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Years ago my younger brother came to work for me. He didn’t know a thing about cars, but was willing to learn all he could. Teaching new techs is an art that most shop owners have to learn to do, but teaching your little brother can be a chore and can test your patience. I muddled thru it all and taught him what I could. I was sure at some point in time the two of us would butt heads like brothers will do, and he would take his new found skills and move up in the rank and files of the automotive technical world, but in the meantime it was his turn to learn from his older brother.
When he first started I would walk him through each step of how to diagnose a certain system in a car. A lot of times he would have questions, and I’d do my best to answer them. He learned quickly and was really sharp at picking up some of those little details that are harder to teach. You know things like how you held a certain wrench or used a certain tool, to you and me it’s no big deal. But to a novice, it’s a revelation, then you (I) tend to forget to mention those certain traits while you’re teaching. Mainly because you are trying to get to the solution as efficiently as possible, and you neglect to bring it up. Such as: “always test your test light connection before testing what you’re testing, or don’t forget to check for all your tools before you pull the car out of the shop….” Things like that.
One day we had a truck come in with dual fuel tanks on it. The gas gauge wasn’t working and needed some attention. This was a perfect opportunity for Junior to learn a few of my short cuts on these old models. It was an older Ford, in which the tank gauge ran thru the tank switchover button. It was rather easy to pull it out of the dash and connect to the gauge from the back of the switch.
Luckily it was the typical problem I’ve seen a hundred times in the past. The switch connections would melt and the tank wouldn’t switch from the front tank to the rear, and of course the gauge wouldn’t move either.
After locating the correct leads to the gauge and to the tanks I decided to show him how the gauge worked. I hooked up the one of the tanks to the crossover lead that would supply the signal from the tank to the gauge.
“Ya see this, that’s the lead to the fuel gauge in the dash, and this is one of the tank wires. I’ll connect these together and we should get a reading on the dash,” I told him.
He was watching intently, taking in all the wiring diagram information, the location of the wires, and how I was bypassing the switch. He was fascinated with the flow of the current and the way the gauge would respond. I even went as far as moving the gauge from full to empty by opening and closing it to a ground signal. While I had his attention I filled him in on the two types of gauges that were used back then (bimetallic and magnetic) and how low resistance on a bimetal type gauge would read near a full tank, while a magnetic gauge would read close to empty. Change the resistance and the gauge would/should read accordingly.
“So, if we put gas in the tank the gauge should move right? That way we could check the sending units in the tanks too,” he asked me.
“Great idea, grab a gas can and let’s add a few gallons,” I said, excited that he was so interested in the project.
He grabbed a can of gas and poured a few gallons in the tank. I was watching the gas guage carefully, but there was no movement. I knew I was on the right wires, but nothing was happening. Now what? Are there more problems?
“Crawl under there, and check to be sure the wire color is correct,” I yelled from the cab to him.
“Yep, it’s the right wire on the tank.”
“Well, we might have to pull the tank; it’s not changing the gauge readings up here.”
“Before we do that let’s add some more gas, maybe we didn’t add enough,” Junior tells me.
I thought I better go back and help hold the funnel, while he poured the gas in the tank. Unknowing to me, all this time my wife (who was the office manager) was listening in on the whole thing. She likes to keep tabs on me, and make sure I’m not going into one of my usual rants or having a fit because I had to explain something over and over again to little brother. This time she was standing at the corner of the shop just behind the truck with a camera. “CLICK”, I heard the camera shutter go off and she was back there laughing like there was no tomorrow.
“What’s so funny?” I asked her.
“You two idiots have been putting gas in the wrong tank. You’re on the front tank, and you’re putting gas in the rear tank,” my wife answers, laughing hysterically.
About then the camera “clicked” again… this time it was an action shot taken at precisely the exact moment when these two idiots had that dumb struck look on their faces and realized what they just did. The shot had both of us on our knees, one holding a funnel and the other with the half empty gas can, and both of us staring right into the camera lens. Couldn’t have set it up any better if you tried.
The picture clearly showed the side of the truck with both fuel tank doors visible and there was no doubt which tank we were putting in the extra gas. I guess it was one of those things I should have mentioned when we were checking the tank senders… make sure we are both on the same tank.
For years that picture hung over her desk, and anytime I thought I was so smart she would point at the photo. Usually with that typical smirk, usually shaking her finger at me and of course the laugh… she had to laugh, but it wasn’t all that funny until she had me laughing about it too. Ok, Ok, I’m not perfect... and now my little brother knows it too.
These days he’s a top notch tech at a dealership, and I have to call him on occasions for some help on how to solve things once in a while. Oh the photo… uhmmm… what photo?? Somehow it’s missing… haven’t seen the darn thing in years. But I guess I really don’t need to see the photo … the wife has a pretty good memory... she reminds me just how smart I think I am every chance she gets.
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Just a little back story, have been in business for 6 years. Started from my house garage and grew to a 3 bay shop 2 years ago with one full time b tech. Very diverse shop we do a lot of collision repair,mechanical repairs,and used car sales with an inventory of 30 cars right now. when i first started, being so diverse helped keep the shop busy but now i am at the point where i would really like to perfect and enlarge my auto repair side of the business. i am very tired of throwing parts at cars and i know we are weak in the "CHECK ENGINE" world but i don't know how to make the jump to correct this. I know for a fact this will help my shop become more efficient and improve my used car business as well. ideally i would like to hire a Master tech who could help train the other tech and let me step into a manger position so i could buy more cars and be more aggressive in marketing the business, maybe land a fleet account. i just feel stuck with all these decisions and can't seem to decide which turn to take. i feel very lucky to have found this site and i am very excited to see what advise people have.
7 Years of Bad Luck
Black cats, a rabbits foot, a 4 leaf clover, the number 13, avoiding stepping on cracks, and always take the driver’s front tire off first. Ok, I’ve heard most of these superstitions, but the tire thing? What’s that all about? Well, there are some of us mechanics who have a few superstitions just like baseball players, sailors and the like. A lot of mechanics won’t admit it, or don’t think they are superstitious, but we all know you are.
Whether it’s a lucky screwdriver, a special place you always lay the air ratchet, or maybe how you organize your tool box there’s bound to be something in the way of a superstition somewhere among that pile of tools. Shy of calling out the witchdoctors to dance clockwise around a car while carrying a dead chicken and chanting some sort of low baritone incantation before every diagnostic procedure, I think it’s safe to say there are more than a few superstitions in the of auto repair biz.
I’m not one to think I’m even the least bit superstitious (knock on wood). I just don’t believe in that stuff, because I’m not superstitious. OK, OK, my wife says I am, and points out my flaws all the time, even if I won’t admit it. For instance, I won’t start a car after I’ve done a bunch of work on the engine, unless I’ve left at least one tool under the hood. After it’s started and checked out, then and only then will I pick up all my tools. Superstitious, you say? Maybe, or it could be because even after I’ve put everything back together something may or may not be as perfect as it should be. At least then, when I have to redo something, all the tools are still right where they need to be. But, you can bet even if I finished a job and I know everything is right, I’m still going to leave at least one tool under there … just in case.
I’ve watched techs nervously cross their fingers or keep their eyes shut while turning the key for the first time on a new motor they just rebuilt. (Usually followed by a sigh of relief and a couple of Yahoo’s! or the other, and we all know what that would be.) Or the guy who would never put a car in his service bay when the car color had the same first letter of that day of the week. (Totally weird. He eventually quit, and now works on forklifts instead. Yellow is a good color for him.) I once worked with a tech who wouldn’t start a repair unless he had a pocket screwdriver, for fear it would jinx him without it. It didn’t matter if he was just changing a battery or scanning for codes, that pocket screwdriver had to be in his pocket. As a joke, a couple of us hid all this guy’s pocket screwdrivers, and then watched him beg and plead to borrow one. Cruel, but it was still pretty funny anyway.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a full moon, a rainy day, a black cat that just walked across your service bay, or perhaps the color of the car there’s bound to be one guy or gal who has some premonition that something isn’t going to go right for them. Why, I’ve even heard of some mechanics (and shops) that won’t answer the shop phone if it rings the very second they unlock the doors. They’ll let somebody else get it or wait for them to call back. I guess they don’t want to start their day off with a complaint, or they just think it’s bad luck to do so. Nevertheless, it’s still sounds like a superstition to me. From the gardener to the baker everybody and every trade has their own superstitions.
We’ve probably all heard of the baseball players who won’t change their socks, or wear the same jersey during a play off, or football players who always have to tap the sign over the door as they go onto the field. It’s just one more of those wacky superstitions that keep showing up. Even the golfing great Jack Nicklaus had his own superstitions. He wouldn’t play unless he had three pennies in his left pocket during a round of golf. Sailors used to watch the sky, and if it was red in the morning, sailor take warning. Then there is the old “knock on wood” that to this day I still see people do. Superstitious? Sure, or perhaps a quirky habit? Who’s to say? Then again, it might just be to what degree we carry our personal superstitions in public that separates us from the completely insane or just being a little wacky. Except for breaking a mirror. That might really be 7 years of bad luck. I broke one about 5 years ago and the wife still hasn’t left me off the hook for it.
So how superstitious are you? I’ve consulted my horoscope and it says today is a good day for you to tell all. So alrighty then, all you mechanics and technicians out there or anyone else for that matter, let’s hear your superstitions. If you don’t have one then let’s hear about the guy in the next service bay. (That way we won’t know … it’s actually you.)
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By Joe Marconi
I start getting calls a few weeks before Christmas from local shop owners asking me what I am doing for the holidays, especially when Christmas and New Years day falls in the middle of the week.
Here's what we do. First, we close Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, open till 2pm on New Year's Eve and close New Year's Day. But, the week before Christmas we start expanding our hours, so that we can maximize the potential tech hours. We sit down with the techs and tell them what we are doing. We book longer days so we can minimize the impact on sales. This has worked out very good.
This is not to say that we have normal sales weeks, but it is better than if we did nothing.
What do other shops do?