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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    That's not the problem though. If repair books out at an hour and the mechanic finishes in half an hour, then yeah, he gets paid for full hour. But, if it books at 15 minutes, and shop charges 1 hour diagnostic, then that's really not fair.

    At one time cars were not only much simpler to work on, they really didn't change, and if you could work on one you could just about work on all of them. The labor times were studied and written with specific guidelines. The time studies were all done with hand tools and if a mechanic invested in air tools to make him faster, then he benefitted from that.

    Today, who writes the labor guides? Are the jobs correctly even studied? Manufacturers when confronted by techs over labor times that were simply impossible to even meet made statements like"The labor times posted are not intended to set a technicians wage, that is a sperate agreement between the dealer and the technician. Our labor times are set to compensate the dealership for warranty expenses"

    There are more comments like that, but essntially the times are quite often impossible to meet unless a tech has done that exact repair a number of times. But the job isn't like that, we often do a given repair only once in our careers. There is no way that anyone will be fast, doing any of them once.

    Then we have the customer pay labor guides, and they typically rate the jobs for difficulty as in "A" techs, "B" techs, and "C" techs. Take the most ardent DIY'er and its being generous to them to suggest that they are the equivelant of a "C" tech. The "A" tech is the master tech today who is usually a specialist. The "B's" are the journeymen. Some will progress to become the "A" techs in the future, a lot will forever remain right at that "B" level, and most today will burnout and leave the trade.

    The work that the different techs are expected to perform actually allows for the younger techs to take longer and it pays more hours to do than what the "A" tech work does. Imagine doing a head gasket on an overhead camshaft engine in just 2.8 hrs. (warranty) When I did three of them in one day, I made 8.4 hours while the guy down the shop(a "B" tech doing "C" tech work) doing struts and alignments turned some 14 hours and didn't break a sweat.

    Really don't see how you could book a diagnostic in the first place. You are paying for time to find the problem, not time to repair.

    Correct, you can't menu price it. If I would be doing those struts and alignments I could likely turn about two hours time in one, meaning I'd make some sixteen hours a day at my labor rate. Diagnostics is much harder work, at best it paid straight time which amounts to a pay cut for harder work. At the worst it paid a fraction of the time actually spent, if the tech really spends the time. No one should be surprised at what the final outcomes of treating a tech like that are.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    So far, it sounds like Steve was right when he suggested that doc is probably not charging enough many times

    We are getting into the perception of "fair" here.

    But I bet when he goes to bed at night, he sleeps better than many..a clear conscience makes one helluva sedative

    Clear conscience, yes. Sleep? The time stamps for my posts should paint the real story. I average about five hours a night. The rest of the time will usually find me reading, writing, studying, or in the shop working.
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,805
    edited March 2013
    As a dealer tech with this car under warranty, you just used and failed to repair this with the first of three attempts to fix this before it could be subject to a buyback.

    So, if I buy a new car and hate it after 2 months, all I need to do is figure out some very weird set of circumstances that I can jinx the car with that an "average" tech won't be able to figure out. After jumping through the lemon law hoops, I'll be rid of the car and have some buyback money in my banking account. :D

    Although, not many states really have a three strike rule. Usually the dealer gets one more chance after a car is declared a lemon to fix it and out in Idaho it would take you five or six trips to the dealer before your car qualified as a lemon.

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  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,019
    edited March 2013
    I think you're taking the wrong approach. You should raise your prices. You should raise them to be higher than any of your independent competition.

    if your shop is as good as you say it is, people will come, and people will pay.

    Your posted labor rate is your "shined shoes and pressed pants" metaphorically speaking--you are presenting yourself as worth this rate.

    The label "they're good but expensive" has more staying power than "they're cheap but you have to go back 3 times".

    Every one of the successful shops that I know really well (know the owners really well, even socialize)---none of them are on the bargain end of the spectrum by any means, nor do they have a reputation for being inexpensive.

    But they do have a reputation for being competent and being honest.

    and they aren't necessarily fancy places either---but they are clean.

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  • jipsterjipster Posts: 5,345
    I can see the rationale used in having diagnostic fees set the way they are. But, as a consumer it's just difficult to swallow looking at a $120 disagnostic fee, and then 15 minutes later the service advisor comes and tells you that you need a new mass airflow sensor.

    I'd much rather see it blocked out like you did for that headlight customer. Say $60 for the first 15 minutes (which will help pay for those expensive tools), then $20 for every 15 minutes after that. Maybe it's a headache either way, but at least the customer will have a choice.
  • jipsterjipster Posts: 5,345
    Every time a scan tool comes out of the box it costs us about $60. to do that. The schematic which comes from the information system works out to about $8. a car. Heck the computerized repair orders cost us $2. I

    At some point those tools are paid for. Then what happens to your diagnostic fees? It seems to me that any cost for tools and diagnostic equipment should be transferred to the actual cost of repairs. The only variable used in calculating a diagnostic fee should be time spnt finding the problem. Not trying to tell you how your/a business should be run... just thinking out loud. :shades:
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,805
    edited March 2013
    I'd love to know the bottom line profits AutoZone drove to their stores when they started giving away OBDII code pulls. It has to be huge.

    The first manufacturer that starts giving cheap or free diagnostics to OEM purchasers is going to make a killing too. I keep trying to tell GM that, but they haven't grasped the concept yet. They are really creating a lot of ill will when someone reads a few dozen posts about a known issue (like door lock actuators) and the GM rep says they have to get a $120 diagnosis from the dealer before GM can decide whether to help them. At least lots of dealers will waive the diagnostic fee.

    (Have to say, it sure is fun telling GM and Doc how to run their business from behind a keyboard. :D ).

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  • jipsterjipster Posts: 5,345
    can be found in better educating about 60% of the consumers as to what it really takes to be there for them.

    Good point. Except for you, I see very few people, shops, dealerships trying to educate.

    I think most sensible people would accept high diagnostic fees and labor rates if they knew why they are what they are. Heck, put out pamplets in he waiting room in the reasoning behind prices. Hand out one after each repair. Word of mouth, from a service writer, doesnt go as far in my book. People like seeing things in print from a reliable source... an expert in the field. Diagnostic fees usually arent posted... like they are a deep dark secret. Bring it all out in the open man! I think people will be more willing to trust that way. Just one mans opinion. :)
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    At some point those tools are paid for.

    The only question is, did that happen before it is deemed obsolete? My Chrysler Star Scan was obsoleted just nine months after I bought it. It was replaced by the Star Mobile, and about a year and a half later that was obsoleted by the Wi-Tech. At that time I still had almost a year left to pay off my Star Scan. :sick:

    It seems to me that any cost for tools and diagnostic equipment should be transferred to the actual cost of repairs. The only variable used in calculating a diagnostic fee should be time spnt finding the problem

    In a simpler world that would be true. Today every manufacturer sells scan tools as software for which we get a license to use. The initial purchase averages in the $5000-7000 range for the most common makes. When the license expires the tool turns off until it's renewed for an other year. That's $1700 for Chrysler, $900 for Ford, $900 for Mazda, $1400 for GM, $1000 for Toyota, etc.

    Not trying to tell you how your/a business should be run... just thinking out loud

    Lot's of people "think out loud" along those lines, and somehow it does turn around to be someone trying to tell the consumers how we should run our shops, when they actually have no idea what we have to overcome these days. Take the above prices, now picture one or two of them obsoleteing their current tool and changing to yet another. This is where some shops support R2R because they think it will give them the tools without all of the expense. It won't.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    So, if I buy a new car and hate it after 2 months, all I need to do is figure out some very weird set of circumstances that I can jinx the car with that an "average" tech won't be able to figure out. After jumping through the lemon law hoops, I'll be rid of the car and have some buyback money in my banking account.

    If you were on this side of that abuse, you wouldn't think that it is very funny. Sometimes the cause is buyers remorse, sometimes it comes down to the customers employment circumstances have changed. Either way they write really bad CSI ratings on the tech/shop and do whatever they can to get out from underneath their agreement and they don't care if someone else gets hurt. It actually happens a lot more than you might think.
  • jipsterjipster Posts: 5,345
    I'd love to know the bottom line profits AutoZone drove to their stores when they started giving away OBDII code pulls. It has to be huge.

    I've gotten codes read and battery analyis from Auto Zone about 4 or 5 times. Usually just to confirm my own Jip diagnosis... which I must humbly admit to as being spot on. :blush:

    I've bought a couple parts from Autozone, others they didn't carry.

    Their battery service is pretty good. About $120 for a Duralast Gold battery (3 years free replacement/7 years prorated)... installed. Don't even have to get my hands dirty. :surprise:

    Have to say, it sure is fun telling GM and Doc how to run their business from behind a keyboard. ).

    Yep. It's great being a backseat driver, or armchair quarterback. I'm always telling Jerry Jones how to run the Dallas Cowboys whenever they are on t.v. My wife usually says he's wearing too much eye liner... man make-up that is. :sick:
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    The label "they're good but expensive" has more staying power than "they're cheap but you have to go back 3 times".

    I've been told that we actually have that very label. Our mechanical labor rate is under $80/hr. It's a death sentence for anyone with thin skin who is less than extremely determined to make it.

    if your shop is as good as you say it is, people will come, and people will pay

    Oh they do, for the stuff others can't handle that is. Then we don't see them again until the next time they encounter a nightmare problem. On paper being the most capable should have earned all of their business. The reality is, it doesn't work. When our final day comes, no-one will (or should) try to fill our shoes. It's just not worth trying to do.

    I think you're taking the wrong approach. You should raise your prices. You should raise them to be higher than any of your independent competition

    We are the highest independent. The only thing that did was make room for the others around us to raise their prices and leave a comfortable margin below us to play cut-throat with.
  • jipsterjipster Posts: 5,345
    The only question is, did that happen before it is deemed obsolete? My Chrysler Star Scan was obsoleted just nine months after I bought it

    Home computers are obsolete the same way, but you can still use them. Diagnostic tool run the same way... always having to buy to keep up with the latest technology? Could you have "gotten by" with keeping the Chrysler Star Scan instead of up-grading ?

    and somehow it does turn around to be someone trying to tell the consumers how we should run our shops, when they actually have no idea what we have to overcome these days.

    That's what my questions and scenarios are all about.. finding out how and why you run your shop like you do. You think Steve or Shifty are sitting there thinking, " Yeah, Jip is right... cardoc should be running his shop like that." Doubtful.

    You're wanting to teach, I like to learn. I learn by asking questions and challenging why you do thing the way you do... to learn.... not to be a wise guy. No need to be offended.
  • boomchekboomchek Vancouver, BC, CanadaPosts: 5,108
    The only question is, did that happen before it is deemed obsolete?

    I remember when I worked at a Chrysler dealership about 5 years ago, the service manager told me they had to spend a bunch of money on specialized tools and diagnostc equipment for the Chrysler Crossfire (as it was 80% Mercedes SLK based), only for the car to have slow sales (meaning very few service customers) and for it to be discontinued less within 4 years of launch. :sick:

    2007 BMW 328i Sports Pkg, 1993 Honda Accord EXR (my 33rd car).

  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    somehow it does turn around to be someone trying to tell the consumers how we should run our shops, when they actually have no idea what we have to overcome these days

    You're wanting to teach, I like to learn. I learn by asking questions and challenging why you do thing the way you do... to learn.... not to be a wise guy. No need to be offended.

    No offense at all. I think you're misreading what I am trying to write.

    Could you have "gotten by" with keeping the Chrysler Star Scan instead of up-grading ?

    The Star Scan is still my most up to date Chrysler tool. It does not work on anything after 2010. I have to use an aftermarket tool, with its limitations and my J2534 for any re-flashing. That means just like the volvo mentioned, at some point I will run into a process that we won't be able to complete. More than anything that's the biggest problem, it might only be a one out of ten operations that the O.E. tool has to be used where the aftermarket tools stop short.

    The only question is, did that happen before it is deemed obsolete? My Chrysler Star Scan was obsoleted just nine months after I bought it

    Home computers are obsolete the same way, but you can still use them.

    Sorry, that's not even close in comparison. It's closer to your internet access than the PC itself, only make your internet access cost about $1500 a month. Stop paying for it and it shuts down and you can't use the machine for its intended purpose. Now the Star Scan since its a stand alone tool continues to work. But the Wi-tech that superceeds it won't. It's $7000 and on each birthday another $1700. The moment you stop paying that $1700, the program is useless. Now remember, this is how each manufacturer is running today.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,741
    Cardoc,

    After reading your postings I have no doubt that you are one of the best in your business and your shop is a place I would gladly take my cars to.

    But, I really have to wonder how you can put up with it. You work long hours, invest thousands of dollars in equipment that quickly becomes worthless and you get stuck with the miserable jobs while your competition skims off the "gravy" jobs!

    I can't imagine opening up a shop in this day and age!

    If I did, I think I would specialize in one or two makes of cars and not open my doors to everything that comes in.

    We have an excellent indy shop here that is picky about what they take in yet they are always booked. They will NOT work on older cars because of parts availability and the fear of getting stuck.

    I listened once as they "fired" a semi nasty customer who was trying to blame an oil leak on something they had done. They fixed the leak and nicely asked him never to return.

    I just don't know how and why you keep at this but for the sake of your customers, it's a good thing you do.
  • explorerx4explorerx4 Central CTPosts: 9,723
    Doc,
    When you go to your physician and they find a problem, but they can't fix it, they send you to a specialist and still charge you.
    It seems pretty normal.
  • srs_49srs_49 Posts: 1,394
    Cardoc-
    Can't you deduct the cost of your tools against your income? 3 years depreciation for capital assets? So that $10K scan tool you can deduct $3,333/year against your income? Or more if you show it only has a useful life of one year?
  • busirisbusiris Posts: 3,490

    Can't you deduct the cost of your tools against your income? 3 years depreciation for capital assets? So that $10K scan tool you can deduct $3,333/year against your income? Or more if you show it only has a useful life of one year?


    Not trying to be cute, but that's what I call confusing income with cash flow, which are 2 entirely different things.

    A $10,000 tool still cost $10,000, and that costs usually comes as a lump sump, up front payment. Yes, you might be able to amortize it over a 1, 2, 3 or more year period,but its the income the tool produces that makes the profit/cash flow. One can't make money on an expenditure by depreciating it. The best one can do is recoup some of the costs of the tools via tax savings due to amortization/depreciation.

    Of course, if one has seriously deep pockets, the difference doesn't matter, but few independent shops have that kind of cash lying around.
  • jipsterjipster Posts: 5,345
    When you go to your physician and they find a problem, but they can't fix it, they send you to a specialist and still charge you

    I took my 2007 Kia Optima to a small father/son shop about 7 months ago. Felt like I was getting some increase in rpms without pushing down on gas pedal. Felt like a throttle position sensor problem. They took it out on a couple test drives, checked a few other things. SAID they couldn't find anything wrong. Ok, how much
    do I owe you for looking at it? Nothing they say. GREAT! Thanks. Definitely not something you would get at a dealership.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    I can't imagine opening up a shop in this day and age

    I'll start my response with this statement that you made, because I totally agree with it.

    If I did, I think I would specialize in one or two makes of cars and not open my doors to everything that comes in.

    That would work if you live in a big enough area and have enough cars of those brands. You could run into a problem though of someone else tries to do the exact same ones.

    After reading your postings I have no doubt that you are one of the best in your business and your shop is a place I would gladly take my cars to.

    I'd like to think that we would live up to that, its the fact that I'm always afraid that we might come up short someday that I work so hard to stay ahead of things.

    But, I really have to wonder how you can put up with it. You work long hours, invest thousands of dollars in equipment that quickly becomes worthless and you get stuck with the miserable jobs while your competition skims off the "gravy" jobs!

    At this point there simply is no where else to go. In fact I'll point back to the recession in the late seventies and early eighties that trapped me in the trade just long enough to turn the corner and start to become good enough as a technician that I couldn't justify quitting inspite of all of the reasons that I should have left it.

    I just don't know how and why you keep at this but for the sake of your customers, it's a good thing you do.

    Thanks. ;)

    But the days are numbered for me, you can't be a tech forever because its just not possible because of the physical side of the job. Meanwhile the technical side of it just gets more intense every year and yet the majority of the trade still tries to run like its still the 70's.

    The last thing that I can try to do before I'm gone is to tell the story about what its really been like. At least then when the trade finally collapses and there aren't enough techs to fix the cars, people will get to see at least one more "I told you so". If you look you can see the shops talking to themselves right now about how they can't find qualified people, and then they turn right around and don't do what they need to in order to keep and train the ones that they do have. The part that they are overlooking is even if they all changed tomorrow, it still takes some twenty years to grow a mastertech and they have been chasing most of the talent away for at least that long.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    Doc, When you go to your physician and they find a problem, but they can't fix it, they send you to a specialist and still charge you.

    If we charged someone to try and fix their car and failed, we would be expected to give them all of their money back.

    As far as "my physician", I wouldn't know who he was if I met him on the street. I haven't seen him in a decade.
  • steverstever Viva Las CrucesPosts: 40,805
    edited March 2013
    Mine would recognize me in the street even if she wouldn't recall my name.

    Guess I won't have to put up with any more flack about deferred maintenance on my old cars. :P

    What's the rest of the story on the car with the intermittent ABS/code problem?

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,741
    edited March 2013
    I guy I know retired just last year at age 66. He was a heavy line mechanic at a local dealership. He was the guy that got the miserable jobs nobody else either wanted or had the skills to do. Few people are able to do backbreaking work at his age but he did it with great skill.

    He does anything he can to talk prospective young guys out of the trade.

    He talks about the "old days" when he could and did make a decent living. he says those days are now a thing of the past.

    Pretty scary to think about the future of the business!
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    He does anything he can to talk prospective young guys out of the trade.
    Snip
    Pretty scary to think about the future of the business!

    You see me refer to that NBC sting all of the time that Phillip Reed of Edmunds took a part in. They slammed the dealer techs for things that they were doing wrong, but never really looked into why they were happening.

    Then they turned around and praised foolish business practices in the second part of "the story".

    Then a couple months later NBC did a revisit and laid all of the blame on the service advisors and techs that got caught in the first video and tried to play the dealers themselves as innocent victims of bad employees.

    Since they didn't do anything about the causes for the techs to oversell, there shouldn't be any expectations that anything at all has changed, except for the people in the shop. The poor business practices no doubt are still solidly in place, and they will train the new people to act exactly as the other ones did in time. Then be ready to punish them the moment anyone complains and they have NBC's blessings to do it that way.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    busiris has it correct. Sure we can depreciate the tools, but that only reduces what we pay in taxes. It would be kind of like you donating to the Red Cross. Take 10K and send it to them and see how it works out for your bottom line at the end of the year.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,019
    i think there is still opportunity for a young person to open up a specialty shop, one or two marques that he/she knows very well.

    The business model would be to catch all the cars of those 2 makes that are just falling out of warranty.

    but Doc is quite right--you need a large enough market to support a specialty shop. Maybe before venturing into a business, you need to stand on a street corner and count the number of cars that match your future shop's specialty.

    One of my friends has a Subaru shop and does quite well (bought the building)--and there's not a lot of competition. Down side? He has to work on a lot of old crappy Subarus.

    Another friend is a Porsche/Audi specialist, has 4 bays, 4 techs + counterman + lot boy + part time used car salesman. He's doing well but is in the SF Bay Area (Marin county) which is prosperous.

    Another friend does Mini Coopers in the East Bay, also does well.

    And these shops are very reluctant to touch any car outside their specialty--if you aren't family, forget it.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,522
    What's the rest of the story on the car with the intermittent ABS/code problem?

    The rest of the story on that one is all about how to associate each symptom to the modules responsible for completeing a given task. Take the door locks. The BCM commands the doors to lock when it see's vehicle speed go from 0 to somewhere in the 15-20 mph range. With the doors already locked, its a logic error in the virtual system. That virtual system incorporates the TCM (transmission control module) the PCM, (powertrain control module), the BCM (body control module) and the two door modules.

    Then you compare that list to each of the other virtual systems and look to see what modules (if any) are in each system that displayed a symptom and in this case it's actually the PCM that shows up in each column. Now because there are no communication codes set against it, the PCM didn't fall off of the bus, combine that with the fact that the engine didn't stumble and you didn't lose powers nor grounds for it. The only plausble answer is the PCM itself corrupted the data and the rear wheel speed that it got from the TCM simply didn't make it to the ABS module. That's the cliff notes of this failure but its a great example of why they will never have computers that can diagnose problems at that level. The engineers can't even write trouble trees to guide techs to the answers. It comes down to techs needing to have the training, the tools, and the critical thinking skills to figure these things out in a logical fashion. Its a shame this kind of talent doesn't result in the kind of a career that rewards the technicians accordingly. .3hr. That's all that diagnostic paid and that's stealing from the employee. isellhondas is right on the money when he states that no-one should enter this trade.
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 17,741
    We have a nearby shop that only works on BMW's and Minis. Theya re always busy and do a good job.

    In a rural area like cardoc mentioned, that probably wouldn't work.

    A Mini Cooper shop would work well in Walnut Creek but not in Red Bluff!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright CaliforniaPosts: 45,019
    edited March 2013
    it also helps to pick a car that breaks a lot! :P

    No tech wants to be the "Maytag Repairman" of old.

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