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Judging By The Cover - - Customers are unpredictable


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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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First, never let someone get to you like that. I know it's hard, we have all been through it. Some people are so rude and ignorant, the words that come out are uncalled for.


I remember many years ago an mean SOB complained and yelled at me over the price of repair and then took out is wallet, reached into it and proceeded to throw the money at me. He said, "Here, take my money" , I replied back, "I EARNED THAT MONEY". Thank God he paid cash, because I told him to never come back.


Then again, as you say, there are times when people will fool you and end of great.


Great article...tough subject...one that we can all relate to!

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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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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.

I agree 100%. I think the reason why your articles are so relevant is that they bring to the surface the issues we deal with on a daily basis. There's a common thread at work. And in a strange way, reading about is more often helpful, even it is not funny.

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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?

      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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