad ball joint is easier than a battery drain, no, not at all. Each field in the industry would have to come up with a balanced set of standards that those involved could agree was a fair price for that type of service. If all the independent shops charge the same fees in a demographic area it would lead to a more even playing field for the customer. Maybe, we should think about using a different term rather than “independent”… we can be independent in ownership, style, quality, etc… but put the customer’s concerns up front. If I wasn’t in the business and didn’t know where to take my car I would really would like to know that I’m getting quality work done at a fair price at any shop I went to. If there was a way to put an end to the “I can get it done cheaper down the street” escapades… my drive home would be a whole lot more pleasant than in the past. .
If that didn’t happen it then only comes down to a question of where to have the vehicle repaired at. Everyone has their favorite doctor, dentist, or restaurant. Which is probably based on location, atmosphere, or “ya just like that particular place”. Price is always an issue, and probably always will be. If you’re not getting the job done right at the shop of your choice… choose another one. How many times a day does your phone ring because you have some “price shopper” who is never coming to your shop because your price is higher than the last shop they called… even though they were referred by a friend to call you.
Maybe we should focus on better instructional classes, more information, and true manufacturer level scanners available to the independent side of the business. Sometimes too much effort is put on the “Be nice to the customer”, or the preverbal “Customer is always right” routine. The old saying; “If the customer knew what was wrong they would have fixed it themselves” still holds true today. But I’m talking about telling them what’s wrong with the vehicle, not how to fix it. With the advent of the computer age upon us the car has become a rolling updateable, flash reprogramming software jungle of information. The cost of these specialized scanners puts them out of the range of most consumers, and a lot of small shops, which, in some ways, also places the shade tree mechanic on the endangered species list.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the same line from a customer’s after I have diagnosed a problem. “Well, I could have done that myself, I would have looked there for the problem if I had the time, and I don’t know why you’re charging me for something so simple. You should give a break on the price because it was so simple. “Hey, I’m a regular customer I should be getting a discount.” My usual answer is… “So if you knew what was wrong, why did you bring it to me to figure it out?” And, I’m not sure that other professional people you deal with such as a doctor, dentist, or the grocer…etc… is going to give you a discount just because you shop with them on a regular basis.
Common sense, the largest lacking component in all of these situations… In my opinion, once common sense is removed from the conversation “stupid” takes its place. I wonder if I could estimate how many times this has happened… maybe so… but I better think about diagnosing it first…
Article: Real or Reality - Some of these reality TV automotive shows just don't cut it in the real reality of car repairBy Gonzo
Real or Reality TV Have ya noticed all the reality programs on TV these days? There’s a reality show for every subject you can think of... and probably a few you never would have thought of. From high society in the big city to the suburbs, and even some from way … way back in the woods. They can be quite entertaining, funny, and sometimes pretty strange. Now, I’m not much on which rich neighbor is doing what with which rich neighbor or who makes the best moonshine, but what I do know is a few things about the automotive repair world. I've been to check a few of those shows out. Although, from my side of the wrench, as a professional mechanic, I take a completely different view of them. In my opinion, some of these reality shows are far from 'real' reality, and I’ve certainly watched a few that I didn’t even make it past the first commercial break before I flipped the channel to something else. It’s not so much the cars; it’s how they go about restoring them that gets to me. They’ll start off with somebody flashing a wad of cash, and then they buy some old relic, tow it to their garage and present it to the crew. The crew will have this shocked look as to what was just dropped off or they’ll have their own ideas about how nuts their boss is for even thinking about taking on this relic as a project. That's about the time the boss gives them the lowdown on what his/her vision is of the latest acquisition. Which, usually consists of a full tear down and rebuild, but they only have a few weeks to do it all in. By the end of the show there's a gleaming fully restored work of art that (for the sake of reality TV) there is already a buyer or two ready to shell out some ridiculous amount of money for it. But the shows that really irk me are the ones that use the “all-nighter” approach to car repair. They’ll completely dismantle a car down to the last nut and bolt and in the length of one long commercial break they'll have all the mechanical, electrical, vacuum systems, interior, instrument panel, brakes, transmission, rear-end, engine, cooling system, heating systems, glass, and a full paint and body mod completed in less than 72 hours. (I can't find a lot of those parts in less than 72 hours) And, the best part, (or biggest guffaw on these shows) is during the final reveal. They drag the new or previous owner into a warehouse and surprise them with their refurbished car. Off to the side, just out of the primary camera view, is the entire crew that has spent the last three days with no sleep looking as fresh as a daisy. I'm in awe of the crew to say the least, not one of them is covered in grease, has half of their shirt untucked, no fresh cuts or scraps, not a single bandaid in view, and not one of them showing any effects from sleep deprivation. Simply amazing… gotta love it... must be some of that TV magic. I’ve done my share of all night marathon repairs before and quite frankly, by the time the sun comes up I’m not the most coherent guy with a lug wrench in his hand. Hey, they call it “Reality TV” but, as this arm chair quarterback sees it……. it doesn’t seem all that realistic to me. I’m sure the entire staff are some of the finest mechanics, bodyman, electrical gurus of the automotive world, but I highly doubt you can turn out a truly professionally restored vehicle in that short amount of time. There has to be a huge number of short cuts that are taken to meet the TV deadlines. On the other hand, there are a lot of great automotive reality programs on the television that go to great lengths to show how a modification is installed and go through the process of explaining those mods to the “nth” degree. Any show that portrays the reality of doing the job I do every day in a professional manner I'll sit down and watch it from beginning to end. You want to show me how you install some super cool new rear tail light lenses or wild looking front grill... awesome!!! Or, pulling an engine out of a classic and doing the necessary rebuild on it... super!!! Love that stuff. But, when you try to convince me that you're going to take some car that has been sitting for ten years in the back of some family garage totally neglected and raise it from the dead overnight... ya lost me. Come on, I do resto's all the time and the biggest hassle with any of them is and always been the parts availability. A job comes in the shop, y put it up on the lift and spin the drive shaft only to find out the differential or bearings are shot. It’s not like you're going to run down to the local parts store and pick up a set of bearings for a thirty year old low production car just like that. But, somehow, someway, some of these shows pull it off... (That's TV for ya.) Aside from all the mechanical woes, ya have to consider what the original reason was for the car to be parked for so long in the first place. Nine chances out of ten it's because something was worn out and the replacement part was hard to find, or really expensive to repair. Not every car in the back of the garage is there because someone was collecting it or saving it for a reality show to come by and restore it. In some ways it gives the novice car enthusiast the wrong impression of what it takes to restore a car. Lately I've been doing a lot more restoration projects than I've done in the past and I do believe it's a result of all these reality shows being aired. For that, I thank you. But, at the same time... shame on you! I can't live up to the overnight expectations that seem so possible on the big screen. Even though the customer doesn't mention they have been watching a reality show, you know... they're thinking … “This shouldn’t take that long. It didn't take that long for that guy on TV.” The idea that you're going to resurrect a dilapidated hunk of iron into a show stopper in a short span of time just ain't real reality. And, let's not forget the real big issue.... cost. Now there's some reality for ya! When the customer starts to see the costs, WOW!!! Then the reality of doing a restoration project starts to set in. Makes ya wonder if putting that old rust bucket back in the corner of the garage might be a far better idea than fixing it up. I'm certainly grateful for the few shows that have that “sit-down-with-the-customer” session explaining the cost of the restoration. It does add to the realism and makes it more believable. I’ve got a big “Thank You” to the guys and gals on these shows that portray the automotive world in its true form. It's a pleasure for me as a professional mechanic to see the artistry and talent of another professional on screen. Watching them dealing with a stuck bolt, rusty bodywork, or dodging the fumes from the soldering gun is all part of the real reality. But, I do have to give credit to all the other shows too, they are entertaining, and in some small way add to the resurgence in restorations projects across the country…. The only thing I ask is… keep it real.
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Article: Joe Friday Diagnostics - AGE check--remember Dragnet with Sgt. Joe Friday? Here's my version of the Sarge diagnosing a carBy Gonzo
Joe Friday Diagnostics "How would Sgt. Friday explain auto repair and diagnostics… que the music: " The story you’re about to read is true; the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Monday morning, it was cold that day. I was working day shift out of the repair division. There’s a suspicious vehicle at the front of the shop. A customer walks in the door. I’ll take it from here. I’m a mechanic, the name’s Friday. It was a 2003 Ford, 5.4 liter, fully loaded and sounded like it was running rough. The lady came to the counter. “Good Morning ma’am, what can I do for you,” I said to the complaintant. “Yes, I’m here about my car,” she answered. “There’s a problem with the car, I see. What can you tell me about it?” I asked, in my usual non-threatening, but confident monotone voice. “I was on my way to deliver my recyclables to the east side collection area, because I’m a concerned citizen you know, when my car started to make a coughing and clattering sound. I thought I would bring it in to have it checked out,” the owner answered. “Coughing and clattering, hmm, not a problem. I’ll get it investigated, I can interrogate the pursuant this morning, especially for a concerned citizen such as yourself,” I answered while maintaining my professionalism. “Well, do you need any other information from me?” she asked. “Just the facts ma’am, just the facts,” I said. “The check engine light came on,” she reported. “This could be of some help. Sounds like a possible 0300 (engine misfire). But I’ll check it out first, I’ll need to finish my investigation in order to give you any proper results,” I said to her, while my pen was busy jotting down the facts onto the always present handy notepad. She left the car with me for further interrogations. Using the scanner made the results easy to locate. It wasn’t long before I got an answer. It was a P0302 in progress… misfire on no#2 cylinder… normally an open and shut case. 09:30 Am, working on the assumption that the perpetrator was somewhere near the 2nd cylinder; I went in for further investigations. I checked the usual suspects. Pulling the plug didn’t yield any new clues. The plug was good and answered all the standard questions. The coil was a more likely suspect; a simple test could answer the problem. I’ll set up a little sting operation by using a decoy. Taking the nearest coil and replacing it with the suspected faulty coil, and put the known good coil on the other plug. I was hoping to see the miss move to the other cylinder. It didn’t. In fact it was gone. 10:05 Am, Now the challenge was on. I’ll have to go back over my facts and check the crime scene again. There’s something I must have overlooked that might be the key to this investigation. Two things come up as good possibles; the connection or terminals at the coil, or the spark plug boot attached to the coil. The plug boot had a good alibi… it had just been changed, in fact so was the spark plug. That left the coil connection. A more in-depth interrogation of the connector is needed. My years of technical diagnostics work told me to look closer at the wire and the connector. The guilty party in this case appears to be one of the wires at the connector. It was barely hanging onto the housing. Only the plastic sheath was still connected, and the wire itself was not answering to any of the standard questioning or interrogative tactics. Under the intense glow of the high powered shop light the investigation continued. Resorting to some strong arm tactics I pulled on the wire while using a few choice investigative words, the plastic sheathing kept getting longer and longer. Soon, it snapped under the pressure to expose the desperado for the perpetrator it really was. 11:45 Am, The repair was completed, and tested to verify the repairs were effective. The car in question was back with its rightful owner by the end of the day. I now can close the file on this one, another job well done. In conclusion: With the P0302 in question deleted from the computer history, the coil connector was then convicted of failure to cooperate. With her car back on the road she could once again be a productive concerned citizen of this great metropolis. Case closed and now, back to the front desk waiting for that next problem to come through the door. This city is full of broken, non-maintained, and poorly running cars. As a concerned citizen I’ll be on the lookout for these suspicious misfires and other infractions of the auto world. There are thousands of men and women in this city, who know that being an auto tech is an thankless, grease covered job that's done everyday without any fan fare. Then again, I'm part of that glamourless, grease covered world... my names Friday, I'm a mechanic.
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Article: Ouija Board Diagnostics - You're doing it wrong if your Ouija board is your go to diagnostic toolBy Gonzo
Ouija Board Diagnostics
I’ve often wondered why a lot of the driving public believes auto repair is something for non-thinking Neanderthals that have no ambition to do anything else in life. For all I know they think we (us mechanics that is) diagnose every problem by breaking out a Ouija board, while humming some ancient automotive chant. It could also be that a good mechanic just makes things look easy to the unaware and uniformed layman. With the right mechanic the whole thing can seem effortless, easy, and somewhat second nature when it comes to diagnosing a problem. To the armchair mechanic sitting at home watching the next new automotive reality show, it’s either – “Repairs are a no-brainer, I can do that”, or it must be some sort of Ouija board magic.
Mind you, the number of individuals who still believe anyone can be a mechanic is dwindling ever so slowly. Mainly because the car itself has gone past the point of parts swapping and a shade tree mechanic’s ability to repair the modern car. It’s no secret good old dad with the typical box of tools from a discount chain store can hardly change a spark plug anymore, let alone find them. Oh sure, you can still do a pad slap at home, and you can probably toss on a set of shocks, replace a bulb or two, but diagnosing a problem, especially one that involves some form of electronics… well… that’s a whole new issue to deal with.
It could be they need to master the Ouija board diagnostic scenario, or they need another round of You Tube videos. Every mechanic has undoubtedly heard the same thing from a well-seasoned You Tuber, “Oh I could have done that.” This usually leads to an even longer explanation of how you’ve done the entire repair wrong, but put the tools in their hands, and the results are pretty consistent. The car is either incorrectly put together, or they’ve lost some parts between point A and point B. Videos are great, but you still need to have some mechanical dexterity.
A good example of this scenario is when I was teaching a brake shoe replacement class the other day. After explaining the type of brake system we were working on, I removed the brake shoes from the car. Next, I reinstalled the same shoes, slowing down just enough so they could see how to use the brake tools. It probably took all of 20 minutes to explain it in detail and install the shoes. All the heads were bobbing and the usual consensus was they all had this repair procedure down pat, because, as we all know, anybody can do brakes. Well, as if it was no surprise, when the students got their hands into the job all I heard was one cuss word after another and the occasional student chasing a bouncing spring or clip across the shop floor. So much for easy, aye?
So, where do most of these unprofessional type mechanics and couch connoisseurs of the automotive world go for any information? Where else, the internet. The one place that doesn’t check the credentials of the person making the video, and the one place where anyone with a box of tools can be a superstar with a wrench. In their video they’re the automotive expert, camera man, sound man, director of content, and editor all at the same time. No need in researching the facts, looking up the proper methods, or any other various procedures, service bulletins, or the latest tools related to that particular job. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a video out there with a couple of guys surrounding one of those Ouija boards asking why the short fuel trim is higher on one of side than the other.
Ouija board or not, there are a few draw backs to internet information, but there really are a lot of super fantastic guys and gals putting out some very helpful videos on car repair. It’s just the few home brewed videos that make me cringe. Some of these back yard magicians seem to consult their Ouija board way too often. As if they conjured up some miracle answer right on the spot. Honestly, some of these videos are about as reliable as fake news. But, then again… that’s what some people think the professional mechanic does every day.
As there has always been, and there will always be, a shortage of trained technicians out there able to handle the job of repairing the modern car. I’m very sure we will never see the day when there is an overabundance of good mechanics who have to change careers because there is no room for them under the hood. It’s never going to happen. What does need to happen is the one thing consumers don’t want, and that’s cost of repairs most certainly need to rise, as well as the mechanics’ wages to keep up with all of these technical advancements. It’s not a maybe, it’s a must or the technology will run right past you. Ask any mechanic what they learned on a vehicle from 10 years ago vs. today’s cars, and you’ll find that nearly half of what they did back then isn’t applicable in today’s diagnostic procedures.
To be a good technician these days takes a lot of training, a lot of time spent reading, and understanding the latest technologies. New information comes from the manufacturers’ engineering departments just as fast as the cars come off the assembly lines, and to stay on top of things you need to study. I’ve heard people tell me, “Yea, I went to an automotive tech school to be a mechanic, but I didn’t learn anything.” Seriously? I’m sure you learned a whole lot. The problem isn’t the school training, the problem is you. Training doesn’t stop with your diploma, it stops when you stop wanting to advance your knowledge in the repair industry. School is a starting point, but to be a modern mechanic means you need to stay focused on the technology, take advanced training classes in your field of choice, and not expect answers from a You Tube video or your Ouija board.
There’s a lot to learn and retain. It’s not a trade where you learn one method and expect that skill to last you throughout your career. It’s an ever changing industry with ever changing technology. Learn the basics, then learn to diagnose the modern car. You can’t guess at a solution or consult that old Ouija board for the answers. It takes practice and a lot of hands on from a dedicated individual willing to get their hands dirty and diagnose an automotive problem. Then solve it correctly. Sorry, no Ouija board diagnostics allowed.
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