Be Nice to Your Mechanic

To help you understand a few things about your personal automotive technician

A few things that everyone should remember when they take their car to the repair shop. This post is written for the benefit of the customer, and in defense of the technician and the things that they are trying to do, in order to do a good job and make a decent living. Some things are small such as, not taking your car to the repair shop to have a poor running condition diagnosed and the fuel gauge is on empty. How are they supposed to test drive your car and diagnose it when it’s about to run out of gas? Other things are much bigger, but all of them are things that will help the customer to make the mechanic’s job a little easier.

Even though the automobile is a man made machine, the service and repair thereof is not an exact science. Even technicians that are smart and work very hard at what they do, are not clairvoyant, and cannot predict everything, nor catch every problem. Sometimes a problem will require more than one visit, though this should be rare, it does happen. Why is it that people will pay a doctor $6,000 four different times to fix the exact same problem, and not bat an eye, but if the brake pads their auto mechanic put on the car 6 weeks ago are now making a squeaking noise, it’s because the mechanic must be some kind of fool or perhaps incompetent.

Customers should understand that nothing is free. Diagnosis of today’s complex automotive systems takes time. If you are told that it will cost $200 dollars to diagnose your problem then that’s because it takes time. Time is the only thing that the technician has to give, and they should not be expected to give it away for free. When some shops advertise free services, most of the time the shop owners expect the technician to take it on the chin and do something for free with the chance of maybe up-selling something along the way. The problem with freebies is that they attract people who will never buy anything and only want something free whether it’s really needed or not. Also, the more freebies people are given the more freebies they will expect in the future. So if you take your car to some place expecting not to pay for some quick check or service, don’t expect to get anything useful out of it, just expect that it will end with a sales pitch. Take your car to shops that charge an honest fee for an honest service. If they happen to top off your washer fluid for free, consider yourself lucky because nothing in life should be free, not even washer fluid.

Many times when you take your car to the mechanic to get something diagnosed it can be a shock to find out that your vehicle has suffered some kind of massive failure. Maybe the failure is not huge but perhaps your mechanic finds all sorts of other problems with your vehicle, either way it’s going to take a huge chunk of change to get the thing back to tip top. If you want to get a second opinion that’s perfectly fine, but don’t just assume that the mechanic is trying to take you to the cleaners just because they say your car has problems. Do not take anything personal if your mechanic says your car is falling apart.

Cars are just big expensive machines that do nothing but wear out. From the moment you drive it off of the dealership lot it begins to wear out. Never ask your mechanic to just patch the problem. If you don’t have the money to fix the car properly then maybe you need to start walking. When you ask the technician to only halfway perform a repair you are asking them to take a tremendous amount of liability upon their shoulders. This is not fair to them, and it’s not safe for you to drive a car in such a state.

Auto repair shops calculate labor costs and technician pay according to what they refer to as a flat rate system. This means that if the labor estimating guide says that it takes two hours to replace the water pump in your car, then you are going to get charged two hours worth of labor. The good thing about flat rate is that is protects to customer from slow or lazy technicians because the tech will get paid two hours worth of time at their hourly rate to complete the job, regardless of how long it actually takes. If it takes the technician 3 hours to complete the task, then they still charge the customer two hours and the technician still gets paid for two hours. However, if the technician can complete the job in 1 hour, they still get paid for two, and the customer still has to pay for two. Don’t think that just because you the customer are paying for five hours worth of work, and they finish the job in two, that they are ripping you off. This is the way that charges stay consistent, and the way that a good technician makes money.

Shops also mark up parts. When they purchase parts from the same parts stores that the customer’s could get parts from on their own, they usually get the parts at a wholesale price and then, they mark up the price when they sell them to you. Many shops will even pay a small commission to the mechanic for every part that they install. Sometimes people will try to bring in their own parts to save money and they get upset when the shop says that they won’t install them. This is the same as bringing your own unpopped popcorn to a movie theater and expecting theater personnel to pop it in their machine and serve it too you. The other problem with installing customer supplied parts is that the quality or integrity of the part cannot be backed up. If there is a part failure after the part is installed, who is responsible for paying the labor to install a second one?
Auto repair is not something that you want to wait around for. If you are just getting your oil changed then it’s not big deal to wait, but if major services or repairs are being performed don’t wait around for it. This puts undue pressure on the service writer and technician. Many times the technician might have to skip a well deserved lunch break just because they feel like they need to get your car finished quickly. Nobody likes to have someone hovering over them when they work, even if you are not actually hovering.

One more thing, don’t give the technician the valet key to use while they are working on your car. For one thing they might need to get into your trunk or into the glove box as part of the service or repair process, and the valet key is only good for unlocking the driver’s door and starting the car. The other thing is that you cannot keep them out of these areas anyway because they can always find a way in if they are looking for something to steal. At a dealership all they have to do is go to the parts department with your VIN and they can cut a new key in minutes. If all they have is the valet key then it’s very annoying, and a waste of their time and yours, if they have to find some other way around.

Remember these few things and you will be happier, your mechanic will be happier and your car will always be repaired to the best of the ability of the professionals that you have entrusted your vehicle to.

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