Monday, May 20, 2024 Detailed Auto Topics
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Good automotive service, it’s very difficult to find. Not only does it take two to three days to get the vehicle back, often it’s not fixed the first time. Better shops often have a week or longer waiting lists for appointments. Whatever happened to the "good ole guy" at the gas station that could fix anything? The answers may be a surprise.

No surprise, vehicles are much more complex than they used to be. Just look under the hood, little is recognizable. As vehicles get more complex, the knowledge required for repair increases. An automotive technician today requires skill in excess of most jobs in our society.

Many people that traditionally filled the automotive trade simply can no longer qualify. People qualified, often do not consider a career in auto repair. Far fewer technicians are in the field today compared to just ten years ago. The average age of a technician is much higher as well. Wages have risen in response to the shortage, but other problems remain.

In the past, the public often saw auto repair as an undesirable job; a job performed by those that could not find "decent employment." Society attaches a stigma to those who work with their hands. Very few parents consider encouraging their children to pursue a career in auto repair. This is largely because of past images still held about the work.

I think a root cause of the problem is the method used to compensate technicians. Another cause is the unprofessional behavior of many businesses that employ technicians. Many shops pay automotive technicians on a commission basis, paying a preauthorized amount. The amount is based on time a labor guide says it should take to repair the vehicle. Actual working time is not considered in calculation of pay.

Commission or flat-rate payment is popular with shop owners because it guarantees 100% efficiency for their money. The faster a technician can do a job, the more they make, and the more the shop makes. Obviously this can encourage rushing through the job, shortcutting repairs and possibly "flat-rating." Flat-rating is charging for repair that they never perform or charging for more than is done.

A technician not wishing to participate in such practice may earn far less than one that does. Wishing to take time to do a better job often means accepting lower wages or finding another career.

As a technician’s diagnostic abilities get better, they generally give them tougher problems to solve. Tough problems may take five to ten times as long to find as to perform the actual repair. Many flat-rate systems pay a fixed amount for diagnosis. They also pay a fixed amount for replacing parts. Any wonder they sometimes replace parts rather than finding the actual problem?

Shops often attract clients in one of two ways. First by a reputation for honesty and quality work or "lowest overall cost." Second is by the lure of discount prices or "lowest initial price." Everyone would prefer to spend less on auto repair. To appear to offer a lower price a shop may substitute aftermarket and rebuilt parts. They may also mislead clients about work required. Often in the flat-rate system, when a repair fails, they expect the technician to correct the problem for the original amount they have already paid them. People so treated may justify "flat-rating" as simply making end’s meet. Again, others find another career. In both cases the client ends up paying the cost.

I feel a better approach would be for businesses to compensate technicians commensurate with their skills. A business would pay technicians by the hour or on a salary basis, rather than on how quickly they can rush through a repair. Shops would then substitute leadership and superior methods to increase efficiency. This is not a total fix but may be a large step in the right direction.

Shops could employ statistical methods and testing to identify and purchase only high quality parts. Using only high quality parts could reduce doing jobs over and lower the over all cost to the client.

Clients taking time to learn to look for over all lower cost would be in their own best interest. This idea not only works with auto repair but most things we buy. Shoppers need to take a bit of time to consider long-term cost rather than advertised price alone. Current shopping techniques have greatly aided questionable businesses taking advantage of clients. Fraudulent practices inevitably lead to the client paying higher prices.

In the end, we will not solve the problems of poor automotive service easily. Changing the way shops have long operated the trade and the way people seek service will more likely solve it. Many shops are trying to make such changes today. They face huge challenges. The greatest may be changing existing thought patterns.

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