The Truth About The Auto Repair Industry
After working over 15 years in the auto repair industry, I have some insightI would like to share with everyone. The auto repair industry has changed quite a bit over the years as more complex automobiles have driven a new kind of mechanic into existence. Some of this has fostered smarter, better trained mechanics. However, it has developed the parts swapping business into enormous proportions. Part of thereason I changed careers was because I was so frustrated by working in such a crooked environment. Bad mechanics that lacked morals made the most money and honest ones lagged behind significantly.
One key problem with the auto repair industry is the flat rate pay system which nearly all repair shops use. Basically it works like this: Labor time manuals are printed by the manufacturer for warranty repair time standards. These are times for a given job that are preset and are rounded to the nearest 1/10 of an hour. For instance, the replacement of an ignition module on a particular car may pay 1.1 hours in the warranty manual. That means that no matter how long it takes the mechanic to change that module, he still gets paid 1.1 hours. Aftermarket flat rate manuals are used for after warranty repairs. These manuals usually just take the warranty manual and multiply the time by 1.5. In some cases special times will be used instead. A mechanics flat rate time charge is usually referred to as a flag. For instance, the mechanic changing the module above will flag 1.1 hours for it under warranty or 1.7 hours retail.
Most mechanics are paid 100% commission based on what they flag. This is not always true but it is the overwhelming majority that are paid this way. For these mechanics, the motivation is to flag as many hours per day as possible. It is not impossible, or even that uncommon, for a mechanic to flag over 16 hours in an 8 hour day. The mechanic will make a given wage per flat rate hour. If he flags no time in a given day, he makes no money at all. Few shops guarantee a minimum income. There is no real maximum either. It is not unheard of for a fast, crooked mechanic to flag well over 80 hours in 5 day a week while working only a little over 8 hours per day. Thats not to say all mechanics that flag big hours are crooks though. The work load can be seasonal too. It was quite common to have a 50% or more pay fluctuation (flagged hours) from winter to summer.
The shop effectively makes a portion of what the mechanic flags so they too are interested in having the mechanic flag as many hours per day as possible. There is little motivation to be honest and quite a bit of motivation to rip off the customers. Most shops will not pay a mechanic to do a job twice. If a mechanic changed a water pump for instance, and the car came back with a leaking water pump gasket, the mechanic would have to replace the gasket and charge no time. The problem is that it is in the best interest of the shop and mechanic to blame the leak on something else that they can charge the customer for. Electrical and electronic parts typically have about half no fault found rate on warranty returns. That means that about half were misdiagnosed in the field or the failure was not found during lab analysis. Some components like engine sensors can have NFF rates over 90%.
Dealers/managers love those high speed guys because they make the company a ton of money. They figure what's a few blown out customers compared to a good profit. They're not going away, in fact, they are becoming all too common because that's what it's coming down too. Tech's haven't got a cost of living increase in years. When you ask a manager for a raise he says, "You want a raise, make more hours!" A few managers base their mechanics pay on hours produced. Techs working over 80 hours a week got a $2 per hour raise over a 40 hour tech. It is the exception to find a company giving a raise to the tech with the highest customer satisfaction.
There is not really a flat rate time for diagnosis in most cases. This means that a good mechanic that can troubleshoot a problem in 0.5 hours may charge significantly less than a clueless mechanic that spends 2 days swapping parts to figure it out. In the first case, an honest mechanic will flag 0.5 hours. Some may claim that since they are so smart, they will flag 0.8. In the second case, the same repair will cost the customer 2 full days plus any additional parts that were swapped as a guess. Again, there is very little incentive for the shop owner to intervene unless the customer complains.
Many mechanics will guess and swap parts until the problems are solved or the customer runs out of money. Only about one quarter of the mechanics out there can really troubleshoot problems accurately. Of those, only a portion can troubleshoot intermittent and more difficult problems. Most electrical and driveability problems on today's automobiles are intermittent. If you find a good mechanic you can trust, stick with him and tell all your friends.
On the other side of things, mechanics are often blamed for problems they did not cause. It seems all too often that a customer would claim the oil change we did caused their headlamps to flicker intermittently or some other bizarre problem that is in no way connected. Customers also seem to think that today's cars are smart and that there is some mystery machine hidden in the the shop that, when plugged into the car, will tell the mechanic everything that is wrong from low tire pressure to internal engine problems. This is far from accurate. Yes, modern cars do have sophisticated electronics on them and they do give the mechanic information such are fault codes and data values but they don't troubleshoot and they never will. On board software does have the capability of determining an out of range sensor or improper outputs. It can give the mechanic valuable information to help him narrow a problem down. It will never troubleshoot for him! An engine control forinstance, which is generally the most sophisticated control on the vehicle, can only read values at the pins that connect it to the wiring harnesses. It can determine if a circuit is open or shorted or out of normal range but that is about it. It is up to the the well trained, smart mechanic to determine where the actual fault is. As I said earlier, most electrical and driveability problems are intermittent. That means that no matter what tests you run, chances are they will all pass. This is where data loggers and real smarts come into play.
It seems for the most part that bigger cities have more crooked shops than smaller ones. I think this is because a poor reputation in a small town will put you out of business whereas in a big city there are plenty of customers to go around. The strategy is usually to get all they can out of you when you do come if assuming you won't be back anyway. Also watch out for "mechanic of the month" award winners. These guys are usually the ones who flag the most hours to get a bonus on top of it. They are generally the most crooked as well.
I will now give a few real world examples of some of the things that go on in a shop. A new car dealer had a scam going that involved all the service personnel. They would bring new cars right in off the convoy truck and claim every one had alignment problems, driveability problems, and transmissions problems. Each of 3 mechanics would flag the maximum allowable time for work they supposedly did although no work was really performed on most of the vehicles. While these were all warranty claims, it is still fraud and the manufacturer was getting ripped off for more than a year. Some of these mechanics were being paid a 6 figure income by all the phony time they flagged. The dealership was finally caught and closed down but those same mechanics got jobs at other dealers. How would you like one of them working on your car?
A little old lady brought her car into a shop. A mechanic sold her over $2000 worth of parts and labor and the car was still not fixed. After all of that, it turned out there was a bad spark plug wire causing an intermittent misfire. The customer was still charged the full amount and none of the unnecessary parts were removed.
One mechanic was charging for piston ring replacements on certain vehicles under warranty on a routine basis. Few of the engines were ever taken apart. He would work at a dealer for a year or so until others would start to suspect and then go to another dealer to do it again. He rarely worked a full day but typically got paid over 12 hours per day.
During the 1980's, before detergent gasoline and deposit resistant injectors, the injectors would periodically need professional cleaning. The process typically pays about 1 hour but really only takes about 15 minutes of a mechanics time since he can connect the machine, start the process, and do other work while the injectors are being cleaned. Starting in the late 1980's, deposit resistant injectors were introduced and detergents were added to gasoline to prevent clogged injectors. Some mechanics will still try to sell you an injector clean as maintenance. There are cases where injectors may need to be cleaned to correct poor running but it is really not a maintenance item anymore. Another similar situation arises with the throttle body. Throttle bodies will sludge up, especially if you use natural (non-synthetic) oils. It was common in the 1980's to periodically clean the throttle body. In the early 1990's, new measures were taken to eliminate the need to clean the throttle body. In fact, some throttle bodies come pre-sludged with a special coating to allow proper idle speed. If you remove the coating, your idle may be too high. Some mechanics still sell throttle body cleaning as a maintenance item. It generally takes about 5 minutes and they will charge you an hour. In some cases it will actually cause an idle problem where one was not previously present.
There are a few warning signs you can watch out for:
- Does your mechanic claim you need more than one part to
repair a given concern? If so it is questionable. While it is possible to have multiple failures contribute to a symptom, it is more likely a single part or condition is at fault. Occasionally you could have one component failure cause another component failure but that is also less likely. Always ask for a detailed explanation of what the root cause of the failure was. Beware of the parts swapper who wants to change every part that he thinks may be causing the problem. A typical example would be an EGR system. Many mechanics will claim that the EGR valve and sensor should both be changed if either is faulty. This is generally not true. There were cases in the 1980's when redesigned valves would not work without a redesigned sensor but generally either one or the other is the problem, not both. Sometimes the mechanic will recommend several parts but only 1 may be associated with your original concern. That is OK as long as he explains what all the parts are needed for. Often times he is trying to sell you maintenance work or has found worn parts that do need replacement. There should be a reason for every parts that is replaced.
- Do they claim that you need "maintenance" work that does not show up in the factory maintenance guides? Like I mentioned above in the examples section, there are many maintenance procedures that are no longer needed but are still sold as required. The injector cleaning and throttle body cleaning are 2 examples. Most late model vehicles require very little maintenance compared to those of 10 years ago. Today's cars will never need a tune up. Most cars will need spark plugs replaced at 100k miles but no adjustments are ever needed. The timing and idle adjustments and other things that were part of a tune up are history. None of that is adjustable anymore. All you need is spark plugs, drive belts, brakes, oil, and filters for maintenance on most cars. Most wheel bearings are not serviceable anymore either. Always check your factory maintenance guides to see what is really required (that is if you can find a good one).
- Are they trying to sell you brakes? In many cases poor driving habits will lead to premature brake wear. I have seen poor drivers destroy brake pads in less than 25k miles. However, upselling brakes is one of the most common scams some mechanics will try. Typically, you should be able to run your brakes down to about 15% remaining before you need to consider replacement. It is too common for some mechanics to try to sell brakes at 50%.
- Are they spending too much troubleshooting time? This is really difficult to determine if you are getting a fair deal or not. I found that people would generally rather pay to swap out parts than to properly troubleshoot a problem. Generally, any hard failure, one that is always occurring and not intermittent, should take less than a couple hours to troubleshoot but even that is a rough estimate. Intermittent problems are the hard, and more common, ones. If the problem is only an inconvenience, such as a hesitation, lack of power, or intermittent problem with a non-essential electrical system, it is best to let it get bad enough that it can be easily duplicated before bringing it in to a mechanic. Things such as the yellow "check engine" or "service engine soon" light are best to wait until they are on constant as long as no other symptoms exist. It is not a bad idea to have a quick checkout of 1 hour or so to see if it is something simple but spending much more than that on a real intermittent problem can be futile. If it is a significant problem, like dying, then you had better get it fixed. This means determining the actual root cause of the problem, not just swapping parts until it seems better. In some cases if there is a significant problem that happens so rarely it can't be verified by the mechanic, educated guesses may be your best option. However, that decision should be made by you and your mechanic should have already checked TSB's and recalls to make sure it is not a known problem with a fix, and done a thorough inspection and basic testing to see if the root cause could be determined.
- Are they selling you a tune-up? Vehicles built in the last 10 years or so do not need tune-ups. They do need spark plugs and filters but that is it. There are no adjustments or other maintenance required. You don't need to scan for codes either. Even on vehicles with adjustable timing, it no longer needs any adjustment unless you are having a problem. It will not vary a significant amount in the first 100k miles. If your vehicle is due for spark plugs, get them replaced. You need to change air and fuel filters too but that is about it. Again, consult your factory maintenance guides.
What Can You Do?
- Whenever possible, use a specialist. Today's cars are too complex for one person to be expert on everything. Generally the categories are: driveability, electrical (although driveability and electrical are about the same thing today), transmission, alignment, heavy line, light line, and maintenance. A good mechanic may have a couple categories he is strong in. It is important that a mechanic is well rounded and have knowledge of the complete vehicle. He could probably perform tasks other than his specialty but his specialty area should be by far his strong point and it should also be what he concentrates on. Compare it to a doctor. You do not want a skin cancer specialist doing heart bypasses. The same is true in the automotive field. Dealerships have the best tools and training and usually have enough mechanics to have specialists. Many times however, independent shops will be more honest.
- Avoid the "mechanic of the month" award winners. These guys usually get there by flagging the most hours. That is a warning sign that he likely has the least morals and will try to get all he can out of you. That is not always the case but it is a warning sign to me. This can be a tough call. There are times when this guy is just fast and good.
- Explain your problem in as much detail as possible. Don't just say "it runs bad". Explain exactly when it does it, how often it does it, when it started, how you are driving it when it happens, etc. Don't try to diagnose it! I used to have customers say things like "I think it's the carburetor" all the time. That does no good. I got the worst problem descriptions from men who wanted to appear knowledgeable rather than just describe the problem in plain language. Women were usually better about just describing the symptoms. If the problem is intermittent to any degree, say so. The absolute best thing to do is to take the mechanic for a ride in the car and show him exactly your concern. Make sure you are driving so you can show him exactly what your problem is, then let him try to duplicate it.
- Use word-of-mouth to find an honest mechanic. Beware however that some people don't know a rip-off even after it has happened repeatedly to them. If they recommend someone, ask for details. Was more than one part required for the repair? If so, why? What other work was sold to them at the same time? Once you find an honest mechanic, stick with him. Get his name and request him every time. Tell all your friends. There are still many good, smart, honest mechanics out there and they deserve all the good business they can handle. This too may be difficult to determine word of mouth since some people think they are getting ripped off when they are not at all.
- If you get ripped off, tell everyone you know, fight it with the shop owner, and make as much of a stink about it as you can. Don't let them get away with it. Report it to the Better Business Bureau. It is time to send a strong message to crooked mechanics and shops. Shut them down.
Lacking knowledge of modern automobiles can really open you up to rip off artists. ASE certification does not mean you have competent techs, although it is a step in the right direction. I passed the heavy duty truck brake tests and I had no idea how the systems even worked and had never worked on one. I also passed the transmission tests with little knowledge or experience on transmissions. The tests are generally too easy and they give no indication of how honest the mechanic is. While ASE may attempt to better the repair industry, and they do help, they can't fix the root cause of the problems. I would, however, recommend ASE certified mechanics over those that are not.
I want to make it clear however that there are some very sharp and honest mechanics out there who are underpaid for their ability. Sadly,it is the parts swappers and mechanics that do maintenance that really bring home the most money despite lower pay per flat rate hour in many cases than specialists. Training usually pays actual time at best. Some dealers don't even pay for training. The affect is that mechanics have less motivation to attend classes. Most vehicle manufacturers now require at least some degree of training which is helping to drive the right behavior. Modern mechanics working on high-tech systems require a significantly higher skill set than mechanics of yesterday. Vehicles have become very complex. Most of the problems on these high-tech systems are intermittent making it even harder. Some manufacturers don't seem to understand what it takes to troubleshoot problems on these modern systems and believe that the mechanics out there simply don't have the aptitude to learn what they need to so they don't give the detail of information required to really understand these systems. This adds to the challenges a good mechanic faces. Modern vehicle troubleshooting requires many of the techniques a doctor would use to troubleshoot problems with humans. The real frustration comes when these vehicle doctors take home less money than a mechanic that just swaps parts. I would guess that only about 10% of the mechanics out there fit into the vehicle doctor category. Another 20% have some skills for troubleshooting. Many of the rest just swap parts and their skill is the speed at which they can change these parts. Often it is the doctors who really end up troubleshooting most of the problems for the others but he does not make the money for it. That should be improving as vehicles become more complex.
Modern vehicles are significantly more reliable than older ones. The newer the better. Modern vehicles require very little maintenance and very few repairs compared to those just 10 years earlier. Generally, any of the larger automakers make a better quality product today than the best cars of 10 years ago.
I blame most of the problems with the repair industry on the flat rate pay system. It can drive the wrong behavior throughout the organization. It gives clear incentive to go for speed and not accuracy. How would you like your pay cut in half because business was slow. Go home and tell your family that and see how it makes you feel. Upsell becomes easier to justify. It can be a very stressful living. Now work in those conditions and watch the guy next to you cheat the system and rake in the money with bonuses and praise from management to boot. Mechanics are no more dishonest than anyone else by nature, flat rate pay is to blame.
5/3/2003 update: Since writing this article I have received numerous emails from both former and current mechanics. Nearly every email has started with something like " I totally agree....", "you are right on the money...", "that is completely accurate..." and so on. So, I would like to start posting some of these articles on this website as well. If you are or were a mechanic, please send my your stories
or input on this subject. I can post it anonymously, or preferably, giving you full credit. Just let me know which in your message. I am pasting some of these messages below.
There are a few organizations working to promote more advanced auto
service. You can find some of them at:
http://www.flatratetech.com/ Look at this article: http://flatratetech.com/pub130.htm
to main page
I've worked in a small town independent shop for almost twenty years now and I can honestly say your story is spot on. One thing you're leaving out is the service writers. They're just as crooked as the techs they feed. I work in a big shop. Dealer size. Flat rate pay scale with no benefits and it sucks. The owner is a bipolar tyrannical narcissist and very verbally and physically violent. Generally an all around piece of crap. He once told me that although he doesn't condone the crooked actions of his service writers and the techs they feed, but they make me money. We had a ex dealer tech sell timing chain guides on a explorer 4.0L. It was a quoted 16hr job. He was done with it by noon and I found the parts in his tool cart. Nothing was done about it even though I spoke up. In return my hours were dropped to 25hrs weekly and when I asked about work load I was told to not worry about it and the owner added that my comeback rate was a zero for the past six years. I guess it was a attempt to shut me up.
One tech and service writer had a little scam going with the state contracted cars. They give us a $500 no questions asked repair limit without authorization so every ticket was $497 bucks and the work wasn't even done. The state controller caught on of course and you think the two would be fired but no. They still currently work there.
I was given a job because another tech couldn't figure it out. Power draw on a Ford Escape. They were charging the customer 4hrs to track it down but the tech couldn't pinpoint it so I got it. I figured out that the collage student didn't drive it for two months and the battery went really low. The car had a 250 milliampere draw until it went to sleep as described by ford. I cut the bill down to a hour and the other tech bitched about the four hours he spent on it.
It's hard to be an honest tech these days. There's no motivation or compensation for it. My words to anybody who reads this and is thinking of becoming a tech, don't do it. Don't waste your time. If your honest all you're gunna get is terrible pay, swollen hands, arthritis, bad knees, and a hurting back. Most customers automatically think you're a crook. In California if you do smogs like I do the bar has turned into head hunters. We had a good tech smog test a diesel truck and was fined $1k bucks because he accidentally used the wrong machine. Easy mistake to make when it's busy and every customer is in a hurry. The bar rep told him even though he performed the smog correctly he has to pay the state for using the wrong machine. He said it was a new rule that was put into place three days prior and the tech didn't read the email before performing the test. I hate this trade. No matter what you're the bad guy.
Joshua in California
I read your article, and I was amazed that someone else got out of the business
for the same reasons as I did! I had been in the Auto Industry for over 19 years
before I got sick of it. I have a Degree in Automotive Technology, I am a Chrysler
Level 4 Master Tech, ASE Advanced Master Tech, Chrysler Gold Certified Warranty/Service/Parts
Manager. I also spent 3 years as an Advanced Automotive Instructor for Secondary
and Post Secondary Students.
Your commentary on the Auto Service Industry was right on the money. Everything
you mentioned was exactly right. So many dishonest techs make twice the hours
turned as an honest tech because of the flat rate system. It's that way at every
Dealership I've ever worked in. The dishonest techs get the gravy work because
Management knows they will upsell anything they can wether it's needed or not,
while the smart, honest Tech gets the driveability and electrical problems to
fix. Unfortunately, I have a concience. The last Dealer I worked at laid me off
because I brought to his attention the warranty fraud, insurance fraud and customer
theft by deception like brake jobs that weren't needed. The next week I was laid
off because of "lack of work". I guess he didn't want to hear someone
complaining about the things that put money in his pocket. The same guy heads
the local Merchant's Association and Chamber of Commerce. Cool Huh?
I actually watched their "Top" GM Tech diagnosing an intermittent Air
Bag Light illumination on a customer vehicle. The complaint was that every time
the customer accellerated quickly, the Air Bag light would come on. So what does
he do? Naturally, he starts tapping on sensors to find out if the light would
come on. He decides that the problem is more than likely with the controller,
so what he does next really amazes me. He gets a large ball peen hammer, and smacks
the controller with it. What do you think would happen when you whack a controller
housing an inertia switch? You got it, both bags go off, and the windshield gets
blown out! So what does he do? Quickly hides the hammer! Then the Service Manager,
knowing what happened, contacts the customer's Auto Insurance Company, and gets
them to pay the bill! He puts a new controller, dash and windshield in the car
and test drives it. Guess what? The light still comes on. One of our Chrysler
"B" Techs comes over with an ohm meter and checks the front Air Bag
Sensors. The problem was a faulty sensor. What does the Serivce Manager do? Submits
a warranty claim for the Air Bag Sensor to GM. I was completely amazed at the
whole chain of events. What really got me was that this guy was supposedly the
TOP GM Tech in the Shop. He doesn't even own a DVOM. You know why he's the Top
Tech? He does more brake jobs than anyone else, which translates into more hours
turned than anyone else.
I could go on with more stories, but you know exactly what I'm talking about,
because you've seen it too. I just wanted to let you know that I'm glad to see
there are other honest guys out there that care more about doing their job right
than ripping off insurance companies, warranty and customers.
Thanks for writing your article. I'm not sure exactly what line of work I'm going
into next, but chances are, it won't be back in the Automotive Trade.
Bob in PA
I have been an electronics technician for several years now, and am
currently in the world of computers... That wasn't the way it
In a previous job, I was a dyed in the wool radio repair
electronics installer... Real good one too (2 time certified master
Anyway, when I worked in this profession, I was paid by the hour, not
on flat rate or jobs completed. That gave me the most incentive
do the job right, the FIRST time, and truly build my troubleshooting
It got to the point that I was the best at my shop.
One day, my boss and I had a falling out. I will not go into
but I walked. I was already deep into computers, and was taking
classes to get me into that world. So... to make a long
short, I needed a job to pay the bills, and my friend (a mechanic) had
been telling his supervisor about my electrical diagnosis skills...
that was truly lacking at the dealership.
I started, and I was good at what I did. I specialized in
troubleshooting and repair. Of course, I did a lot of other
work, but I was always good with cars, and never ran into any trouble,
whether it be as complex as a tranny rebuild or a simple water pump
(Thanks, Dad!). The nice thing about electrical was that I could
bill out as real time... In the course of my job, I NEVER had an
electrical troubleshooting session last more than 2.5 hours...
was my specialty, and I had MANY happy customers. Most of the
I spent my days tracking down burned or damaged harnesses, and
them... (Its amazing what people will do to install a
One time, I misdiagnosed an engine control module as being bad, and
asked the service MANAGER if I could eat the price of the ECM, and the
labor. (He let me, and the customer was quite thankful for our
in the matter). I have always been honest, and thought that if I
made the mistake, I should be the one to eat it. The trouble
when I got a new service writer.
My service writer did not like the fact that I would repair a
after 30 minutes of troubleshooting or even an hour... even if it
was something as simple as a single pinched wire, he insisted that I
the entire harness... What was once a 1.0 to 1.5 hour job turned
into a 6 hour job, with LOADS of parts, PLUS a troubleshooting
Every time I suggested the less expensive way, my service writer would
threaten to have me written up for insubordination. He even
my timecard punches! Seeing as I had to continue to pay the
and I had very little interaction with the customers, I wasn't truly
to argue with that.
I guess my point is this: In a case like mine, I was a fast,
troubleshooter. I HATED to replace parts, and refused to do so
I could prove the part was bad. I watched the others around me
the "parts swapping" game, and it made me sick. I never made more
than 38 hours a week, and I saw other guys pulling down 70 + hours, AND
leave early on Fridays. every time I raised a little dissent, my
service writer would stick my with oil changes and tire
Not that I couldn't do the "gravy" jobs. He would just give them
to his other techs. I once saw a guy replace an engine all
it had an intermittent oil pressure sensor (I swiped it and put it on
engine, just to see). But it wasn't always the tech. In my
case, it was the service writer...
Now I am out of THAT dealership, and since class finished up, I have
been running networks. That job is salary, and I am not judged
on my flags, thankfully. Ironically enough, in both professions,
if a tech does their job well, they are needed less and less.
Thanks for your time,
I see the same things every day at my
I bent over backwards for greedy managers and writers for the last 14
We're have I gotten? Basically nowhere. The more you know
worse you're treated and not only that, I spend most of my time helping
other techs diagnose thier work. Why you ask? Because I can
no longer watch our customers pay for repairs they don't need. I don't
feel as bad with warranty repairs but there is just too much
happening out there that I believe it has become an epidemic. The
aren't to blame however. If a new tech comes to a dealer that is
bent on unecessary upsells then he will eventually become brain washed
into believing this is how a repair shop should work. Dealerships
know they can hire any sucker to do this work at next to
Dealers are so reluctant to even send techs to training anymore because
they loose money. Did you know that GM has closed all of its
centers except for the six regionals. They actually think you can
learn all there is to know about a specific system in 2 hours over an
distance learning course. Most dealers don't even know how to set
up those training courses either! It's no wonder why dealers are
failling with customer satisfaction. NO TRAINING! I truly believe
in this industry will have to change soon. I think if you teach
how to do something right it sticks with them and they will in turn
thier mistakes. Dealers are to blame for the failling technicians
as well as the manufacturers. Dealers have adopted the tire store
mentallity. BIG MISTAKE! Technicians come into the industry with
high hopes and good intentions only to be misled by empty promises.
Electrician - General Motors
I grew up in a drag racing family, so naturally I loved to work on
automobiles. I kept this love for auto's all through high school
shop, tech school, a few local shops then i went to a
I thought I had reached the place I wanted to be, I found out
Being a somewhat nice guy that has no need to cheat people I was
disgusted with the dealership. For the 5 years I worked there I
once enjoyed going to work after my first week. I have never seen
the people cheat folks like that, they would treat people like their
friend then stab them in the back with a repair bill that they would
to get financed. This is not what I wanted to do or be, so being the
guy finally paid off and a customer (dear friend) put up some capital
leased me a closed down service station and I started my own shop which
is very successful at the present time. I almost lost the love I
have for repairing auto's and helping folks because of a bad
thank god I stuck with my morals. So to any one else in this
don't give up on what you love to do just find another place to do
Thanks for letting me share a little I'm a slow type and not very good
with words but I think ya'll know what I mean.
I've got a problem with dealerships
myself. I've been working in dealerships for the last 13 or so
years. I am a saturn trained tech and I was very happy with
saturn until a few years ago, when untrained techs were getting
better jobs than the trained techs because they didn't pay the
untrained tech as much as the trained ones. So while some lube
tech is doing a trans or a head gasket im doing oil changes so i left
saturn and went to Nissan. I've been at nissan for about two
years now and the problem i have with nissan is that they do not want
to train me to work on there line. Plus they say that untrained
nissan techs do not get paid for diagnosis time, so if i take three
hours to diag an electrical problem i get paid nothing. Every
time i ask for schooling the response i get is "if you don't like it
leave". I feel that the customer is paying good money to get
there car fixed by a trained tech so when any dealership states that
all techs are trained its more than likely a lie. So to all you
customers out there I'm sorry to say that your more than likely getting
your car fixed by some body that doesn't know the first things about
I have just read your article and am glad some people
are speaking out about this wrong doing. I was originally going to take my
career into the direction of mechanics because, as many other individuals, I
spent my teenage years helping my dad fix and rebuild tractors and auto's and
enjoying ever moment of it. After finishing highschool I decided to change my
original plans and pursue a different degree, but I continued performing routine
repairs for friends and neighbors as an 'on the side' source of income
occasionally. To cut to the chase I would just like to add a few of my most
intersting repair stories showing the dis-honesty of some of the individuals out
in the field.
1. I was working as a part time automotive machinist
while attending college in north Chicago suburb (big city example). My boss had
taken his Astro to a dealer and asked for them to locate why his steering was
slopping during the first half of the day. He returned from lunch with a written
report and estimate. As I recall the parts list was, steering box, tie rods,
ball joints, and steering colom 'rag joint'. The total with labor was just over
$1000. He said he couldn't beleive it and asked if one of us could shut down our
machine station for a little and take a look under his van.. so one gentleman
did. He found one missing, and other loose bolts mounting the steering box to
the frame. $0.95 later the van was fixed and steering was back in great
2. I myself was involved in a collision, and having it
caused by the other individual I decided to have the car taken to a dealership
(small town in Southern Illinois) to be fixed by their insurance company instead
of dealing with all the paper work to get the money myself. The car was T-boned
directly on the front passenger side tire with only a small fender dent. After
being at the dealership for a few days time they left a message saying that they
were having trouble finding what was making the steering loose after replacing
both tie rods/ends and the strut on that side.... so the repair would take a few
more days. They called a few days later and said they had to replace the ball
joint on that side and I could pick up the car however they were unable to start
it. I went in and looked at the report they kept, they had tried swapping
distributors, ecu's, the vane air meter and spent 4 hours of diagnosis as well
as several hours of labor while replacing the parts... and couldn't start it. I
asked if they had checked the plugs, reply was 'no, its too simple'. They opened
a box and allowed me to use some tools to I removed a plug and it was terribly
carbon'd and soaked in fuel. We then replaced the plugs and the car started
within the first second or two of cranking. I was STUNNED that they didn't try
checking the plugs after spending all of that time/money. (They also drained my
expensive dry cell battery and replaced it with a standard instead of charging
it, I didn't notice this until ~two months later)
Now the second part of the story. After having the
car home for about a weeks time I decided to take it back in because the
steering was getting very sloppy. They had it for another half week and ended up
replacing the entire steering rack, which is an utter pain on my particular fwd
car. I picked the car up this time and after another week the problem came right
back, at this point I took it upon myself since not many parts hadn't been
replaced at this point. I found a loose bolt on the rack mount and that they had
NOT replaced the ball joint that was on the receipt!! The insurance company had
also stated the "total cost" would have been $2800 and the final bill was over
$3000!! They had charged over $600 just for the repair work that could have been
fixed by a set of spark plugs. Luckily the insurance paid...
I could go on with many others:
My mothers was told her radiator, hoses, thermostat and
water pump had to be replaced because of a leak... the leak was only coming from
the weeep hole on the water pump seal.
A friend was told he needed a new transmisson control
computer when he had his 700R4 trans. rebuilt because the 'old computer wouldn't
recognize the new parts'....etc.
I was told that I needed to buy a brand new Eaton M90
($1700) supercharger for friends car and that they had to dispose of the old one
(I have old Mitchell OnDemand books/software and had already looked up what
parts I needed to rebuild it) I asked if they could order the part numbers I had
written down on the exploded view I printed.. the parts man was embarassed
because I had caught him, but he didn't even
I'm sure we could all go on and on..
Thanks for writing about it,
hello,you are correct in your evaluation of the auto repair industry,i am
a tech at a jap.dealer and boy do "we" give it to the factory and the retail
customer,there really is no way to survive in the industry without being a
"fabricator and crook",from the oners to the parts dept. etc. it is all smoke
screen to bound and gag the un-suspecting cust.and frankly i am tired of
it,however our country's pace and structure for buisness encourages this type of
behaviour,just observe the enron execs.scams of a couple years ago.just too much
injustice all around,too many folks want to get paid without honest, hard,just
honorable work.i think the
answers lie way back in the 20th centuary.
Hey guy, loved your article. Your story was hilarious. You sound like you
would have been cool to work with. I am an insurance adjuster now (bet you body
guys will love that) but I was a mechanic for 10 years and it is a corrupt,
horrible industry to work in. For starters, I had no training in the
beginning. I hacked away at some poor person's car until I figured out how to
wrench. I never really did any lasting damage to anyone's car, but when I made a
mistake I rarely paid for it out of my own pocket.
After a while I got some certs and a good supply of tools. I got really
good at r/r all types of things, especially motors and transmissions. Foreign
cars were my specialty. However, my driveability skills were suspect.
I took some classes, got more certs, got good at driveability, and I
thought I had finally made it. This is when my pay hit the glass ceiling. I
was working flat rate, which is the biggest scam in the world. I hear mechanics
all of the time talking about how much they love flat rate and they are simply
fooling themselves. Flat rate does not take into account for rust, warranty
repairs, or any work after 40 hours in which you should be getting paid 50%
more. Honest, prideful workers are getting totally screwed by flat rate.
I saw the light, and took my time finding a job that was rare in this
industry, or at least in the Motor City/Suburbs: 40 hrs a week, no weekends, and
a salary. With my next job I simply negotiated a high weekly salary.
Unfortunately, this guy I worked for was a jeckyl and hyde type. He could be
really cool, and then for no reason he could be the biggest back stabbing prick
in the world. He was so convinced that he was the best mechanic in the world and
anytime he perceived a slight against this, he went out of his way to make me
look and feel stupid in front of anyone who was in earshot. I was so sick of the
endless succession of power-hungry nobodies that I knew I had to get out of the
The worst part about being a mechanic (besides the pain and the filth) is
the assholes you work with and for, especially if everone is on flat rate or
other types of commission. At only one job did I get any kind of health
insurance, and only two jobs gave me paid vacations. It's like working in 1910
I've had people put razor blades upside down in my metallic bolt tray.
I've had a co-worker take a customers car joyriding (superchanged thunderbird
turd) without permission and blow the motor on it, then try to blame it on me!
I've had guys steal my tools. I've had guys steal my money. I've had to wake
up passed out drunks that fell asleep in someone's car. I've had guys,
including bosses, offer me cocaine, methamphetamine, weed, heroin, and any other
type of drug you can think of. Keep in mind these people were working on an
innocent person's car.
I worked with a guy that pissed all over the interior of someone's car when
they were $11 short with their money. I worked with another guy that would
steal any kind of money and jewelry and, especially, drugs out of someone's car
and blame it on the bums walking by.
I've had bosses that would not compensate me for on the job injuries,
including having my scalp accidentally ripped open by another emplyee being a
moron (using a large impact extension to wind a door spring on the ceiling and
dropped it on my head), and stepping on a 1/4" thick nail. I've had bosses give
me raises but cut my hours. I've had bosses call me "retard" "asshole" "faggot"
"moron" in front of customers and other employees. I've had a boss stoke a
personal problem between me and another tech, and the other tech threatened me
with a .357 magnum. This is because I called him out for stealing another
co-workers mustang!!!! Everyone thought this was hilarious.
I worked for a guy that would dispose of his tires by loading them on top
of his car and flooring it until they flew off. I worked for a guy that would
charge $500 to replace an oil pan gasket on a F-150 and simply put bathroom
caulk around the gasket. I've seen it all.
Of course, I've ran the gumut of idiotic customers, but cars are so
complicated and mechanics have a deserved reputation of dishonestly that you
can't blame them.
However, I kept my nose clean, kept my integrity intact, and when my
nationwide insurance employer called my references, they received nothing but
good reviews of honesty and dependability. Finally a mechanic was rewarded for
his honesty. Too bad it this rarely happened when I was actually
Working on cars sucks.
Mechanics are in such high demand. This isn't the 60's when any jerk with
a screwdriver and a set of sockets can be a "mechanic". To all of the auto
techs out there: refuse flat rate. You are screwing yourselves. Offered $28 flat
rate hour? How about $28 dollars every hour no matter how busy the place is!!!
People pushing buttons in factories are making this wage with good benefits and
Mechanics screw themselves with a silly "I'm better than you" attitude.
It's so childish, so irrelevant, and so idiotic. The bosses stir this pot, and
it's the most basic form of psychological strategy: divide and conquer.
Mechanics are forced into dishonesty by their greedy employers with unfair
warranty times, unfair pay practices (flat rate on a rusty 15 yr old Taurus for
example) and other forms of unfair compensation.
Yet mechanics are slitting their own throats by accepting this treatment
because their egos won't let them accept the fact that they are the victims of
the most brilliant scam (flat rate hour) ever pushed on a worker. Mechanics
must unionize, or at least refuse the flat rate hour. Mechanics must negotiate
for a salary. This virtually eliminates "shortcuts", shoddy work, repairs not
performed, and other scams perpetuated by mechanics and bosses alike. Why are
mechanics busting their balls, working, racing all out to fix a car? For the
customer? Rarely! Making the owner rich is the name of the game.
And finally, mechanics can't put their eggs in one basket. How many
mechanics over 40 do you see? Over 50? 60? All mechanics should go to school,
get a degree, get a regular job in education, insurance, or another field
that they can readily use their hard won skill.
Thanks for reading my reply. If anyone out there reads this, thanks for
taking the time. I refused to accept the truth for years, and I was too weak to
attempt to organize. Follow suit with the Ford techs: they have the
right idea!!! What are they gonna do, fire you? You can literally have a new
job in 24 hours without trying. A good mechanic is hard to find. Keep