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Scheduling a car repair

January 7, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Mr. Smith, like the rest of us, is a very busy man. Between his tee times, his club meetings and his wife's hair dresser appointments, it's all go, all the time, and the car is an absolute necessity for everything they do. He wants to bring the car to the shop at an exact time, as scheduled, and wait for it to be repaired. His complaint is slightly vague. His wife hears a noise sometimes. She thinks it's in the rear, he thinks it's in the front. He doesn't know how to make the noise happen so that a technician can identify it. He is adamant that he can't possibly leave the car. He wants to know when the shop can take him in and stay on it until it's fixed. This is not a rare request.

Let's suppose he found a shop willing to do this. They clear a technicians' workload so that he will have nothing else on a certain day and time, presumably for the entire day, since the repair time cannot be estimated because the fault hasn't been diagnosed yet. On that day and time, Mr. Smith has a scheduling conflict and cannot keep the appointment. The technician has no work, therefore no income that day. That's why repair shops cannot work that way.

Here's how it works. A shop employing three technicians, each working eight hours per day, has 24 hours of working time available each day. A prudent scheduler will not schedule the full 24 hours of work in any one day. That's because, although the necessary time for completion of certain jobs is known, either from experience or from published flat rate manuals, for many jobs, the time for completion is an unknown, especially when a problem has to be identified, diagnosed, and repair estimates prepared, and when parts have to be ordered, with the necessary delivery times involved. An undiagnosed car problem is a mystery to be solved. How long does it take to solve a mystery? We can't know ahead of time, therefore we cannot forecast an exact schedule of events for the repair. Since we can't do that we simply can't give a time when we will be available to jump on a problem and stay on it.

A scheduler will try to book up to 20 hours of repair work in a day, allowing for the fact that some jobs may still be ongoing from the previous day. Jobs with known time spans, like oil changes and alignments can be scheduled at exact clock times. Jobs requiring diagnosis require an unknown number of extra hours. Those cars should be brought in early for the techs to start on them. When one job stops because parts have to be ordered, he will start on another, and another, as conditions on the front lines dictate, thus keeping busy. Keeping busy is the most efficient use of labor, which translates to the lowest possible cost to the consumer. With luck and skill, all of the cars will be completed within the estimated amount of time, with some remaining overnight to be continued on the next day.

Mr. Smith recently picked up his car, finished on the same day as promised, with a complaint. "I'm really mad, because I dropped it off early, and when I drove by at 11 o'clock it was still parked in the same spot where I left it!" Taking heed of this sentiment and wanting to keep our customers happy, I have decided to keep moving the cars around the parking lot while we wait for a tech to become available. We aim to please.



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