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Go the Distance

It’s no wonder the average consumer fears going to the repair shop for anything. With the way some people diagnose problems on cars I don’t blame them. I run across more botched attempts than I care to remember. Hey, I’m not perfect by any means, and I certainly didn’t know what I know today back when I started. We all learn from our mistakes, but letting a mistake walk out the door of the shop isn’t smart. It’s one thing for a shop to tell a customer that a part has failed, but it’s an entirely different thing to replace the part, then throw their hands up and say, “You’ll have to take it to somebody else, because I don’t know what’s wrong with it.” Even though prior to installing the part they probably told the customer that it would fix their problem. And of course, somehow, some way the customer will have to cough up the cash to get their car out of that particular shop.

Is making the fast buck with the quick diagnosis their preferred method of operation? It must be. How about thoroughly testing the problem beforehand? Instead, when their guestimation doesn’t work they bail out of the repair. No wonder the automotive repair business has such a bad reputation. But, I can’t blame just the shops that do shoddy work for all of this; ya have to blame the customer as well.

Just because there’s a sign that says, “Mechanic on Duty”, or the marquee says “Thrifty Repair and Lube”, doesn’t tell me a whole lot about who’s going to be tinkering around with the second-most expensive thing in most peoples’ lives. Besides, Mr. and Mrs. Consumer, cheap oil changes are not the same thing as engine diagnostics, and there is a difference in skills of mechanics too. Oh, wait a second, I forgot about that one factor that dictates the answer to most everything, cost. Bargains are bargains, but risking your car for a bargain priced repair may be dangerous or even more costly in the long run.

The penny-pinching customer’s thought process, (as I’ve heard from different sources), goes something like this: “If I use the cheap shop and they get it wrong, I’m not out a whole lot. If I go to a reputable shop and they get it wrong, I would have to spend a whole lot more, and still be looking for someone else to fix the problem.”

In all fairness to reputable shops, the qualifications and skills of those individuals aren’t based on guess work or throwing a dart at a wall. Even if a shop looked at the problem and determined it wasn’t something they felt comfortable with, they would know the most reputable shops that could handle it. Believe me, all the shops in a given area know exactly the quality, or types of work, the other shops do in their area. They also know which shops to stay away from.

Training has a lot to do with what separates the mechanics who actually fix cars, and the ones who just throw their hands up? This training is an ongoing-never-ending process for the modern mechanic. The other part, and probably the most important part, is that they’ll stick it out, and find the problem; they’ll go the distance. When a technician is diagnosing a strange or rare problem, and gives up in the middle of it, he/she isn’t helping the customer, or the shop. A good diagnostic technician will go the extra mile and find out what’s wrong, rather than assume he can’t figure it out.

A perfect example of this is a car that came in from another shop just the other day. The story goes the car wouldn’t start, as the battery was dead. After installing a battery it started, but the mechanic found the wiper motor running constantly. So, he ordered a replacement motor. He installed it, but instead of the wipers working, it blew the wiper fuse. In the meantime, the supposedly new battery ran down to the point where the car wouldn’t start. He then recharged the battery and the car started, but still no wipers. Several trips to the printer to pull off copies of every wiring schematic he could find still added up to a complete zero for him. Now the car wouldn’t start again, and the wipers still weren’t working. He threw his hands up and said, “Ship it to another shop, it’s beyond me.”

Now I’m involved in this whole thing. The other mechanic even left all the schematics in the car for me. Well, the starting problem was no big deal. A little investigative work answered that little mystery. The battery was no good as I later found out; it was the shop test battery. Somebody put it back on the sales shelf by mistake. The wipers on the other hand… now that was a little different. If the other mechanic would have read the wiring diagrams, he would have found the problem. It was the wrong wiper motor for the car.

Even though he ordered the motor correctly, the motor was actually boxed wrong. This guy didn’t bother to check any further. Just because you installed a part and it still doesn’t work, doesn’t always mean the problem is elsewhere. It just goes to show that a diligent effort is needed in order to come to the right conclusion on any repair.

That’s the point. “Go the Distance” isn’t just a saying, it’s something that all mechanics/technicians should take into account when they are looking under a hood. Stopping short of a completed repair doesn’t make for a great relationship with your customer, nor your boss. Don’t expect the next guy to pick up the pieces, or for that matter if the parts guy got it right. You’re the guy on the firing line, no one else. If this is your career choice then make it a career, not a job. That means learn your trade, don’t parts change, and don’t rely on somebody else for the answers. Just because you can unbolt a part, and stick another one on, doesn’t make you much of a mechanic. Diagnosing, reading the repair information, and studying the wire schematics are all part of taking care of the customer’s needs. Sure you’ll make mistakes, but everyone does. The more time you spend today studying and learning the diagnostic information in front of you, the more likely tomorrow you won’t have to. If you want to be one of tomorrow’s top techs in demand, then start today and … Go the distance.


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Wow, you nailed it again Gonzo. We see this sort of stuff all too often. We had a Jeep sent to us for a brake problem. The other shop correctly diagnosed the master cylinder, but could not get dash light to go off. The brake fluid low level switch in the new master was defective. Not brain surgery.


I don't understand the thought process of some of these techs. Maybe it's the shop culture? Maybe there isn't enough training or any operating procedures.


Whatever it is I agree with you, go the distance.

This scenario is one of my biggest pet peeves. If you had enough thought to conjure up a solution to a problem and your idea doesn't pan out ... "go the distance" figure it out! ! ! Why is it some techs want to be spoon fed a problem but when whatever it is they are working on doesn't work, they throw their hands up and send the car packing??? The worst part is the customer is paying again, and THAT'S the real kicker here. Now I've got to deal with the old, "I just paid somebody to do it!" or "Why does it cost so much the last guy didn't charge nearly that much!"


It never ends....

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I get stuff like that all the time, and I mean... all-the-time. Usually the customer calls and wants a price on a controller (or whatever it is) and I tell them that I want to test it first, they usually say, "I already had it tested." If I can't convince them to let me test it I tell them flat out, "Take it back to where they told you what part it needed and have them do it." It's like that almost every single day. seriously....

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I call this phenomenon "Last Chance Garage" where people come to us because some other shop couldn't figure it out. It's frustrating because I wanted the business in the first place, and the other shop took all the easy money and shipped the car with problems over their head... then I get involved and pride takes over so I do whatever it takes to make it right and impress the customer without costing them tons of money. Makes for a very low profit margin on the job in hopes of winning the customer over so they come back later for the gravy. I built my business like this because I would actually fix the problem people were concerned with, but its a fine line between being the nice guy that fixed it and making money... Hard to do both.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      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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