Advance,CARQUEST, NAPA and the rest: You need a wakeup call!
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Article: Diversity Of The Mechanic - - Mechanics knowledge background has evolved just like the cars ... Now if the rest of the population would. . .By Gonzo
Diversity in Mechanics
The days when nearly every driver was aware of what was going on under the hood of their car has faded into the history books. Not only has the driver lost touch with the inner workings of their automobile, the car itself has become more “user-friendly”. There’s no hand crank to twist, no choke lever to pull out, no manual brakes, and anymore, hardly no one rolls a window down by hand or uses a clutch to shift the transmission.
Less and less effort is required by the driver to operate the vehicle. What was once a series of steps you had to accomplish to start a car has now become automated to the point all you have to do is push a button and the car starts. Gone are the cold morning starts where you had to pump the gas pedal, crank the engine, then listen to the motor to see if the fast idle had set or not. But, you always had to be careful that you didn’t flood the cold engine, and if you did… that brought on a whole other set of tasks the driver had to accomplish correctly.
It’s not just starting the vehicle that needs less driver influence, even parallel parking has become a hands free procedure. Now, with all the cameras and radar systems attached to the car there’s hardly anything to do except be a passenger. Even then, you’re basked in a climate controlled cocoon with atmospheric controls such as lighting, massage chairs, heated seats, and soothing background music all the while computers and sensors are controlling every movement.
Growing up around car repair shops might have made a difference as to how I look at these complicated thing-a-ma-jigs they refer to as the modern car. They’re not just a ‘car’ anymore. In my youth it was nothing to see a gang of dads leaning over a hood when something went wrong. Today, there’s not a whole lot to see. It’s all plastic covers with various caps and knobs for adding fluids and if you’re lucky there might even still be a dipstick under there too.
Diagnosing and repairing the modern car isn’t quite the same as it was back in the day all the dad’s would gather around the fenders. Even though the operation of the vehicle has been somewhat automated the repair side of things has gone other way. Parts swapping, guess until ya get it, and the old ask your uncle Bob what’s wrong with your car is as out of date as the crank start. But, I still find it rather amazing how the engineers and designers managed to “dummy-down” all the possible problems that possibly could happen to a little check engine light on the dash. Can you imagine what it would be like if they didn’t?
Service lights, warning indicators, and digital messages inform the driver of the severity or condition of the vehicle. Although, most of the information that appears on the digital screen is more of a generic message or sometimes even displayed as a short message telling the driver of the condition of the vehicle without actually telling them precisely what’s wrong. Even if it did, who would understand it? Surely not the driver (in most cases), that’s left up to the service technician.
You know ‘that’ guy. The one that overcharges you for those repairs you don’t understand or even care to know because you’re far above the educational requirements of a certified mechanic. Of course, anyone who’s been around the business for any length of time will tell you that the days of the grease jockey recharging your air conditioner by slappin’ a can of Freon in your car so you can whiz off to work are about as far gone as 2 ply tires. That’s where diversity between mechanics and the technical advances start to show through.
The technical training for a good mechanic with advanced skill levels can exceed the requirements of most 4 year college degrees. The big difference between the academic degree and the technical school degree is still greatly debated. To me, the requirements of the educational programs differ only in the fact that in an academic setting you’re required a certain level of English, math, and the other various ‘general’ skills for graduation. The trade schools generally don’t have those academic requirements for graduation. The big problem is the non-car aficionados (general public) don’t want to admit that the family car requires a college degree to keep them in tip top shape. So why would the guy changing the oil need to have a degree?
There’s a very good possibility that a shortage of technicians qualified to work on the modern car is drastically going to increase in the next decade or so. Of course, ask anyone in the business now and they’ll tell you the average age of the professional mechanic has slowly been increasing to well over 50 years of age. That might have a lot do with the startup requirements put on the new technicians coming into the field. To many times a young mechanic gets into the business with those wild eyed ideas that they can fix anything that rolls into their service bay, only to find out their skills sets lack a lot of the required knowledge in understanding the complexities of the modern types of problems their facing.
That brings us back to that college grad again. They’ve spent a ton of money on their education, and some may never pay those loans off for years, if not decades. Technical college fees remain low in comparison, and with luck, the average educated technician will have their tuition fees taken care of long before the college grad has theirs paid off. Here’s something else to think about, while a lot of college grads take on temporary jobs like a waiter while their waiting for their big break into that six figure job they’ve been trained for, most grads of the tech schools are out working in the very field they’ve been trained for. They might be the college grad on the lube rack, but he’s there, in his field of choice getting his hands dirty and working towards his ultimate goals. Chances are, the mechanic will be at that very restaurant having lunch while wearing their rental uniform covered in the days grease and grime and the waiter…. well, they’re still working for tips.
The real issue for the mechanic’s world is the acceptance of the educational level required and the respect that the mechanic deserves as well as being compensated for said education and skills needed. I do believe, in time, the shortage of trained-qualified technicians will turn into an increase in wages across the board. Which is just what the industry needs to draw in those new faces to the service bays. All this can start back in high school. Somebody needs to tell the school guidance counselors that being an automotive mechanic is a trade with high expectations and compensation, not a last resort job for those undesirable individuals that didn’t pass their SAT’s.
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What’s on Second Gonzo 2010
My office manager is also my oldest daughter Katie, a bright, pretty gal with a quick wit and long beautiful red hair. Naturally, Katie gets all the phone calls and front office issues. She does a great job, and makes everything feel like a day at the ball park. Sometimes I wonder if she shouldn’t be a comedian, or even have her own vaudeville act.
She cracks me up with some of her responses to those wacky phone calls we all tend to receive at the repair shop.
On one occasion I happened to be in the office, and listened in on a conversation she was having with a prospective customer. The way she handled it was remarkable. With the phone on speaker I couldn’t help but hear the entire conversation. By the end of the phone call I was laughing so hard that I nearly forgot I was only supposed to be listening and to keep quiet. I did, but managed to have a big smile on my face for the rest of the day. The phone call went something like this;
“Good morning, this is Katie, may I help you?”
“Yes, I had my car over at the transmission shop, and they recommended you guys,” the caller said.
“Ok, great, is it a shifting problem?” she asked.
“No, it’s an electrical problem.”
“We certainly do that kind of work. When would you like to bring it in and have it diagnosed?”
“No, I already had it diagnosed at the other shop.”
“They did, did they? Did they tell you what the problem was?”
“No, they didn’t know what was wrong with it. That’s why they sent me to you.”
About now Katie is getting the raised eyebrow look going, and her pen is scribbling some sort of gibberish on the note pad. Something is up. I can tell you know… I’ve answered phone calls like this myself. Let’s see how Katie handles this … I’ll listen in a little more.
“So did they give you any clues to what the problem was?” she asked curiously.
“They said they didn’t know.”
“Well that doesn’t help either one of us… let’s start this all over again. It sounds to me like the other shop checked it out, and determined that it was something they couldn’t handle and recommended us. Their best guess was that it was something electrical. Then they gave you our phone number, and told you we could take care of it. Am I pretty close to what’s going on sir?” Katie asked.
“Ok, let’s see if we can knock one out of the old ball park. First off… the transmission shop sent you to … … … who?”
“Great we’ve made it to first base. Now then, let’s head to 2nd base… that’s where we figure out the “what’s wrong with it” part.”
He quickly interrupted her… “Nope, already did that.”
“Well, what’s wrong with it then?” Katie asked.
“I don’t know, and they couldn’t tell me either,” the caller said.
“Sir, somehow we have made it all the way to third base, and haven’t touched second at all,” she answers.
“I don’t understand what you’re getting at,” the bewildered caller said.
“Let’s try this again,” Katie goes on with, “We have established that the “who” part of this is to bring the car here. As of now we have a good foot hold on first base… the second thing is the “what” part, and that’s where we are having a problem… the “I don’t know” part can be answered once we have it diagnosed.
“I already had it diagnosed.”
“Ok, then “what’s” wrong with it?”
“I don’t know.” (Here we go again, passed 2nd and slid into 3rd)
“Naturally,” Katie answers him with that -I’m not going thru this again- look on her face, “They didn’t know… that’s why you’re talking to me.”
“I don’t think you understand,” he answers her.
“Oh, I understand perfectly well, sir. I don’t think you understand that I can’t repair it, unless I know what is wrong with it,” she answers back, “This is why I wanted to start you off with “who’s” on first… which is me.”
“But, I just told you… they diagnosed it already.”
“Not you…………, they did.”
“What did they tell you was wrong with it?”
“I don’t know……………,” our caller answered while making another beeline for 3rd base.
“Sir, we will need to diagnose it all over again in order to find out “what” is wrong with it… and hopefully avoid that 3rd base.”
“What 3rd base?”
“What is the 2nd base, I don’t know is 3rd,” Katie answered him.
“So, we need to stay on what?” asks the caller.
“Yes, second base.”
“Who’s on 1st?”
“Naturally, I’m on first base. I thought we already got past that point. We need to move onto 2nd base.”
“Second base, will that fix my car?”
“I don’t know”, said Katie.
“So are we on 2nd or 3rd now?” the caller asked.
“Sir, I’m still on 1st base where we started. Now let’s try 2nd again. I still need to get it diagnosed… that’s second base,” Katie answered.
“I already had it diagnosed,” stated the caller.
“And what did they find out?”
“I don’t know… … … 3rd base,” they both answered in unison without missing a beat.
The phone call went on for some time. I’m about to fall off the barstool laughing so hard. We all know what the problem is. It’s not the what, who, or I don’t know… it’s because he has already paid someone to check his car out, and they failed to find the problem. So “naturally”, the customer assumes that there is no need in paying for the same thing a second time, if nothing came about it the first time around. (Try that when you go to a second doctor for another opinion)
I understand their plight. I just wish when he got up to bat at the first shop they would have done a better job of explaining to him about the necessary procedures to make these repairs. Then again the charges the customer was given might have been for other work, and not for any diagnostics at all…..but that never made it into the conversation.
The call ended with, “I can’t bring it today, but I can bring it in tomorrow.”
What a relief, “Because”- (he’s in the outfield)… today is the day to catch wacky phone calls, and I’ve caught all the foul balls I can stand for one day. I just hope “Tomorrow” doesn’t end up throwing me any wild pitches.
So no matter how you handle things in the office or in the shop… sometimes you just want to make it around the bases without getting tagged. And there’s one more thing I’m sure of -- I don’t want to end up with the customer only making a “short stop” in my shop, because we haven’t seen eye to eye on how the problem needs to be resolved…
Cause, we all know that short stop’s name……
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So, I am putting new garage doors in the shop. I called 6 garage door companies to come down and give me options and opinions on quality and to get estimates (estimates on how much I trust the person or company to do the right job and stand behind the workmanship, what their dependability level is, and professionalism). The one company I called apparently is a national company that was recommended to me from a neighboring shop that has used them. He stated they were not cheap but unbelievably dependable. They wanted a service call fee to come down and give me an estimate. I was pleasantly surprised by that request. The reason I was surprised is because it was the first time ever a garage door company asked me for a service call charge to estimate putting in new garage doors. I need 5 new garage doors, I felt that any company would jump to the opportunity to do the job and would just want to show up to have a chance. But what I realized was that this company valued it's time, all its time!
Just wanted to know if anybody worked with companies that drive phone calls from prospective customers. What were the bad things, were there any benefits, what would you like to change, etc.
Were prices any good, was it really worth it? Were calls relevant, targeted good enough?
So I had this crazy idea last night of using a crowd funding site such as GoFundMe to raise startup cash for an automotive repair shop.
I am hoping that our business plan will be enticing enough for many in our area to give a buck or two but I was wondering about adding in some small incentive for those who give a certain amount.
Anyone have any ideas on cheap services or give always that I could offer at certain level of pledges?
For instance maybe a hand wash and a barbeque at our grand opening if they give $10. Or a free oil change and T-shirt if they give $20.
All ideas ae welcome!
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By Joe Marconi
Due to our frustrations with part quality from the aftermarket on some lines, we have resorted to going to the new car dealer for some parts. A decision that does not sit well with me and one that I may end up regretting. To me, it's like supplying my enemy with ammunition.
Recently we had an issue with a steering gear, purchased at a local Chevy Dealer, that did not function correctly and we had to redo the job. When discussing the issue with the dealer, we were told that they are seeing an increase in their part comebacks too. These are GM reman units.
We are we going with this? As I have stated time and time again in the past; will this race to the bottom with looking for the best price end up to be our demise?
We have to get back to quality. Our industry reputation is at stake.
We really need to have a coalition of all the part companies and repair shops across the country to come to terms with the reality. We need to rethink "price" and seek "Quality"
Let's face it, as an industry we are not getting any richer with lower priced, poor quality parts anyway. So, let's take a deep breathe and dig ourselves out of this mess.
This is not an Advance Problem, or a CARQUEST problem, or a NAPA problem....this is an industry-wide problem. And we need to start fixing it, today.