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I Must Be Insane - - It's my excuse for being a mechanic


Gonzo

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I Must Be Insane

Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Well, I must be insane, because every morning, as I drive to the shop and unlock the doors, I’m expecting today to be different than it was the day before. I haven’t exactly had any professional evaluations as to whether or not I’ve actually lost my mind or not, but I’ve got proof I must be at least a few sockets short in the old tool box. At least I have an excuse for what I do. How else can I explain dealing with all this car stuff if I’m not just a bit touched in the head? I’ll try to explain it, or at least try to make some sense of this senseless occupation I’m in.

Unlike a lot of trades where you learn the needed skills through college or trade schools, and then spend your career refining those skills, in this field nothing ever is the same. Just as soon as you master a system it becomes obsolete with something newer. Even though in a lot of professions the tools of the trade are improved from time to time the basic “product” doesn’t change. Now, you might find some people who will disagree, but let’s face it, a brick is a brick, wood is wood, dirt is dirt, and a doctor still only has two models to deal with.

Even changing oil isn’t a simple task anymore. It’s enough to drive a first year lube tech nuts trying to remember how to reset the oil lights. There’s everything from stomping the gas pedal three times to running through an on-screen menu, while holding down two buttons, or using a scanner to clear them. I can’t think of one person out there who has memorized all the different ways to reset the various oil reminder lights on every car. But, if there is, I really feel sorry for ya, dude. You need to find a new hobby; you’re just a little touched in the head fella.

Aside from your basic open end wrench and a screwdriver, there’s all these new-fangled tools and scanners and testing equipment you’ve got to learn. That alone can make a person dislodge a few marbles just trying to keep up with that stuff. Then, there are the various situations and interactions with the parts store, the other mechanics, busted knuckles, and of course, let’s not forget about the customer. I think I’m overdue for my trip to the sanitarium.

If you put the time into this job, take advancement classes, and study the latest systems you might be referred to as “an expert”. But, even then, you’re going to run across somebody who will say to you, “I hear you’re pretty good.” Honestly, I never know how to answer that; is it an insult or a complement? Depends on their tone of voice I guess. Sometimes I feel like the old gun slinger at the bar in an old western movie, you know the scene were this young whippersnapper comes strolling in and asks the same question to the old gun slinger?

Seriously, after three decades of doing this, I’m either completely crazy, or I must be pretty good at this car repair stuff. How should I answer that question? I’ll try anyway. I keep my piece, (peace) and answer with, “Sure am. What can I do for ya?” Even though, what I’d like to say is what that old gun slinger says to the young whippersnapper, “Ya come to find out? High noon, outside, be there.”

It’s just nuts I tell you, every day there’s a new challenge to my sanity. Take used car salesmen, no really… take them. These guys can be a shop’s best customer or some of their worst. The last one was no exception to that rule. His first comment to me was, “My boss said I needed to take this car to a reputable shop.” (I’m experiencing a few uncontrollable ticks and odd eyebrow twinges right about now. I usually get them when the crazy is about to come out, and I’m going to say something stupid that I’ll regret later.) My first thought is they know of a “non-reputable” shop out there and that’s where they get their cars serviced? Makes me want to go buy a car off of their lot right now. I guess this particular problem couldn’t be solved with the “Let’s swap parts until it’s fixed” method, so they’ve resorted to actually getting it diagnosed. And, I’ll bet this repair is either going to be way out of their budget, or be so simple that no matter what I charge it’s going to be too much. (Those twitches are getting a little more noticeable now.) Get the straight jacket and the rubber room ready, I’ll be there in a bit.

It turned out to be nothing major, just a faulty charging system. The computer picked up about a zillion codes for loss of communication due to low voltage. A new alternator and a bit of reflashing took care of the entire problem. Now, I had to deal with the boss.

Time for the interrogation and badgering over everything I described about the repair. Now I have to listen to how this guy could have done the entire repair with a rubber band and a toothbrush. Ok, call me crazy; call me nuts, I must be, to listen to this balderdash. I’ve heard it all before. Seriously, trying to belittle me only makes you … be little. I’m already so close to certifiable that trying to make me feel even more nuts than I already am ain’t going to make a bit of difference.

I know I’m not alone here; the line to the funny farm after too many years under the hood is quite long. Take this story another shop owner told me, “This guy wanted me to find a leak in his car. I checked it over but I didn’t find one. I thought I was losing my mind, he said there was a leak! I had to call him and tell him I couldn’t find it.” The customer answered, “That’s what I expected you to find.” Really? Now, if somebody tells me they have a leak in their car and I look for one and I don’t find it, I’m going to look again…, and again…, and again. But when the customer tells me there was never a leak and the only reason for all this fuss was to see how honest a mechanic I am, well crazy may not completely cover this one. He’s lucky to have kept his cool and not gone postal after that one!

 

Whether it’s because of the different cars, the different tools, or the different people at the counter, my sanity is always questionable. So, until I get checked out by the shrink, I’m going to go with the insanity plea as to why I’ve stayed at this trade for so long. Now it’s your turn to fess up. So, what’s your excuse?


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Take from me, someone who has spent a lifetime in the auto business: after a while you can't help become a little battle-weary. The things we have seen over the decades has to take it's toll on you.

 

There are times when I just walk away. Let me give you a quick example. I walked into the waiting room the other day, and a customer yells out to me in front of other customers, "Joe, every time I come in here, I have to spend money. Your guys got me again." My reply, "Good morning to you too.", and I walked out of the office.

 

Apparently, this guy hit a pothole, split a tire in half and bent the wheel. Was he joking? Well, in comedy there is always a bit of truth.

 

If you think about what someone has to endure in this industry over time, it's amazing we all don't go postal!

Anymore, these type of situations make me laugh. Usually before the customer even realizes I'm laughing at them. I guess after you've been around as long as I have nothing surprises you anymore. It's a good to find a fresh "arsehole" with a different perspective on car repair. I would have walked by and said the same thing, but more than likely would have been laughing all the way to my office. LOL too funny.

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Gonzo, insanity is in the eye of the beholder. Its all about the individual reference point. I'll share a story with someone and they say "that's crazy", and I say naw..that's just Tuesday. Loved the article, as always.

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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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