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Real or Reality TV - - - So many shows, so many characters turning wrenches.


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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 a few things about is the automotive world. I might sit down and watch a few of those. 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. I’ve watched a few that I didn’t even make it to 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 at what was just dropped off or they’ll have their own ideas as to what to do with this latest acquisition. That's about the time the boss gives them the lowdown on what is going to take place, which usually consists of a full restoration job, and only a few weeks to do it all in. By the end of the show there's a gleaming fully restored work of art on the screen that almost certainly has 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 and do all the mechanicals, electrical, vacuum systems, interior, dash and instrument panels, brakes, transmission, rear-end, engine, cooling system, heating systems, all the glass, and a full paint and body mod in less than 72 hours. And, the best part, (or biggest guffaw on these shows) is the final reveal to the owner/buyer of the newly restored gem. Off to the side, just out of the primary camera view is the entire crew that has spent the last three days bringing this ride back to life. I'm in awe of the crew to say the least, not one of them is covered in grease, or has half of their shirt untucked, no fresh cuts or scraps, and not one of them show any effects of sleep deprivation. Simply amazing… TV magic I guess.

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 involved 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 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 you're going to 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 … parts availability…. The job comes in the shop, you put it up on the lift and ya 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 some of these shows pull it off... (That's TV for ya.) And, someone also should consider what the original reason was for the car to be parked for so long in the first place. Something is usually worn out, hard to find, or really expensive to repair. Not every car in the back of the garage is there because someone was collecting it. I guess these TV shows neglect that part of the reality of restoring old cars.

I think 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 results 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 any longer than it does on TV.” The idea that you're going to be able to resurrect a dilapidated hunk of iron into a show stopper in such a short span of time is not 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. 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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Gonzo have you ever noticed how pristine clean those cars and shop areas stay. There is no dust, no grease, no rust, nothing like that.

Yea, I have... they sure don't want to come to my shop on a busy day... LOL

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Reality? Man, come down to my shop, hide a few cameras and find out what reality really is. Gonzo, you are right on target. All these shows are scripted and directed. That's a fact. Some are fun to watch, others I end up throwing my empty beer can at the TV.


Here's what's real...you can't beat the reality that we go thru, each and every day!

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Reality? Man, come down to my shop, hide a few cameras and find out what reality really is. Gonzo, you are right on target. All these shows are scripted and directed. That's a fact. Some are fun to watch, others I end up throwing my empty beer can at the TV.


Here's what's real...you can't beat the reality that we go thru, each and every day!

. Good thing that beer is empty... wouldn't waste beer on some of these shows.
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I'm especially intolerant of the suspension of disbelief that's necessary when watching this form of entertainment.

My teen-age son, who's not gotten his hands on cars (yet) has become an armchair expert, after listening to my

regular commentary. It started when he began asking me why it took me SO LONG to work on the cars that come through

my shop. From there it was a slippery slope, pointing out all the inconsistencies.


There's one group of tatooed car builders who

always seem to be seconds from disaster, only to "Pull together as a team" in order to make their deadline. The owner,

who seems to do little more than yelling at his staff and complaining about his stress levels, seems happy to hobnob with his

celebrity clients while the predominantly Mexican-American workers do all the heavy lifting.

The frequent breaks with progress, so they can go kart racing or some other time-wasting foolishness, bothers me to no end.


When I'm on a project, in the zone, getting good work done, the absolute LAST thing I'd welcome would be a break in the action.

Shortcuts? No doubt. Reality TV? A contradiction in terms.

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These shows create unrealistic expectations with some of our customers. Some think we should only work on their cars until it is finished. They will

come every couple of days to see the progress, but difficult to find when we need money from them.

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Great points HK and Geez. now if somebody would tell the TV land people what a good automotive repair program actually would be for the untold number of mechanics in this country to watch... I'd be recording that and maybe learning a few new tips or tricks that I don't know already.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Most shop owners would agree that the independent auto repair industry has been too cheap for too long regarding its pricing and labor rates. However, can we keep raising our labor rates and prices until we achieve the profit we desire and need? Is it that simple?
      The first step in achieving your required gross and net profit is understanding your numbers and establishing the correct labor and part margins. The next step is to find your business's inefficiencies that impact high production levels.
      Here are a few things to consider. First, do you have the workflow processes in place that is conducive to high production? What about your shop layout? Do you have all the right tools and equipment? Do you have a continuous training program in place? Are technicians waiting to use a particular scanner or waiting to access information from the shop's workstation computer?
      And lastly, are all the estimates written correctly? Is the labor correct for each job? Are you allowing extra time for rust, older vehicles, labor jobs with no parts included, and the fact that many published labor times are wrong? Let's not forget that perhaps the most significant labor loss is not charging enough labor time for testing, electrical work, and other complicated repairs.  
      Once you have determined the correct labor rate and pricing, review your entire operation. Then, tighten up on all those labor leaks and inefficiencies. Improving production and paying close attention to the labor on each job will add much-needed dollars to your bottom line.
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