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Knocking that Chip Off - - Be proud of what you do, just don't let it go to your head.


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Knocking that Chip Off


It seems no matter what you’re doing, where you are, or who you’re with sooner or later you’ll run across somebody with a huge chip on their shoulder. In the business of auto repair there’s quite a few. I’ve ran into my share of them over the years. Some shops operate all day with a huge chip on their shoulder. Their method of convincing a customer that they are the best is by putting down everyone else in the business. Sometimes it’s just an individual mechanic who’s got a boulder on the shoulder. You just never know, but you can certainly tell when it’s around. I can’t leave myself out, my wife reminds me about it once in a while, but I’m sure it still shows through.


There are those occasions when somebody needs to knock that chip off. Sometimes it’s just what we all need, you know, a little reminder that even though we “think” we’re that good… we all still have a lot to learn. And, sometimes we all need a little reminder to tone down that chip.


A few years ago a lady brought her car in from another repair shop and needed some detective work done as to why her alternator kept going out. The previous shop had definitely gone the way of most amateurs do when it comes to a car problem. “Change parts until it works.” This was no different. Five times this guy changed the alternator for this lady. Five times mind you! It still holds the record of alternator swapping in one vehicle without solving the problem that I’ve ever been witness to. The problem wasn’t the alternator at all, but this bright young lug nut of a mechanic called me to tell me that it was definitely the alternators and he wanted me to write it up that way because the parts house was making him pay for the last three. Ok, maybe one, perhaps two… but five bad alternators? Even for the cheap brands out there five bad ones in a row is a bit much. But, I’ll check it out from here.


The entire problem was a blown fuse caused by the wire rubbing against the engine block. Who knows when that happened? Could have been from the first one, maybe the second alternator… we’ll never know. This Lug nut had to call me back and give me the old, “Don’t make me look stupid!” phone call. I retorted, “I’m just telling it like it is, brother.”


Then there was “Mr. Fix-it”. Mr. Fix-it could fix anything as he pointed out to me just as the tow truck showed up with his vehicle on the hook. While it was being unloading, Mr. Fix-it explained in great detail just exactly what he wanted me to do, and that the only reason I was doing anything (Remember… he can fix anything) was because he didn’t have the needed tools to finish the repair. Mr. Fix-it’s weekend project was to tune it up, but after changing all the parts and I’m sure… after a few too many beers all the truck would do is buck, jerk and blow flames out of the carburetor. His reasoning for me to check the timing and adjust the carburetor was because (as he put it) “That’s how the flames are getting out of the engine.” In his haste to empty those beer cans he had put the spark plug wires on wrong. I think Mr. Fix-its chip needs a little adjustment.


There are times when that chip is showing too proudly on my own shoulders too. Yep, I’ve eaten crow more than a few times and I’ve needed a little reminder that I’m not Mr. Perfect. The latest was on a 12 year old car that I put a new computer in to solve some issues with the coolant fan and A/C. After replacing the PCM the coolant fan and A/C worked great, which, not to make excuses … but I will… was all that I was concerned about. The owner was going to pick it up after hours. So with the air nice and cold I parked it outside for him to pick it up later. He lived quite a ways from the shop so it was a lot easier for him to pick it up after he got off work. The next day I get a call that his car isn’t shifting correctly and it never did that before. I suggested that he take it to the nearest transmission shop and have it checked out since he was so far away from me.


The customer told the tranny guy, “I just had a new computer put it.” And, with that info, this guy proudly showed his gigantic chip on his shoulder and made it perfectly clear to the customer that he knew exactly what the problem was. With a bold and quick to judge answer he told him it was the wrong computer. Well, of course it is. What else would a guy with a big chip on his shoulder tell a customer? Because we all know the last guy who worked on the car is an idiot. (Me in this case) I told him that the PCM numbers matched from the dealer to the parts department and back again. It’s not the wrong computer. (There’s my chip on the shoulder showing up.)


Looks like there are two of us with mammoth rocks on our shoulders this time. I got the car back to my shop the next day to see what was going on. Oh it was certainly the right computer, but…. It was the wrong programming in the computer. Gosh dang it! I’ll do the honors; I’ll knock that chip off of my own shoulder for ya. Yep, the tranny guy was right; it was the wrong “computer” just not in the sense that it’s the wrong computer, but wrong because it had the wrong software in it. I suppose that’s a double chip knock off, one for me and one for the tranny guy. Live and learn I guess, my bad… we were both right and wrong at the same time. Same conclusion just a different way of getting there.


Finally, the most typical of situations is when the mechanic or the customer assumes they know all the answers even before they’ve had it tested. Just because you think you know doesn’t mean you’re right. Every time this happens I envision a huge chip sitting on someone’s shoulder just waiting to be knocked off. Honestly, it pays to test and diagnose before giving any kind of black and white answer to a customer or to another mechanic. Assumptions make us all look bad, and I’d prefer not to be compared to the south end of a north bound horse.


Even the best of us have had to surrender our chip from time to time. Getting that chip knocked off is a humbling experience, but one that will make you a better person in the long run. We all could use a little reminder that we’re not perfect. Proud is one thing, being too sure of yourself is another.





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It's the parts changer shops that irk me to no end. They convince the customer that they know what they're doing and then give up and send them my way. The typical reason for sending them to me, "It's got an electrical problem." A good translation of that statement, "We don't know what's wrong with it. Take it to somebody else." But, before all of this they've got this big swelled head that they know what they're doing.


I've been at this so long I've seen these type of shops come and go. But, "Old Gonzo" is still here.... gee... I wonder why?


I can be a hard ass, and I can be stubborn, but one thing I won't do is tell a customer that the last guy was an idiot. I leave that up to them to decide.

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If I have a customer that is angry with another shop. I just change the subject to what we can do to fix their problem. Move on. However I have a little chip on my shoulder. Most shops in my area are family owned. For a long time. Some shops 50 years. Just a little respect would be nice. I don't have their history. I work Saturdays to pick up some extra customers. That's frowned upon. They do 8 to 5. Monday through Friday. That's it. It's like I'm breaking some code among local shops.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      It always amazes me when I hear about a technician who quits one repair shop to go work at another shop for less money. I know you have heard of this too, and you’ve probably asked yourself, “Can this be true? And Why?” The answer rests within the culture of the company. More specifically, the boss, manager, or a toxic work environment literally pushed the technician out the door.
      While money and benefits tend to attract people to a company, it won’t keep them there. When a technician begins to look over the fence for greener grass, that is usually a sign that something is wrong within the workplace. It also means that his or her heart is probably already gone. If the issue is not resolved, no amount of money will keep that technician for the long term. The heart is always the first to leave. The last thing that leaves is the technician’s toolbox.
      Shop owners: Focus more on employee retention than acquisition. This is not to say that you should not be constantly recruiting. You should. What it does means is that once you hire someone, your job isn’t over, that’s when it begins. Get to know your technicians. Build strong relationships. Have frequent one-on-ones. Engage in meaningful conversation. Find what truly motivates your technicians. You may be surprised that while money is a motivator, it’s usually not the prime motivator.
      One last thing; the cost of technician turnover can be financially devastating. It also affects shop morale. Do all you can to create a workplace where technicians feel they are respected, recognized, and know that their work contributes to the overall success of the company. This will lead to improved morale and team spirit. Remember, when you see a technician’s toolbox rolling out of the bay on its way to another shop, the heart was most likely gone long before that.
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