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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 41,250
    Yeah but what I wanted to know was where these dealer techs are going for other jobs. Indy shops or the franchise places. I assume that as a general rule, the benefits (if not the pay) is better than indy shops.

    Always figured that working for a fleet outfit would be the way to go. Less interaction with the "general" public and you likely would specialize on some brands.

    Great news about your wife!

    Moderator
    Minivan fan. Feel free to message or email me - stever@edmunds.com.

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    Your assumption about better pay and benefits isn't accurate, or at least didn't use to be. On top of that, the average INDY doesn't even do what I do in my shop when it comes to dealing with the latest technology in today's cars. They keep their doors open on the steady flow of the high "C" level technician's work. (Suspension, Alignment, brakes, some electrical work like battery, alternator and starter) FWIW as I am writing this I had to stop to take a phone call about a 2006 Mitsubishi where the AC compressor won't engage. The shop that called is a good average shop, very likeable by their customers but easily outclassed by the electronics at that level. I'll take it in Friday and figure it out for them, then they can repair it if they are capable, or I will have to if a programmable module needs replaced. Their prices are too low to justify having a technician like James in the building, even without benefits. Their low prices have them busy today but on a road to failure.

    I had another shop call me about a vehicle that has multiple computers unable to communicate. They attempted to replace the PCM because a very distinct burning odor was noticeable from it. (If I had to guess this car sounds like a lightning strike victim) Regardless they asked me to take it in and there was one thing that I realized as soon as they described the customer. This car belings to a guy that had a Windstar that the RF turn signal wasn't working, and the failure was a wiring harness open, and not a bad GEM module. Because of the location of the module, wiring schematic errors and at that time my eye's were changing (losing my close vision but didn't realize it yet) it took me much longer than usual to prove the failure than it should have. In the end I only charged one hour of diagnostic time, and one hour to run a replacement wire from the GEM to the RF corner of the vehicle. The wire is undetectable except for right at the RF lens assembly and at the GEM. I charged less than a third of the time that was invested and he has done everything he could to bad mouth me ever since. Anyone who got the diagnostic wrong and replaced the GEM, would have charged him well over $600. (and then probably run the wire for free) Now he has another vehicle problem that requires the kind of effort that I put into my career and you know it actually feels good to not be there for him.

    The guy with the Explorer that I mentioned about two weeks ago called again. He has been without his car for nine weeks now. If I take it in imagine another shop, with an junior technician being able to knock out three to four brake jobs in the amount of time that may be required to solve and repair the Explorer which means they will make two to three times as much money for that same period of time with no where near the investment. That's what James is facing should he leave the dealership.
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    Next, two engineers showed up and 8 hours later and $3000
    worth of parts, the vehicle remained unrepaired.

    The next day, the two engineers returned and after another 6
    hours finally diagnosed the problem as EMI in the drive
    motor 1 generator position sensor stator caused by 1 burnt
    coil in DM1. Nothing in the diagnostics in S.I. pointed in
    this direction


    They (the two engineers) did good ;) . Seriously, given the fact that they probably never came across this problem before, and the general difficulty of tracing down EMI caused problems, 2 engineers for 2 days is a steal.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    Seriously, given the fact that they probably never came across this problem before, and the general difficulty of tracing down EMI caused problems, 2 engineers for 2 days is a steal.

    We have to figure out things that both they and we have never seen before, and potentially may never see again, and people think we should be able to do it for free...........

    This is a diagnostic that competent hybrid techs (Toyota, Ford) would have had no trouble accomplishing in around 2 hrs. The service information isn't written with the expectation that techs (like James or myself) are walking up to the car with not only the factory scan tool but also tools like a four channel PICO scope, high and low amps current probes, hybrid capable CAT III DVOM's (1000v) college level electronics training etc. etc. Then to be paid .3 (eighteen minutes) for the time spent to complete the diagnostics is wrong to the highest degree.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    Or a bad reality show... VBG..
    I just walked aross the street to a gas station and watched a guy breaking into his car that he locked the keys in. It appeared to be a 2009-2010 Equinox. He had broken a hole through the drivers window and was trying to pull up the lock button. (It's designed to prevent someone from being able to do that).

    That drivers front window isn't saftey glass anymore, it's laminated like a windshield. So it's going to be $400-600 to replace. He has OnStar, but he let the subscription expire, it's $10 a month!!
    Looking right in front of him, next door was a repair shop. (150 ft away) He doesn't belong to AAA, but even calling a pro to help wasn't in his plans. The last thing that he said was he'll just call his insurance and tell them that someone must have tried to break in.

    You know the thing about honesty or being honest? It isn't a part time job.
  • roadburnerroadburner Posts: 6,663
    You know the thing about honesty or being honest? It isn't a part time job.

    I always liked the quote, "Character is what you do when no one is looking."

    2009 328i / 2004 X3 2.5/ 1995 318ti Club Sport/ 1975 2002A/ 2007 Mazdaspeed 3/ 1999 Wrangler/ 1996 Speed Triple Challenge Cup Replica

  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,778
    I read your postings and I slowly shake my head.

    I wonder, WHY would a person starting out today go into the auto repair trade?

    It just doesn't pencil out. It's no wonder peope are leaving the trade and finding other things to do.

    And, it's scary! I have to wonder what it's going to take to attract and retain quality people like yourself.

    Yes, paying .3 hours for that job is DEAD WRONG!

    You have my total respect!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,237
    I checked with Indy shops here in northern California (Marin county) to see what a shop would pay for a highly qualified tech in an import shop and they said "$30 an hour for well-trained journeyman and $40/hr for master mechanic with lots of experience". (plus the usual bennies of course)

    I don't think a Midas shop or a dinky shop working on domestic cars would pay that--but it's possible a very high end "we take all comers" type of shop might.

    Naturally, it costs a lot to live there, so that's a factor; on the other hand, master techs that can do this type of work are getting rare, so shops compete for the best talent.

    You'd never lack for a job here if you are really really good.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,778
    Now, when you say 30.00/hr. do you mean flat rate hour or do they pay 30.00 for just being there if there is no work to be done?

    I can remember back in the day a lot of shops paid their mechanics 50% of whatever the flat rate labor charge was. Some even paid a small percentage of the parts profits.

    Those days are long gone but so is 15.00/hr. labor charges!
  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 9,823
    I used to post about some problems on a Ford centric site 'www.flatratetech.com'.
    Got some really great help for my '02 Explorer.
    They had some eye opening threads.
    Many examples like thecardoc3 posted of time being chopped for repairs.
    Also, if you are wondering why the dealer doesn't have your part in stock,
    prices were dropped for high volume repair parts, so your parts inventory just gut cut in half for what you had on the shelf.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    Do you recall "The Challenge" to Ford over their flat rate times that they promoted on that site? Basically it stated that Ford could put up anybody they chose to who was responsible for the time studies, and the techs at the site would do the same. The techs would give a potential list of repairs that a time study was to be done on but not disclose exactly what the repair was until the challenge time study was to take place. Ford would get to prove that the labor time was legitimate if their person achieved or beat it. The techs would prove it was not if both their person and Ford's failed to make the time.

    I was the creator and author of "The Challenge". Ford never agreed to it, they knew they would lose. They came up with the excuse that the labors paid were only what they agreed to pay the dealers, and what the techs got paid wasn't supposed to be set by that agreement.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,237
    Yep $30 an hour for being there. It's not flat rate. It's an hourly wage.

    But keep in mind that many Indy shop rates are now $135/hr in California.

    A good Indy shop is busy busy busy---so you'll be working your 8 hours. You earn your pay.

    MODERATOR --Need help with anything? Click on my name!

  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,778
    edited September 2012
    A Mercedes Dealer in Orange County was charging 160.00/hr and that was two years ago!

    Yes, good Indy shops can be very busy places. Still, I'm kinda surprised they don't pay based on flat rate hours.

    A few years ago the 3.8 Taurus were notorious for breaking motor mounts even while under warranty. It seems they broke on every car.

    I believe Ford was paying something like five hours on these because they were nasty to fix....until....the guys discovered by using the right tools and a little creativity they could be changed MUCH faster. I know a guy who claimed he could change that mount in under a half hour.

    Of course, it didn't take Ford long to figure this out and when they did, they slashed the warranty time!
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    My shop labor rate is $75.77 and I am the highest indy in town. We have a shop that still charges $40 in town. Now of course he really can't repair anything but the simplest concerns but people that still know he exists and him as their yard stick to judge everyone else.

    Meanwhile no-one attends anywhere near as much training as I do. (not counting the hours I spend as the instructor) No-one comes close to the investment in the factory scan tools and software that I have for the last decade, and for that effort we have people who treat us the way the guy with the windstar that I mentioned does.

    I first came to this site because of an NBC news story about what dealerships were charging. In that story they rigged a Jeep with a defective relay to make the AC not cool. They "caught" the dealerships attempting to upsell maintenance services and tore them up over it. Nobody looked further to try and find out why this was going on and what it really meant for the consumer as well as the trade. Chrysler was busy doing their own rounds of labor time slashing, while self proclaimed experts have been telling dealerships and shops, "You can't make money fixing cars, sell services". The idea there being it takes a more expensive technician to really fix the hard cars, but a much cheaper employee can flush transmissions and that means greater gross profits for the business. You can see this occurring in every dealership and chain store across the country. Basically if I shut down my shop and went to work for them I'd starve because I try to go straight in at the reason the vehicle needed to come to the shop and then straight back out. The dealerships and chain stores routinely underprice that work, while they over price a lot of really easy stuff. The NBC video exposed that, but they were all about selling the hype and not about actually addressing any real problems. For those who followed, NBC ran a follow-up story targeted at showing that the employees who got caught lost their jobs and the appologies for the businesses employee's behaviors. The problem is, the real reason it happened at all is still going on. So NBC got their story, but nothing actually changed.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    I believe Ford was paying something like five hours on these because they were nasty to fix....until....the guys discovered by using the right tools and a little creativity they could be changed MUCH faster. I know a guy who claimed he could change that mount in under a half hour.


    The nut that held the top of the mount to the bracket was hidden behind and below the AC compressor. With an 18mm universal impact socket (about $30 a piece for the various sizes from 5mm all the way up to 30mm) a tech could access that fastener without removing the AC compressor. BTW if you tried to figure it out, that's not just 25 sockets, because one set is 1/4 inch drive, one is 3/8's inch drive and one is 1/2" drive which means the sets overlap and it's 5-15mm for the 1/4, 10-21mm for the 3/8's. and 12-30mm for the 1/2 for a total of almost 50 sockets in just that style, take that times the average of $30 and you got $1500 for just those sockets.

    Of course, it didn't take Ford long to figure this out and when they did, they slashed the warranty time!

    That would not have been Ford cutting that time. That would have been the dealership reducing the time that they paid the techs so that they could be more "competetive".

    I remember when I first started doing alignments. They paid the techs an extra hour per side if the struts had to be reamed out to allow for a camber adjustment. It only took me a couple times to figure out that I could measure the front end angles, remove the lower strut bolt completely, and then using the port-a-power duck-bill adapter for leverage, loosen the top bolt, make my camber adjustment and retighten that bolt, and then I only had to ream the strut just enough to put the lower bolt back in. For that ingenuity I was rewarded by them stopping charging for, and of course paying us for adjusting the camber on the cars that required it.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,778
    I spent almost 20 years in the tool business finishing up as a Regional Manager. I've literally been in thousands of shops and I made my living from the guys behind the wrenches. I have nothing but respect for the guys who fight to keep up with competition and the cars of today.

    Honestly, I knew about what most of these guys were making and I used to wonder what they had to go without in life just to buy tools that would make their lifes easier. Most people have no idea.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,237
    What these "consumer expose" type shows always fail to point out is that the dealer is a franchise and even more importantly, that the relationship between dealer and factory is NOT cordial and palsy most of the time, but decidely adversarial.

    The dealer is, in a sense, the "book", and the consumer and the factory are the bookends, squeezing him at both ends. While I have no great sympathy for this predicament (after all, some dealers make a boatload of money), I do see why these pressure create unethical situations such as upsell, and at time intolerable working conditions for the technician---who is, let's face it, a wage slave at a dealership.

    the Indy experience can be much more fulfilling for the mechanic, either running his own place or working for a top notch shop. I think he can be more proud of his work, too, and better appreciated by both the shop owner and the customer.

    The auto business is stressful. It eats people alive and always has been a place not for the faint of heart.

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  • Quote: My shop labor rate is $75.77 and I am the highest indy in town.

    Imagine that! People will complain about your rates, yet they will sit on their couch and think nothing of paying a professional basketball player (high school dropout) $10,000 to play ONE Game, and the CEO of Nike is willing to top that off with another half million/year just so he will wear his brand of underwear. Meanwhile, our colleges are offering full scholarships to sports figures, and .... well..... has anyone heard of a full scholarship for auto techs?

    We don't seem to know what's important in our lives, do we? When will we be willing to pay $10,000 for a brake job, and still wonder, "In an emergency, will the brakes work?" But the basketball player doesn't guarantee a win, does he?
  • imidazol97imidazol97 Crossroads of America: I70 & I75Posts: 18,369
    edited September 2012
    Look at what football players get for professional ball. Movie stars. Politicians.

    Consider the scholarships given to athletes for colleges--dorm, special food tables, books paid (I saw a list at the bookstore at OSU), extra for clothing, tattoes (maybe that's only at OSU), etc.

    The scholarships given for academic students, including those in automobile tech are trivial by comparison, even for a physics major! On the other hand, locally we have a JVS serving 20-30 schools that offers a special 2-year program that feeds into the special program at a local community college, also state supported, for those in the auto tech program. It's my understanding that good students get the 2 years at the college paid, at least in tuition. I've seen the shop area at the local JVW and was impressed that it was like a dealership with all sorts of equipment, and cars donated by companies, there for students and instructors to use.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,778
    I meant to ask, how did you arrive at such an oddball (75.77) hourly labor rate? Just curious that's all.

    Around the Seattle area, shop labor is running around 100.00/hr with dealers charging a bit more.

    Nothing like California though!
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 41,250
    "According to the YourMechanic team, the service’s independent, insured mechanics are able to handle about 80% of car issues without having to lean on the expensive amenities found in shops. That ultimately means lower prices for the consumers that use the service, and more money going into the pockets of the mechanics that actually do the work."

    Disrupt SF 2012

    Moderator
    Minivan fan. Feel free to message or email me - stever@edmunds.com.

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    edited September 2012
    80%. That says a lot right there. Now I have to ask, just what does that other 20% represent?

    Are they the repairs like the afore mentioned Explorer? Let's assume they do get to cut my throat on the easy stuff to the point that I'm no longer here or capable of the more difficult work. (That is already happening) Where does that leave that consumer?

    On one hand it would be totally ethical to charge sufficiently for the nightmare work that they are avoiding in order to remain in business fixing cars like the Explorer. Yet the perceptions and pricing pressures leave us trapped.

    BTW, how much are you willing to wager that the things they cannot do mobile amount to a lot less than they are claiming? The Explorer is here, and there are three more cars that I will be looking at today for difficult issues. The odds are greatly in my favor when I say that all four of them are way beyond the reach of groups like them. They don't have the tools, they don't have the training. Yea they claim ASE certifications, that's nice but at some point you actually find out that's a minimum standard and the technology today is really demanding much more than that. (I've been the author of some of the test questions for ASE)

    When I have some time, I'll research them and their people more closely just to see what I can really find. It's easy to crow about the successes, lets see how easily they actually fall. Heck, I'm betting it won't be hard to prove they don't always choose the correct motor oil for today's cars. Even Edmund's own "experts" failed at doing that in the last two years.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,237
    Well I think the ideal graphic for understanding that 80% statistic would be to draw a large pyramid. As you go towards the top (point) of it, fewer and fewer mechanics are going to fit in there.

    In other words, it's a LOT easier to be at 80% success rate than at 95%, and probably impossible to be at 100%.

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  • zaken1zaken1 Posts: 556
    There is a neat, simple solution to the problem of highly educated people who are heavily invested in specialized training and equipment being trapped in not having enough exotic repairs and diagnostic challenges coming in to pay the bills; while all the under-educated, ignorant, plain people steal your business by doing ordinary, unchallenging repairs.

    The answer is to estab;sih a multi-level pay scale for your work: When someone comes in who only needs a simple repair like having their spark plugs and air filter changed (and it is not a nighmare vehicle to change plugs on; like the Nissan Pathfinders that need the intake manifold pulled, or the Camrys that had 6 coils); cut your inappropriate (for ordinary work) hourly labor charge in HALF. When word gets out that you are doing unspecialized repairs for a fair rate; people will flee from the unskilled shops in your town, and come to your shop in DROVES. Sure; you'll probably end up spending more time turning wrenches; but if done in the right spirit; it can be heart warming.

    And as GM's cutthroat cost cutting policies drive more and more potential repair customers away from dealerships; the whole auto repair market will gradually shift to either people buying simpler and easier to repair cars; or foreign manufacturers realizing that there is a bigger market for cars which are designed to be economically serviceable, than for cars which appeal to the very rich (or those who aspire to richness). Besides; electric cars are coming along down the pike; and all the equipment required for them cutting edge high tech diagnostics will soon be gathering rust (or the plastic disintegrating).

    But the main point I wanted to make is that you are not trapped by your investment. Just charge a fair price for what a job is worth (rather than for what your investment is worth), and there will always be new customers at your door. Heck; you may even reach the point where you decide that it is not worth investing a lifetime in pandering to the profit centered marketing and planned obsolescence manufacturing schemes of corrupt, inefficient manufacturers; and instead refuse to work on nightmare vehicles; and scale back to serving the needs of most people. In time; you may even reach the point where you become open to "subversive" thoughts like manufacturers do not always know what they are doing, or oil recommendations created by politicians and mandated for an entire industry may actually be destructive to certain engines.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    But the main point I wanted to make is that you are not trapped by your investment. Just charge a fair price for what a job is worth

    In the context of what you wrote define "fair".
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    At best, the changes you propose would only delay quitting the business if they worked, and hasten needing to shut it down if they didn't. From there it's clear that you really don't understand the problem, nor the work that we have to do today. The technology in a GM for a fully trained and equipped technician is no more difficult to work with than any other manufacturer.

    And as GM's cutthroat cost cutting policies drive more and more potential repair customers away from dealerships

    Aren't their cost cutting moves designed to lower prices and get the consumers to take their cars back to the dealerships, exactly as you seemed to think is the answer for my shop?

    The answer is to estab;sih a multi-level pay scale for your work: When someone comes in who only needs a simple repair like having their spark plugs and air filter changed (and it is not a nighmare vehicle to change plugs on; like the Nissan Pathfinders that need the intake manifold pulled, or the Camrys that had 6 coils); cut your inappropriate (for ordinary work) hourly labor charge in HALF. When word gets out that you are doing unspecialized repairs for a fair rate; people will flee from the unskilled shops in your town, and come to your shop in DROVES

    No it won't. Slashing prices like that only serves to pull the competition down with you and everybody loses. Heck the link that Steve put up(YourMechanic) has them charging the same labor rate as my full shop, that can do 100% of what my customers need, including towing. Will that really work out there in Sunny California, the land of BAR (Bureau of Auto Repair) and has the most restrictive rules of any state? For a short while it just might but if you can't see where the weak links are for them right now just wait.

    The biggest problem that auto repair has right now is that it's underpriced across the board. If I had nothing to do, then maybe using price to try and drive some volume would make sense, but the reality is I have plenty to do but it's not gnerating the kind of profit that it needs in order to continue, dropping prices would essentially be suicide for the business.

    the whole auto repair market will gradually shift to either people buying simpler and easier to repair cars; or foreign manufacturers realizing that there is a bigger market for cars which are designed to be economically serviceable

    I keep seeing everything about "cheap to me" in your perspective, just like you have no answer for what is really a fair price. A guy called my radio show last week and made sure to say that I am too expensive, when I'm actually quite average pricewise, but am unequaled with what we offer. I'm not cheap enough for him, that much was clear. The funny part was that he wanted me to tell him what part to replace to solve an issue with his car without doing any testing, or investigating.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,778
    Well said. It seems there are fewer and fewer of the so called "gravy" jobs anymore and cutting the labor in half on these jobs would be suicide.

    Beating the clock isn't as easy as some people seem to think it is.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,237
    I am thinking the other way---charge the full rate for easy work to make up for the beating you'll often take on the hard jobs.

    I mean, if some electrical problem ends up taking you 20 hours to solve (off and on, not 20 hours straight) are you really going to charge accordingly, such as:

    "Fix short in wiring harness 20.0 hrs @ $130 hr"

    Don't think so.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,524
    You're exactly correct Shitright, nightmare problems are often called alligators for a reason, they can eat you alive. Meanwhile you see easier more profitable work going to chain stores, or other shops that are not and will not train and equip themselves or their techs beyond the most essential consumer needs.

    Go back to the article about the shortage of top technicians, a shortage that is getting more acute all the time. I attached a post from James Avery, the things that he does with just GM's Chevrolet vehicles demand the right person as an apprentice, who then must struggle through decades to gain the experience, and then study constantly to attain the knowledge that he has.

    GM calls him after he does repairs on Chevrolet Volts to get insight on how the repair went.

    I repaired a Caravan this week that had been dead for a month. Four techs including a dealership couldn't diagnose the loss of communication which caused the vehicle to stall right after it started. No communication is essentially a theft deterrent enabling condition as the SKIM and the PCM must share data to allow the vehicle to run. The data network wasn't grounded with the key off, which is how engineering wants it checked, but it was grounded when the key got turned on. From there the splice for the network is in the harness under the carpet, between the front seats. Locating the grounded section of the circuit required removal of both front seats, and lifting the carpet sufficiently to reach and expose the harness. Applying a small current in on one side allowed it to be detected on the other side and then followed to the passengers side sliding door where the harness was found to be damaged.

    For most people today they could now "google" what I wrote here and if they find similar damage and prove that it caused a no-start they want to pretend that is how you fix your car. But what did it take to troubleshoot that failure with the training and skills that are repeatable and will work no matter where the failure was? Now why couldn't the others solve the problem? They have been pressured to try and go too fast and don't use the kind of discipline in their efforts that it demanded. In the dealership, I would be treated as if I wasn't productive because of the time that was required to solve that vehicle, and/or many others like it. James isn't being paid correctly for the work that he is doing, he see's techs around him with all kinds of gravy work making dozens of hours a week more, and not working any where near as hard.

    Step into a shop as a young apprentice, watch that happening and which technician would you want to be? The one who can fix anything, or the one who gets to make a good living, easily? Allow that, heck have poor management encourage that for a few decades and you have our trade. But now the top guns are leaving as life does what life does, and there is no incentive for anyone to make the investment to replace us. The best part is, change the trade tomorrow, and make James A's job one worth aspiring towards, and you'll still neeed fifteen to twenty years for a technician to develop into the next James.
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 41,250
    Sounds like my last eye doc. He was very good and did 1,000s of procedures. Lasik, cataracts, you name it. The office was always full and pretty plush. But when my number came up and I had a detached retina after a procedure, he sent me down the street. That surgeon spent a lot of time on me and didn't get paid squat (relatively speaking).

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