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Diagnostics MD - - - A health insurance for the car? Degrees for mechanics?


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Diagnostics MD


Ever notice there a lot of medical shows with names like: “Diagnostic Unknown”, “Medical Mystery”, “Untold Stories from the Emergency Room” ?… you know, if I didn’t know any better it sounds like these highly trained doctors are having a tough time diagnosing certain “medical” problems. I can relate to tough diagnostic problems myself.

Now, I’m only a mechanic, not a doctor, however in some respects we do the same type of job… that is: diagnose and repair. It’s like the old joke: “What’s the difference between a doctor and a mechanic? Answer: A doctor does his work with the engine still running.” True, but I’ll bet he can’t get his patient to go 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

These days the equivalent technical abilities of a practicing doctor and a mechanic are getting closer and closer than ever before. Granted, I don’t need to learn as much as they need to know, but the concept is basically the same. Even though a technician doesn’t need a degree to repair cars… he might as well have one with the way the automobile has evolved.

The one thing I have a real problem with is how the news portrays the automotive repair industry. There’s always some repair shop that has botched a job for a customer on the ten o’clock news. Usually with the customer looking for sympathy, and the news reporter doing his part by showing how fouled up the repair was made. I’m not saying we (the guys and gals in the repair business) don’t make mistakes, but it sounds to me after watching some of these medical shows that doctors can botch a diagnostics up just as easily. The only thing is the repair shop gets the evening news, and the doctor gets a national syndicated television show. Now for the next half hour they explain how some weird medical problem came into the emergency room, and how they eventually solved it. Quite frankly, if there was a show about some of the weird problems that I’ve seen in the automotive repair business, I know I’d sit down and watch that program.

You hardly hear a thing on the news about someone getting over charged or falsely diagnosed at the physician’s office. But leave it to an automotive repair shop or body shop… it’ll make the evening news for sure.

There are other comparisons to think about. Did you ever notice if a doctor has a problem with a patient they’ll refer them to a specialist? Sounds just like what we do in the auto industry doesn’t it? The big difference is the first doctor is still going to send you a bill. Then again, if we send a job on to a specialist we very seldom get paid for our time that we’ve already invested into the customer vehicle. Maybe if mechanics had an “AD” (Automotive Doctor) at the end of their title things might be different. (Or whatever it would take to be recognized as a professional and not one of those wrench benders, who are only out to take people’s money and do subpar work on a customer’s car. Which, only degrades the entire industry.)

I get calls all the time from people wanting to know how much to fix their car. All they want is an over the phone estimate. Since I mainly do electrical repair, rewiring a complete car is nothing new for me, although an estimate is another matter all together. I find it hard to just throw a number out there and be anywhere close to what it is actually going to take. I sometimes think they believe that I should have a “one size fits all” price. The automotive wiring system is far more complex than a single price per foot or length of time that I can give over the phone. I want to know the extent of the “rewire” before giving out any numbers, or I’d like to know a little history about the vehicle, so I can at least get close to something in the way of an estimate. Some of the usual drawbacks are whether or not someone has already worked on it, or it’s completely torn apart already. (That always throws a curve into the estimate.)

Now, how does that work if I call a doctor for an estimate? Can there be a price difference between doctors? Should I question him on what he/she is charging based on what the physician down the street is charging? Should I tell the doctor that so-and-so worked on it before? From what I gather it’s an insult to ask a doctor how much a procedure is going to cost other than the cost of an office visit. (Of course, there are those unmentioned fees that seem to always creep up when the final bill comes in) Insult or not, I find it rather amusing that there is such a difference in prices from hospital to hospital and “Joe-public” doesn’t have a clue or seems unconcerned about it before hand or during the “procedures”.

Then you get into the issue where “Joe-public” will attempt to repair things themselves. This un-professional approach is probably the same thing a doctor will run across when someone tries to take care of a simple problem, or tries to use the internet to diagnose what they think is wrong with them, only to have it end up as an entirely different problem. However, they still won’t ask the doctor “How much?” Of course when the bill shows up in the mail their chin drops to the floor and gasps at the cost. (I wonder if a doctor has ever had a call from a recent client stating their prices are way too high compared to the last guy they went to.)

Maybe it’s a good thing people ask me how much a repair will be. At least then, it’s not as much of a shock to their pocketbook or to their physical health. Human life still outweighs anything in regards to an automobile. It’s a poor comparison to even suggest any kind of comparison. It’s not really the “human” side of it that I’m trying to compare; it’s the dollars spent, and how each and every one of us tend to be misled by pain and suffering vs. cost and contentment.

I’ve got to hand it to the medical profession, insurance companies and the like. They’ve all manage to make a buck on everyone who’s in the need of repair. Too bad we couldn’t get the same kind of coverage on a car. I’m not talking about extended warranties, or some aftermarket company that covers certain aspects of auto repair. I’m talking about a real health insurance policy for the car.

I doubt too many people would call me up asking for prices on repairs then. I’d bet the caller on the phone would most likely say, “It’s covered. I’ve got great insurance… just get it done.”


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“What’s the difference between a doctor and a mechanic?" A doctor only has to work on two models! Male & Female and a mechanic works on as many models as the car manufactures come up with!


So True!

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When speaking to customers I often reference the medical profession. Imagine calling a doctor on the phone and telling him, "Hey Doc, I have this pain in my head, what's wrong with me and BEFORE you see me tell me HOW much it will cost."


The reality is we need to adopt the diagnostic approach similar to the medical profession. Doctors sell Tests or a series of Tests to arrive at a conclusion. The tests are separate from the repair. We, in our business, too often tie it all together and too many shop do not charge correctly for testing. To reach a proper diagnosis requires proper tests.


Not charging enough is, in my belief, a major area of concern and hurting the overall profits of the typical shop.


While I agree with you about this in some aspects (selling the tests as separate from the repair and charging enough for diagnostics) in many ways I have thought just the opposite also: that the medical profession needs to adopt a lot of the practices of the auto repair industry!


I highly suspect that the healthcare crisis would not be half as bad as it is now if people were just informed before hand about how much things were going to cost and explained the risks, benefits, and ACTUAL need for each line item they would be charged for. If I had known that the "complimentary" breast pump the nurses so cheerfully gave us while we were in the maternity ward just after the birth of my daughter was ACTUALLY going to cost $300 (when the exact same model can be bought independently for $25) then I would have told them where to shove it and gone to walmart to buy one myself. They didn't ask if I had insurance (which I did not) to cover the cost of that super-expensive item. Imagine if we tried to mark up our parts percentage as much as hospitals mark up the cost of an aspirin they give you in the ER? We would be out of business pretty quickly I imagine (if not on the 10:00 news)...yet somehow the health insurance industry gives us AND doctors/hospitals the illusion that "we" are not really the ones paying for our actual healthcare expenses so they can mark it up as much as they want and we don't even bother to ask for an itemized invoice. It's all just shady and inefficient business practice, in my opinion.


I know that really doesn't have much to do with the OP, but just had to throw in my little rant. *lol*

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Auto shop owners are always looking for ways to improve production levels. They focus their attention on their technicians and require certain expectations of performance in billable labor hours. While technicians must know what is expected of them, they have a limited amount of control over production levels. When all factors are considered, the only thing a well-trained technician has control over is his or her actual efficiency.
      As a review, technician efficiency is the amount of labor time it takes a technician to complete a job compared to the labor time being billed to the customer. Productivity is the time the technician is billing labor hours compared to the time the technician is physically at the shop. The reality is that a technician can be very efficient, but not productive if the technician has a lot of downtime waiting for parts, waiting too long between jobs, or poor workflow systems.
      But let’s go deeper into what affects production in the typical auto repair shop. As a business coach, one of the biggest reasons for low shop production is not charging the correct labor time. Labor for extensive jobs is often not being billed accurately. Rust, seized bolts, and wrong published labor times are just a few reasons for lost labor dollars.
      Another common problem is not understanding how to bill for jobs that require extensive diagnostic testing, and complicated procedures to arrive at the root cause for an onboard computer problem, electrical issue, or drivability issue. These jobs usually take time to analyze, using sophisticated tools, and by the shop’s top technician. Typically, these jobs are billed at a standard menu labor charge, instead of at a higher labor rate. This results in less billed labor hours than the actual labor time spent. The amount of lost labor hours here can cripple a shop’s overall profit.
      Many shop owners do a great job at calculating their labor rate but may not understand what their true effective labor is, which is their labor sales divided by the total labor hours sold. In many cases, I have seen a shop that has a shop labor rate of over $150.00 per hour, but the actual effective labor rate is around $100. Not good.
      Lastly, technician production can suffer when the service advisors are too busy or not motivated to build relationships with customers, which results in a low sales closing ratio. And let’s not forget that to be productive, a shop needs to have the right systems, the right tools and equipment, an extensive information system, and of course, great leadership.
      The bottom line is this; many factors need to be considered when looking to increase production levels. While it does start with the technician, it doesn’t end there. Consider all the factors above when looking for ways to improve your shop’s labor production.
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