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Judging By The Cover - - Customers are unpredictable


Gonzo

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Judging by the Cover

 

 

It’s a busy day, the bays are full, the phone keeps ringing, the front door bell never seems to stop, and everyone is humming a tune. It’s a picture perfect day at the auto repair shop. Parts were ordered, and surprisingly enough every part came in correct the first time...every time. No snapped off bolts, no rusted parts that needed more than the usual persuasion to get off, and not one fuss with how long things were taking, or how much it costs. I’d like to keep that mental picture for a while, because it doesn’t happen that often in this business. Somehow, some way, there’s going to be a loose nut thrown into the activities of the day.

 

 

Two new jobs showed up at the same time. A really nice, clean, 07' F350 4WD diesel with an ABS light on, and a really dilapidated 97' KIA with charging system problems, with no light on. The big diesel lumbered into the service bay after the usual explanations of the diagnostic charges. The owner was enthusiastic about having his truck checked out. Why, I’d even say he seemed rather proud about the whole thing. Its text book diagnostics procedures, run a few tests, check the codes, hook up the scanner and watch the speed sensor PID’s. Piece of cake.

 

 

On the other hand the same explanation of the diagnostic charges was given to the owner of the 97' KIA. That didn’t go over as well... at all. Seems the KIA had been around the block and around again. He has had it checked out at various shops, which ended up with the owner ticked off and no positive answers to his cars problems. It took more than a little effort on my part just to get the owner to allow me to diagnose the problem. He finally said yes, and handed me the keys.

 

 

The little car was in the front parking area off to one side, away from the other cars. The paint was faded, the clear coat was peeling, and the windshield was full of splinter cracks. The dull and faded hood had greasy hand prints all over the front edge where people were grabbing it. That was just the superficial first glance, it gets better. I grabbed the door handle to open the door, it didn’t budge. About then, the owner leans out of the front office door, while waiting for his ride and said, “Ya gotta lift it up pretty hard and then jerk it open.” I waved “thanks” to the owner and gave the door a good yank, it creaked and moaned as it swung open. The interior of the car was a pit. Cigarette butts everywhere, papers, fast food cups, and trash littered the interior. The smell was oppressive. But, I said I’d look at, and after all the commotion and persuading at the front counter I wasn’t backing out now. I’m bound and determined to diagnose this problem, even if I have to wear a gas mask to do it.

 

 

The little KIA ended up in the bay next to the big diesel with the ABS problems. Both vehicles didn’t take long to diagnose. The diesel was just a faulty front speed sensor, while the KIA had two problems. A faulty alternator and a strange problem with the instrument cluster. The charge light wouldn’t come on. Since this car has an alternator that is controlled by the PCM, the charge light is just there to indicate the condition of the charging system to the driver. (It can charge just fine without a charge light in working condition on this particular car). The only thing to do now was to write up both estimates.

 

 

I was so sure the big shiny diesel job would be a “do”, so when I called in to get prices on the parts I told the parts supplier to go ahead and send the speed sensor, but to hold off on the alternator. I just couldn’t see the KIA getting done. Next step, inform the customers. The call was made to the owner of the diesel. When I explained the results of the test and the estimate for the repair, instead of getting an OK as I expected, what I got was an earful of what this guy thought of mechanics, the automotive repair business, and how we (mechanics) are all just a bunch of rip offs taking advantage of hard working people like himself. Really? And to think, he was so eager and obliging to have it checked out and now this? I don’t know if it was the price of the repair or this guy just flipped out. There was no repairing the damage to my ego, or this guy’s distrust of the auto repair biz. It pretty much knocked the wind out of my sails. I hung the phone up knowing this job wasn’t going to happen.

 

 

Discouraged and a bit downhearted after the last phone call I took a deep breath and made the call to the KIA owner. I went through all the steps needed to bring his little car back to life, including the part about how I would have to pull the instrument cluster out and see what’s going on as to why the charge light wasn’t working. I was expecting this guy to flip out but, to my utter amazement, he said, “Do it. Do it all. You’re the first person to make any sense out of what’s wrong, and I think you’re the man for the job. I expected it to cost a few bucks. Just call me when it’s ready.” I was still in shock as I hung up the phone. Here’s this rundown, grease covered car that I wouldn’t put a plugged nickel into, and this guy is having me do the whole thing, while the owner of the exceptionally clean diesel is on this rampage about how rotten car repair people are. Go figure.

 

 

I guess it just go goes to show... “Ya can’t judge a book by its cover, or an owner by his car.”

 


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I have overestimated many customers by thinking that the job will never happen. Usually a car on its last legs that needs $xxxx amount of repairs to make it road worthy. I call the customer only to be shocked that they say to do it! I now know to not be categorizing repairs. I just call the customer and let them know like it is. If they fix it great! If not, then at least they know what they are dealing with. I can't count how many more jobs this has brought into the shop!

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Sometimes my story may not be funny, but I might be making a point. And, everybody seems to understand this story. We've all been there... just sometimes we need little reminder that it does happen. Thanks for the comments. I'm sure this story will be in print pretty quickly.

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A few years ago we had a really crappy old Ford Explorer that the tech did not want to work. Consequently during the inspection he picked it apart and came up with a big list of needed repairs. This was his way of flushing it out of the shop. We priced it out at over $1,200 and presented it to the customer and he bought it all. Our tech wound up having to fix everything he found.

This made me laugh out loud!

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

         5 comments
      I recently spoke with a friend of mine who owns a large general repair shop in the Midwest. His father founded the business in 1975. He was telling me that although he’s busy, he’s also very frustrated. When I probed him more about his frustrations, he said that it’s hard to find qualified technicians. My friend employs four technicians and is looking to hire two more. I then asked him, “How long does a technician last working for you.” He looked puzzled and replied, “I never really thought about that, but I can tell that except for one tech, most technicians don’t last working for me longer than a few years.”
      Judging from personal experience as a shop owner and from what I know about the auto repair industry, I can tell you that other than a few exceptions, the turnover rate for technicians in our industry is too high. This makes me think, do we have a technician shortage or a retention problem? Have we done the best we can over the decades to provide great pay plans, benefits packages, great work environments, and the right culture to ensure that the techs we have stay with us?
      Finding and hiring qualified automotive technicians is not a new phenomenon. This problem has been around for as long as I can remember. While we do need to attract people to our industry and provide the necessary training and mentorship, we also need to focus on retention. Having a revolving door and needing to hire techs every few years or so costs your company money. Big money! And that revolving door may be a sign of an even bigger issue: poor leadership, and poor employee management skills.
      Here’s one more thing to consider, for the most part, technicians don’t leave one job to start a new career, they leave one shop as a technician to become a technician at another shop. The reasons why they leave can be debated, but there is one fact that we cannot deny, people don’t quit the company they work for, they usually leave because of the boss or manager they work for.
      Put yourselves in the shoes of your employees. Do you have a workplace that communicates, “We appreciate you and want you to stay!”
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