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The Car and the Psychiatrist - - Cars could use therapy too


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The Car and the Psychiatrist

As a professional mechanic I spend a lot of my time sorting out what the owner of a car is trying to tell me about it. Sometimes they make perfect sense and have a fair amount of knowledge about the condition. Other times it’s more emotional, or the problem is exacerbated with some obscure information they overheard from somebody else. This makes finding out the root cause of the problem even more frustrating for the mechanic.

I’ve heard everything from, “I don’t want my daughter driving around in it if it’s going to die on her!” to, “The last mechanic already ran the codes, so I don’t need it diagnosed again. Just fix it!” Sorry, but none of this drama makes any difference in making the repairs. Of course there’s the ever popular and always disturbing answer to the one question that every service writer has to ask, “What’s wrong with the car?” They’ll start there story off with the day they bought it, the first time a tire went flat, what was fixed on the car last year, and about the time when Aunt Betsy broke the door handle off, because… you know… Oh you know… it’s all related to the reason the check engine light is on right now.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve heard all the good and all the bad, and some of the most absolutely insane self-diagnostics explanations you could ever imagine. But, what if you could get passed all that? What if I could just ask the car instead? You know, psychoanalyze the car. What would the car tell the mechanic about itself, its life, its history?

Sure a lot of cars already have internal memories that store service codes that I can analyze, and there are also a few models out there that also collect other important data that could help in crash analysis or warranty issues, such as the highest rpm recorded, what gear the car was in, or whether or not the brakes were applied. But what if there was a way the car could show its emotional state? So when I ask the car what’s wrong it gives me its life history from its point of view instead of the owner? Let’s say, by talking to a car psychiatrist and telling them what they’ve been through. If that was possible it just might go something like this:

The psychiatrist asks, “So tell me about yourself, and how this all got started.”

The car answers, “Well, it all started after I left the factory. I spent a long time in a big rail car with my brothers and sisters. Seemed like we were even on an ocean, but I couldn’t tell because I couldn’t see out of this big box we were in. Then, I came to a place where a lot of people in blue uniforms washed me, checked me over, and put a sticker on my windshield. There were lot of people that test drove me and said nice things about me. After some time, a couple took me home with them. For a long time they drove me around town, but they seldom took me in for regular service. Oh, at first they did. I had my oil changed regularly, and I even got new wiper blades too! But it wasn’t long after my warranty ran out and those free oil changes from the dealer were all used up that I didn’t get my usual weekend scrub down.

As I got older I started to have a few aches and pains. I tried to tell my owner about it. Why, I even turned on the service light for them. But they ignored that, too. My front end started to squeak, and my shocks were going bad. Things just started to go wrong, and those nice people who took such good care of me when I was new didn’t want to take care of me anymore.”

“I see,” said the psychiatrist, “Then what happened?”

“Well I went to a new home, but nobody took care of me there, either. I was falling apart Doc, I tried to tell them, too! I left oil spills on the driveway, but it didn’t do any good. Nobody wanted to take care of me anymore.”

“So, you’re feeling neglected aren’t you?” the doctor asked.

“Somewhat, and I’m not really doing so good these days. My valves are tapping, and my transmission is slipping. Why even with all the reminders and tell-tale hints I gave my owner it just doesn’t seem to matter.”

The psychiatrist wrote down his comments and recommended a full diagnostic checkup. He informed the owner of his findings during the session with their car, and told them to head to the nearest repair shop before it was too late. He then sternly tells the owner, “If this was still horse and buggy days and you kept your horse like you do your car you’d be pulling your own wagon and not the horse!”

Farfetched? Well of course it is. Who ever heard of a car getting psycho analyzed anyway. But, I think there are times the car could tell the mechanic a lot more about itself than the owner ever could. Maybe someday the technology will be so far advanced that all the zany, crazy, and weird explanations people give for the condition of their car might all be answered after a visit with the shrink. A shrink for the car that is.

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Yes, yes I have been working on cars too long. I think I'm actually hearing them talk. I've even answered them too. Could be I need to see a shrink. And... if I did... the doc would probably be in my next article. ROFL


From week to week I really don't have any idea what I'll write about, but that's good. Keeps me interested in coming up with a new topic.


Glad y'all like to read them. Thanks for all the comments.

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  • Have you checked out Joe's Latest Blog?

      Auto shop owners are always looking for ways to improve production levels. They focus their attention on their technicians and require certain expectations of performance in billable labor hours. While technicians must know what is expected of them, they have a limited amount of control over production levels. When all factors are considered, the only thing a well-trained technician has control over is his or her actual efficiency.
      As a review, technician efficiency is the amount of labor time it takes a technician to complete a job compared to the labor time being billed to the customer. Productivity is the time the technician is billing labor hours compared to the time the technician is physically at the shop. The reality is that a technician can be very efficient, but not productive if the technician has a lot of downtime waiting for parts, waiting too long between jobs, or poor workflow systems.
      But let’s go deeper into what affects production in the typical auto repair shop. As a business coach, one of the biggest reasons for low shop production is not charging the correct labor time. Labor for extensive jobs is often not being billed accurately. Rust, seized bolts, and wrong published labor times are just a few reasons for lost labor dollars.
      Another common problem is not understanding how to bill for jobs that require extensive diagnostic testing, and complicated procedures to arrive at the root cause for an onboard computer problem, electrical issue, or drivability issue. These jobs usually take time to analyze, using sophisticated tools, and by the shop’s top technician. Typically, these jobs are billed at a standard menu labor charge, instead of at a higher labor rate. This results in less billed labor hours than the actual labor time spent. The amount of lost labor hours here can cripple a shop’s overall profit.
      Many shop owners do a great job at calculating their labor rate but may not understand what their true effective labor is, which is their labor sales divided by the total labor hours sold. In many cases, I have seen a shop that has a shop labor rate of over $150.00 per hour, but the actual effective labor rate is around $100. Not good.
      Lastly, technician production can suffer when the service advisors are too busy or not motivated to build relationships with customers, which results in a low sales closing ratio. And let’s not forget that to be productive, a shop needs to have the right systems, the right tools and equipment, an extensive information system, and of course, great leadership.
      The bottom line is this; many factors need to be considered when looking to increase production levels. While it does start with the technician, it doesn’t end there. Consider all the factors above when looking for ways to improve your shop’s labor production.
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