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War stories

January 14, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The car repair field has always been rife with conflict. Many people distrust mechanics. Few people respect the skills of the trade. Many people feel that the trade is practiced mostly by school drop-outs with low IQ's. Mechanics are seen as people with dirty hands, but not just dirty like farmers get dirty, but dirty with oil and grease, which is nastier.

Some of these things are true. In my 40 years in the business, I've known dirty mechanics and I've known mechanics who stayed very clean. I've known poorly educated mechanics and I've known some highly educated mechanics. I've known many who have spent a large portion of their lives striving for the necessary training and education that is required to understand modern car repair. I've spent many evenings in seminars and week-ends at conventions with other independent (meaning non-dealership) mechanics who have come straight from work to the class, yes, sometimes still in dirty uniforms, on their own time, to try to keep up with the technological advances.

Some of these people are what are usually called "geeks," in that they are absorbed in the computer technology of cars and car-testing systems. Their brilliance is obvious as one listens to them talking among themselves during the breaks, which is something they rarely get to do, because they work for competing businesses. At night in these seminars, or at the conventions they are a brotherhood, united in the struggle against the broken-down cars in their shops, cars that are designed with immense complications that the car manufacturers try to keep secret. The manufacturers keep it secret so that consumers will be forced to use their new car dealerships for repair service. The independent mechanics are at war, trying to get access to these secrets. It is a long war, and a very difficult one to fight, but intuitive, intelligent, talented people keep up the fight. If they are people who enjoy fixing things, they keep fighting. If they don't want to work for giant dealerships, they keep fighting. If they take pride in their ability to "figure things out," even without the manufacturer's help, they keep fighting. As they talk among themselves, they love to swap stories. It's the only time they have an audience that understands them. Their favorite subject for these "war stories" as we call them, is their interaction with customers. You see, they have two conflicts in their lives. One with cantankerous cars, and one with cantankerous customers.

Their problem with customers is that customers often expect things from their service providers that are not reasonable, without knowing they are not reasonable. The provider must not only be able to repair machinery, but be able to diplomatically educate the public about the process. It's not easy.

Here is the process: repairing a car involves five steps. They MUST be done in order.

- 1. Customer reports symptoms. What is it doing or not doing?

- 2. Mechanic inspects and/or tests car for symptoms.

- 3. Mechanic makes diagnosis, of what is causing symptoms.

- 4. Mechanic formulates a repair procedure to cure symptoms.

- 5. Mechanic calculates an estimate, based on the necessary repair procedure in step 4.

Many times, when the customers come in the door, the first thing they say is, "How much would it cost?" instead of starting with the symptoms. Noone knows the step 5 solution until 1 through 4 is done. The process cannot work backward from step 5 to step 1. A smart mechanic will not make an estimate based on someone else's diagnosis or repair recommendation. The mechanic will have to be going through the steps mentally or physically while fending off the customer who continues to hammer him with the "how much" question. That's what they talk about at the conventions.

War stories. Sometimes they are even about cars.



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