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A Mechanic's Life - Tales From Under the Hood

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  • steverstever YooperlandPosts: 40,003
    edited March 2013
    A shop owner needs someone who likes money to run the front desk so the folks who enjoy wrenching can do just that. :shades:

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  • obyoneobyone Posts: 8,065
    A shop owner needs someone who likes money to run the front desk so the folks who enjoy wrenching can do just that.

    It's all about profit. Depending on the amount profit generated unless the person is multi-talented where he could wrench while there are no customers waiting with questions. It would be hard to justify paying someone to run the front side of the house. If a person were that good I'd think he would open a shop of his own. Although a friend of mine has an autobody shop where he hired a manager so he could play golf 5 days a week.

    I'm curious as to why doc hasn't hired additional help so as to multiply his efforts and profit.
  • steverstever YooperlandPosts: 40,003
    Well, it's two different skill sets and some people don't have both. Or don't have the interest or don't have the time to do a good job with both. A front desk manager can handle the morning rush and then keep the "crew" on schedule, help with the books and billings, compliance and do a bunch of marketing.

    I was reading about a service writer last week who had good people skills. He opened up a garage and freely admits that he's not much of a mechanic. He enjoys the management aspects of keeping the techs and the customers happy.

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  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    edited March 2013
    I'm gonna go with a bad connection on a rear wheel speed sensor assoc with stability control. SNIP

    The fuel gauge momentary dump is a mystery, altho the flashing lo fuel light is not..it will be part of whatever caused the gauge to slip past that point which would trigger the light.


    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.

    Plus, since it's now a comeback you won't be paid at all for any more diagnostics, no matter how much time you spend. You could expect to be treated like this, with problems this difficult on many diffrent manufacturers, not just GM.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    You need a better class of customer. They are out there; just don't give away freebies to the bottom feeders.

    We have a good group of core customers (about 20%). They are there for us, and we for them and have been for twenty years. The real difference between thriving, compared to barely surviving can be found in better educating about 60% of the consumers as to what it really takes to be there for them. The last 20%, can cause 80% of the problems shops ever face. They are usually the ones ready to fire off a bad review, even if everything went as good as it ever could.

    From there we still have to compete with the street pricing, and that means some old shops, that never go to schools, and haven't been investing in tools for years. They are holding pricing hostage at 80's rates, 40/hr. On one hand, you can't blame them or the people who support them yet what is happening is that causes the trade to stratify even more. There is a huge difference between their shops and mine when it comes to dealing with the technology in the cars, but that doesn't result in profits. We only survive by being very creative, and by tons of hours of effort. To get to work a forty hour week, with what we actually do, our prices would need to be about 40% higher on both parts and labor.

    No one has guessed on the intermittent ABS/code problem yet?
    ECU reflash? Loose battery cable? Leaky spark plug wires?


    None of the above. You have also used your first attempt. Two more and the car gets to be a buy back.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    Most of the dealerships/shops I've taken my car to charge a flat rate diagnostic fee.. $100-120 whether they find in the problem in 5 minutes or an hour. Which is a rip-off IMO.

    When I get a European vehicle in for diagnostics, I now have a tool that supports them better than all of the other aftermarket tools do, but it is still short of any of the O.E. tools. The payment for this tool is $228 a month. If I use it once a month, what should I charge?

    Its pretty easy to see that there is a problem with just that one part of this equation. Most would say that you shouldn't even have a tool like that, but its a part of what we do. If you combine what all of the tools cost for just the diagnostics, it costs us about $60 per event just to be ready to take the correct tool out of the box for each diagnostic. Now if we spend five minutes we push that cost lower, if we take an hour we actually lost money to the point that the effort didn't produce any income, it only paid the shops bills.

    Dealerships actually have an advantage here, they only have to tool up for one or two manufacturers depending on what they sell. We have to try to support as many manufacturers as we can justify. The cost to date is over 100K for us and still rising.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    I wish there was a shop like doc's in my area.

    There probably is, "consumer experts" have failed to explain how to find them. Here is one way.

    http://autorepair.iatn.net/

    As for tool costs...there is at least at some level, a reward for getting to mess with all these cools toys

    Right up to the moment someone writes an article that suggests a $100 code puller enables you to do everything that we can (they can't) and that no matter what our prices are it's too much. They preach this, and preach this and we find ourselves wrong if we don't make the investment to approach the jobs correctly, and wrong if we do. If you really can't find a shop like mine, at least now you know why. We've lost way too many good people to other way's of life because of that kind of abuse.

    (thinkin' of that 4 station wireless noise communicator) Santa...this is what I'd like under the tree next year.. lol

    I had a Trailblazer this week for other repairs, but while road testing it there was a bad front hub bearing. Swaying the car the noise was louder to the left and almost dissapeard to the right. That suggests the RH bearing. However the sound in a straight line clearly appeared to be from the left. The Chassis Ear made it simple to prove that it was indeed the RH bearing.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    Wow. Thats weird. You called the guy up and said you'd repair his car at a loss if he would just bring it in and let you fix it? Uhhh... where is your shop located now

    We had to limit the price to the equivelant of 1/2 an hours work to get him in the door. This is one of the flaws of the trade because of selling "time" and its constantly a rob Peter to pay Paul and in the end no one is happy with it. This customer approached us with common perspective. He's a former millwright, and used to doing his own work and considered himself as very competent, until this(fifteen year old) headlight system kicked his donkey. When he saw me getting out the Tech II and printing the schematic he was intrigued, and then in a matter of minutes he saw his headlights on and that I had full control of them with the scan tool and the interior controls nothing more needed to be said.

    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. If I have to use an oscilloscope and some of the other tools, the costs simply keep climbing,and we still have to spend the "time" to actually diagnose and repair the car. If we had charged "an hour" to diagnose this we would break even, by charging half an hour we got the job, but that still amounts to failing.

    Now can you imagine having to complete that diagnosis in under eighteen minutes? (.3hr) Can you imagine a system that expects the the technicians to complete every diagnosis in that amount of time?

    Is that what most places do? Charge a $120 diagnostic fee then expect tech to diagnosis in less than half the time the diagnostic fee would cover?

    If you have a problem with the car under warranty, the tech gets .3 to diagnose it. If you are no longer under warranty the tech might get an hour to do the same diagnostic. Somehow they call that "Flat Rate", it doesn't seem very flat to me.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    The 561 is set for stored invalid serial data received and
    the 055 is set for loss of rear wheel speed data. The
    customer states that the speedometer DOES NOT drop when the
    problem occurs.


    This is a huge clue to the source of the trouble. You have to understand how the ABS module gets its rear wheel speed signal which is actually from the rear wheel speed sensor in the transmission, which connects directly to the transmission control module. The TCM communicates directly to the PCM, which sends that information out on the CAN bus. (Controller Area Network high speed bus)

    Dealer techs have a significant advantage when it comes to product knowledge simply because of how frequently they deal with the same systems. Even so, this "simple" problem would be a nightmare for all but a handful of techs in the country. There is a rational way to deduce where the failure is from the information provided, without a single manual test.
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    If you don't take of yourself first (including getting paid for the work you do), you won't be able to help anyone.

    I keep coming back to this and want to show just how actions by others outside the trade have made this almost impossible to do at the level that we really should be at.

    I've mentioned my newest tool, which targets European vehicles. I took in a Volvo XC70 for the drivers heated seat being inoperative. When base-lining the car I also noted that there was no control of the AC/Heater/Defroster mode doors. The scan tool hooked up just fine and allowed for retrieval of codes, clearing of codes, and some data. The codes that were setting were communication codes between the AC control head, and the mode door and drivers heated seat modules. By design the scan tool only communicates to the control head and it is a gateway for the other modules. Common failures include the mode door module as well as the heated seat module. To repair the car once it is completely diagnosed, not only would the failed module, or wiring harness problem need addressed, you also have to use a scan tool to command calibration functions to run. These functions are not in this tool, which meant no matter what we could not complete the job. Were we really there for that customer?

    I gave them the information that I had, and sent them off to the dealer, N/C. :sick:
  • thecardoc3thecardoc3 Posts: 1,521
    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: 1,521
    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 YooperlandPosts: 40,003
    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: 44,412
    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 YooperlandPosts: 40,003
    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: 1,521
    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: 1,521
    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.
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