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Hagerty
Hagerty Employee

Why is the automotive repair industry in need of so much repair itself?

Nightmare stories about crooked or incapable shops aren't anything new, but even for me, it seems increasingly tough to find reliable proprietors of some the more menu-item kind of work. Changing tires, alignments, A/C recharging-the kind of stuff that doesn't require a hardcore diagnostic adventure to complete the service.
https://www.hagerty.com/media/opinion/why-is-the-automotive-repair-industry-in-need-of-so-much-repai...
146 REPLIES 146
AMatyas
Pit Crew

Frankly, I blame American corporate greed. Even the dealerships seem to be all owned by just a few corporations. They overcharge for simple repairs. They underpay their help via wages and benefits. And they have created an atmosphere where the few people they can get to work for them, simply don't care anymore. Last year my daughter and I went into a Chevrolet dealership to buy a new car. There were no less than 5 sales people sitting around. After 10 minutes with no body approaching us, we left and went to Toyota. There we bought her a brand new Corolla and paid cash. This year my wife and I wanted a new car and we went straight to Subaru. Better cars, better service and better prices. We got way more for the dollar and we could easily separate out the American corporate greed from the manufacturer pricing. Just look at drugs and health care insurace where the corporations raise the prices and lower the benefits simply to increase their bottom line into the 1000% range. I hate to say it, but I don't see a furture for America if the corporate monopolies aren't stopped. And I predict they won't be until our dollar fails like Greece. So I am suggesting you spend less time worrying about your car and spend a little more time worrying about your future. Groceries are far exceeding the cost of living now.
Daniel
Intermediate Driver

I was a line mechanic at a large Chevy dealer in North San Diego County for about 6 years. Paid by the flat rate book. Some days you could beat it and life was good. Other days you might not make any money. Warranty work was at a lower time rate so you really got screwed. Don't forget the Snap on man every week he wants his money too. I went on to an independent repair shop and did better for about 15 more years. Went on to aerospace for 13 years and made more money and didn't have to kill myself every day. I think everyone should have to fix cars for at least 5 years. It would build character.
Jeryst
Pit Crew

I think the engineers who designed the cars should be forced to work on them for five years. We would have much better designed cars from a maintenance perspective.
Tinkerah
Engineer

And appreciation for what it really takes to do this work....I think I have the character of MacGyver.
TigerTiz
Pit Crew

Or sell the damn things (try) for six months for that low, low base(good for three months). For managers who'd brag about tossing prospects keys up on the roof to keep them in the dealership to wear them down...
Rick2
Instructor

I wanted my next "toy" car to be made before 1973 so I could do my own work thus avoid the service problems. I searched for a long time for a 1963 Falcon or 1964 Fairlane two door hardtop. But I just could not justify $30,000 to $40,000 for a toy that I used to buy and sell for $3,000 to $4,000. So I bought a 1992 low mileage 300SL and so far no issues. But when a problem does come up I will be at the mercy of someone's service department.
RG440
Instructor

I worked at a Dodge dealership in ‘76 driving wrecker. On a below zero day I towed in the elderly ladies car next door that would not start to thaw out. The car was a 63 two door falcon. The window sticker was in the owners manual on the seat. The sticker price was $968. Will never forget that !
GRP_Photo
Instructor

My father bought a new Fairlane wagon in 1963 for a bit over $2,300. The only options he would let the dealer tack on were a 260 CID V8, automatic transmission, seat belts, and factory radio. That money would be the equivalent of $21,000 today.
No disc brakes, no AC, no air bags, no power steering, no lots of stuff we take for granted. You get what you pay for.

I forgot to mention. Mileage. 13-14 MPG in town. Papa claimed 18 highway, but I never saw that after I bought the car from him.

Oldroad1
Technician

A friend of mine who sadly just passed away owned a Ford store for several decades often mentioned when he would see my Maverick, "Man, those cars were a gold mine, I sold those cars for $1995 a copy all week long". He was a great guy.
Jimmyo
Intermediate Driver

I think besides poor pay, lack of benefits and healthcare keep people away from these types of trades. I retired from a union job with a large communications company and the wear and tear on your body is far greater in blue collar jobs than any office job. I couldn't imagine doing a "hands on" blue collar job for less than 30-40 bucks an hour with full coverage healthcare and a retirement plan. I know there are some techs in top shops that do well, but most are asked to do a hard job, under poor conditions for lousy money and no benefits. On top of that, they have to supply their own tools. The tax "cut" actually cost trades people money because they no longer could itemize and deduct these expenses on their taxes. Shops charge about 100 bucks per hour for the skill and knowledge of a tech they pay 20 bucks an hour. I don't blame anyone for leaving these jobs.
51JaguarC-type
Intermediate Driver

As a shop owner I know the problems but the shop owners themselves are debit to this problem as well, I pay my mechanics good wages, benefits, parts at cost price, etc, etc, one retired a couple years ago but he was with me for 15 years and right now I have another one that is with me for 16 years. I trained this person myself and if you know that it is the one with the right attitude tread him with respect give him some sort of responsibility and it all will work out.
RickL
Detailer

Interesting article. The push is for all students to go to "college" to get educated for "good" jobs. Where are those jobs? Now, the President in the infrastructure bill touts good paying, union jobs. Those are hands on labor jobs. Who will fill those? When mfg. jobs were "outsourced" to China in our lust by politicians and corporations to get cheap goods and reduce emissions those jobs were lost. So many jobs (white collar, back operations) can be easily outsourced to other countries but actual "trade" jobs, mechanics, plumbers, electricians, etc.. cannot. Maybe, just maybe with our current shortage we may learn we need to offer those that cannot, or do not want to go to college ore trade school opportunity.
However, it is hard to teach work ethics, which does appear to be missing today. When I was fresh out of high school I had been working on a farm/greenhouse operation. I continued to work there from 8am to 2pm and then went to work at a gas station (remember when an "attendant" pumped your gas) from 3pm to 11pm. Would many today do that to make ends meet? I was starting out; it was hard work but taught me lessons that enabled me to succeed later in life.
By the way my Dad was a long-haul truck driver supporting 6 kids, he understood the sacrifices he had to make to make sure we had it better than he did.
Too many today do not understand that their first job, will not be their last job, and sometimes it is the work experience that results in better pay and opportunities.
NOSFord
New Driver

As a kid in the 50's and 60's I rode a bicycle, mowed lawns, and my first car had points and a carburetor. I had to learn to be able to work on ALL these things or I wouldn't get anywhere. That is where I found out I enjoyed working on mechanical things and that is what I wanted to do. Now a kid sits and plays video games on whatever electronic device is within their grasp and has no mechanical abilities whatsoever. Their first car is a hand me down Toyota they drive tens of thousands of miles with no maintenance whatsoever till the timing belt brakes and does it in. So they decide they want to work on cars, if they are lucky they go to a community college program but these are few and far between for all the reasons stated in the article above. While there they get some basic skills, how much depends on how much they apply themselves and the type of program they are in. Most of these students have no idea how hard to pull a wrench, if you hand them a 10mm box end wrench and tell them to tighten a bolt they will break it off (the bolt OR the wrench) and be surprised. So training is starting at a skill set of less than zero. While in "training" they get smoke blown up their ass about how much money they can make (based on an experienced fully trained tech) then are disappointed when the offers they get are far below what they are told. Then they get thrown into "flat rate hell" and quit within 6 months because it is hard. I saw one dealer locally burn through 10 community college graduates in two years then complain how they couldn't find anyone that wanted to work. I worked for Chrysler then FCA as a training instructor for 27 years and worked with many college training programs in the four states we covered. The pool of applicants to draw from to train is very shallow and drying up to nothing, I would guess the number of students that remain after graduation for more than 5 years is less than ten percent. We really need a GOOD apprenticeship program that starts around grade 9 in this country. This is one place where Europe has a better plan for the most part, mechanics are treated like a skilled trades person rather than a "grease monkey" like they get perceived here by the employers and the public. Flat rate needs to go away as well. You think it is hard to find a "good" tech now to fix your car just wait a couple more years.
ddd57
Pit Crew

When the author is willing to pay 150 for an oil change on an f150 is when the industry will change. I have been in it since I was 16 (I was in the first class of the GMYES program) and customers now expect everything for free(warranty, maintenance plans,etc) and then take their cars to jiffy lube for the 29.99 oil change when the maintenance plan is up. Manufacturers are making the cars throw away now as well so as to get you to buy a new one every 3 years. All this is done to maximize profits for the major corporations who are beholden to the shareholders who are mainly the baby boomers who are the same ones now complaining that they can't find good people to work. Quit blaming the younger generation's work ethic and start blaming yourselves for being selfish for the last 50+ years and thinking only about yourselves in the current while screwing us over and our kids over for the future
vjh
New Driver

Phillip, couple of facts to help the readers:
1- According to the most current Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the average annual salary of automotive service technicians and mechanics is $46,760, below the national occupational employment and wage estimates from May 2020 of $56,310
2- As a former tech, shop owner and a Service Director in dealerships, the only way in both mechanical and collision that a tech can turn enough hours to "beat the clock" is to be working on two or more cars at a time. Just about the time you run into waiting on parts or approval on one, you have to be tearing down or re-assemble another. This skill takes years to accomplish
3- Actually through many technician surveys the most common complaint of techs and their work is the unfair pay concerning flat-rate. They don't get paid waiting in line at the parts counter or waiting for their first repair order.
4- I travel the U.S. to car shows and talk with hundreds of young car/truck fans and ask why they would not be interested in making a living at this trade. They all can use the internet and find that it will cost them 10s of thousands of dollars for tools and 10s of thousands for an education, AND MOST have read #1
5- Survey after survey or technicians say that 95% of them DO NOT encourage their kids or friends to enter the industry

In summation- if you think the technician shortage is big now, keep in mind that The White House scored a 1.2 trillion bi-partisan bill filled with opportunities for young folks. Hell, if I were a young person coming out of school with this news, I’d be on snooze waiting for all the offers coming from: asphalt companies, steel companies, construction equipment manufacturers, suppliers of sand, gravel and Vulcan materials and green power companies.

Get the picture?
Andretti
Intermediate Driver

vjh…
Of all the comments I’ve read here, I feel yours is spot on. I’m also a retired automotive tech and an 18 year shop owner.
Flat Rate and a lack of real tax deductions for tools will guarantee this trend continues.
Oldroad1
Technician

You must be talking about Build Back to Broke. Like Obama's shovel ready jobs which turned out to be and I quote" Not so shovel ready" No it's not bi-partisan, it's theft.
Zephyr
Instructor

Re: Flat rate - as a claims adjuster I used to calculate the number of days a rental car would be needed by dividing the labor hours on the estimate by 6, on the assumption that in an 8 hour day the tech would spend two hours doing unbillable things, like unboxing parts or returning damaged parts, driving a customer's car to the alignment shop, or explaining the damage and repair method to me. But around 2010 my supervisor told me that I was overestimating how fast a job could be completed, and told me to divide by 4 instead of 6. Whatever figure you use, the fact is that a lot of a tech's time is unbillable, and paying an hourly salary is the only fair way to  do things. Aside: the smell of rear axle lube alone was enough to discourage me from ever becoming a tech.

LesFender
Intermediate Driver

BINGO!
diecuts
Pit Crew

I make OEM car parts, and have done so for decades. Most of my employees are former auto shop employees, since I can offer them better pay and better working conditions. On the one hand, I am causing the shortage of automotive workers, causing the wait of two months for an appointment to get the oil changed on a vehicle, but on the other hand, technology will be a fix. How? EV or electrical vehicles. They are progressing extremely fast in improvements. We make some of the battery components, there is vast improvement in that area alone. Remember when a 26" flat screen TV was $10k, now what, around $200? Ditto for EVs in the very near future, and , since they have so few moving parts, they will be much easier to work on, and need far fewer repairs, and thus fewer mechanics to fix them, thus solving the shortage of mechanics down the road. For now, I do my own oil changes…:} The neighbor has a Tesla, sure looks nice!
ddd57
Pit Crew

Yeah I disagree we have both evs and ices  at my dealer and we have just as many problems with the evs. We hardly ever have engine and transmission issues its always some other component like window regulators or door locks, or touch screen issues,  leaking sunroofs,etc all of which the EVs have as well.  The maintenance schedules are similar as well EVs still need tire rotations, cabin filters, wiper blades, fluids checked, new tires, brakes, suspension components, etc. Gas cars today only need the oil changed every 10-15k miles and fluids such as transmission and coolant maybe changed once in a lifetime of use. I don't see how we are going to need less technicians in the future?

vettboy78
New Driver

I retired 11/11/2021 after over 44 years as a GM dealer technician. I have only worked at 5 different dealers in all that time. The article is dead-on correct. The last 5-8 years have been the most miserable ones I have experienced. Our dealership has NO actual benefits, except 3 weeks off after 5 years. They claim they do 401k matching but that was stopped in the recession of 2008 and has never been reinstated. We pay 100% of our insurance premiums, the only savings are the group rate the dealer gets. And you cannot take more than 2 weeks at a time. The store is now open 7 days a week. Also, it’s open on every holiday except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. We have no minimum guarantee. Strictly flat-rate hours. Now GM requires time logs of warranty repair that reflect 80% of the labor time punched on that ticket or the warranty time will not be paid. So even routine warranty work where all the shortcuts and knowledge needed to do the job quickly and “make time” no longer pay off. GM dealer techs are not allowed to make money doing warranty repairs. I retired 2 weeks after I turned 62. My tool box is home, and if I need to go back to work to supplement my income it will not be in automotive repair. I finished my career as a top technician, with ASE Master Technician, GM Mark of Excellence, ranking in the top of the entire country and my GM training at 100%. I declined an increase a in pay and a signing bonus to stay on. I may be eating cat food and crackers for the rest of my life but I’m not fixing your squeaking, stalling, no shifting, check engine light piles of garbage anymore.
Oldroad1
Technician

I'm HIP to you brother. Squeaks and Rattles that is what a factory warranty is all about. NPF.
Tinkerah
Engineer

I have a young nephew who complains about the 80% rate for warranty work at the Nissan dealer where he's a tech. He admits the pay is paltry (notwithstanding he's an auto service school graduate), if the shop has no work (which is rare but has happened) he can go home with $0 for the day. The saving grace is the department as a whole is lighthearted and understanding - there seem to be endless pranks and horseplay so he's enjoying himself. No way could he support himself on it though if he had to pay his own rent.
Fatcat321
Intermediate Driver

It has to go back to the high schools. Most school districts dropped industrial arts classes years ago, since the parents of the kids didn't want their kids working in blue collar jobs. The districts started pushing business based curriculums because, naturally, the folks wanted their kids to get multi-million dollar a year executive positions. The truth is, that not every kid is material for that type of lifestyle. As Judge Schmales said, "We need ditchdiggers, too." When I attended high school, we had the Mopar Troubleshooting Contest. That has disappeared in the Chicago area. We are beginning to see more support of STEM education, and that is a good start. If our governor wants to bring more industry into Illinois, there first needs to be a worker base. The place for that to start is the schools. From there, they need to work their way up through experience. Nobody gets, or deserves, to start at the top.
OldCarMan
Instructor

But everyone deserves $15/hour to start, flipping burgers to be able to live decently. Nice thought, but starter jobs are just that! If you want a career anywhere, you need to start at the bottom, Staying at the bottom is NOT a career.
When dealers charge $125-150 per hour, while the techs are lucky to get $25, something is wrong. You never see poor dealers, just squeaking to get by. Most are millionaires. Since techs make the dealer a lot of money, one would think they would treat them better than sales and service people.
Far too many of a certain political persuasion want 60% of the residents to have at least a 2 year degree, it doesn't bode well for any trades jobs. In schools where they still have shop classes, less than half of their students, have any interest in manual labor.
Zephyr
Instructor

I was an auto damage appraiser for 42 years, starting in 1970. I also worked with service departments quite a bit when I was handling aftermarket warranty claims (aka -"no pay insurance policies"). I can put the problem into one word - unions. As in, lack of. Back in 1970 almost all body shops were unionized and bodymen made a decent wage, with good benefits. The union ran apprenticeship programs, assuring a steady supply of new workers. Then management started convincing workers that they could make more money if they got paid by the job instead of by the hour. And in fact they could, as long as they were young. But older workers couldn't keep up, especially with so many of them suffering from crippling arthritis from holding a hammer all day for 20 years, lung and brain problems from breathing the paint fumes that were common in those days, and deafness induced by the air chisels that were used before someone invented the metal nibbler. But more importantly, there was no way for anyone to learn the trade, once the unions were gone. Here in California we started seeing a big influx of body workers from Mexico, because you could still learn the trade there. The same thing happened in the construction trades - in the 70's you could make a decent living as a carpenter, painter, electrician, etc. . Today if you go to a jobsite in California everyone working there is from Mexico, making low wages and sharing a rental house with 6 or 7 other construction workers. Same thing with truck drivers - when it was unionized it was a high paying job, but today a high percentage of the truck drivers in California are from India, and living in near poverty. As others here have said, Germany does a much better job of training workers - but, the main advantage to the German system is that Germany REQUIRES all businesses to be unionized. One last thing - for what it's worth, in 42 years of going into shops not once did I ever see a female technician, despite the fact that female firefighters have proven that women can handle heavy labor. Encourage women to go into the trades and presto, you increase the available labor force by 50%.
Pete1
Pit Crew

This article nails it. After 40 years in the industry I can tell you horror stories of technicians working "flag hours" or commission. There are exceptions to everything, but for the majority of repair businesses, 100% commission pay turns the shop floor into a seething pit of paranoia, anger and anxiety among technicians. Rarely conductive to good repair outcomes in my experience.
Jeryst
Pit Crew

I take my vehicles to several local shops when repairs are needed. These guys are friendly and fair, charging probably one third of what the local dealers charge for an hourly rate. All it takes to find someone similar is a little networking with people you trust. Most of the problems mentioned in this article are dealer shops. And now they are trying to ram through legislation in Congress to stop the little guys from working on our vehicles. They want to force us to pay their exorbitant hourly wages for even something as simple as an oil change or a flat tire. Yet they are the ones with all of the problems mentioned. And they are willing to ruin the livelihoods of all the little guys, like the guys that work on my vehicles, in their greed to gobble up the rest of the market share pie. If they succeed in creating this service monopoly, we will all be at their mercy, which is exactly what they want. CEO's of American companies are always eager to get a bigger bonus, regardless of who they hurt, or how it affects their customers, because their customers no longer have a choice.
farna
Advanced Driver

If it's hard, dirty work, kids today want nothing to do with it, that's a fact! $15 an hour to start with no benefits for the first 30-90 days is probably fair, but some benefits need to kick in after that "trial" period... or a noticeable raise if they have to pay for their own health insurance and such. I'm a handyman and pay my helper $22 an hour (no benefits). Of course that's only BILLABLE hours though. I live in a rural area and drive 1.5-2.0 hours of every day -- not paid. We average five billed hours a day. He does have one benefit -- I buy lunch every day and any water/sodas we drink. If a job is particularly hard I may charge a little more, and if I do (or the customer tips) I split the extra 60/40 with him. You have to pay for good help if you want to keep it and encourage it to continue to be good help!! Take care of your people and most will take care of the job -- you get rid of the ones who take advantage.
MustangJim
Technician

Great article and very interesting comments as usual. I think that the author was right on point with the problem of lack of technical education. Its not just auto mechanics, its plumbers, electricians, etc.. when was the last time you had to find a tradesmen! I think that there is a stigma to not going to college and that is wrong. How many college grads are out there with huge debt , no job and no skills. Many of these young people would have been great for the trades. There must be more emphasis on tech. schools rather then college. There are more problems then this, flat rate is rough and hard to make money without lots of experience so that is a distraction to a young tech who needs to take his time, dealerships and indies that treat employees badly but that is in any industry. So many problems, but I think the start is to educate more young people and stop sending everyone to college.
SS
Pit Crew

How's it going' eh?
I'd like to provide you readers with a Canadian point of view on this subject (great article by the way). Please I do not want to offend anyone in the automobile industry with my comments/views so I'll apologize at the beginning.
I've worked at a car dealership as a service advisor, warranty administrator and parts advisor (when the parts guy was off). This job is very tiring on the brain as you basically have to multi-task. You are the person dealing with the customer and the technicians. Documentation is paramount when dealing with automobiles especially when it comes to warranty claims. Warranty claims are paid at a much lesser hourly rate which the techs loath. Their attitude is basically "what does it pay" and then "who is making up the difference in my pay". The days of the hard working "mechanics" are long gone. They are now slowly retiring at a great pace with aches and pains their bodies have been put through all of their working career. Today, your people don't want to work. They want the same as the rest of the working world. Good pay, vacations, benefits and a pension. Here in Canada there are always shops looking to hire technicians. even with a bonus. But, if the deck doesn't like it as the saying goes "my box has wheels". Meaning they can leave at any time. They just want the gravy jobs that pays well. Not just an oil change but brakes, engines or anything they can make good money at. They are choosey as to what they want. There is always conflict with service advisors and service managers to get them to work and provide you with proper notes. Then there is the "bonus structures" which can be good/bad. I personally don't like the bonus plans as it makes the techs and advisors greedy and upselling something that perhaps isn't warranted. You basically want to treat the customer properly and telling them the truth as to what their vehicle requires ( I've got a conscience and couldn't take advantage of a customer like that). With more complex vehicles today, techs are having problems diagnosing problems. They have to rely on the scan tools that can communicate with the vehicles many computers. It can be frustrating to try and find the problem as the window is small time wise and perhaps the vehicle isn't acting the way the customer says about the problem. This then causes a problem for the customer when we tell them "Sorry Mr. Smith but we could not duplicate your situation." Then, the customer is frustrated and will probably have to return at another date and time to see if the shop can find the problem. Now, added to that case its frustrating if the customer has to spend their money to diagnose a fault they can't find. doesn't give you much confidence in the dealership does it. Every dealership is similar with some having apprentices who should be under the watchful eye of a licensed technician. But are they? I've seen situations wherein an "apprentice" will do a complete brake job without ever having it checked over by a licensed tech. So, who is responsible when there's an accident and the fault is determined to be the recent work done on the vehicle? This is why garage liability insurance is so expensive.
Every year the dealerships call around and inquire as to what their labour and warranty rates are and then we discuss this with the powers that be and adjust the rates accordingly. Customers are definitely concerned about the labour rates being quite high which impacts the people in the service department. I do sympathize with the technicians as their days are different. Here in Canada where I live we have to contend with various weather patterns. From hot summer days to winter where the temperature dips to -40 in which cars don't start etc. So, on days its -40 the phone never stops ringing and the tow trucks come and go.You have to juggle your days accordingly. Most of the time it's customer error in that they didn't plug in their vehicle (we have block heaters which warms the block allowing for the oil to flow better). Or they killed the battery by trying to start the vehicle multiple times. Once you get a vehicle into the shop after it's been sitting outside for over 10 hours it is basically a block of ice. Now the poor technician has to stand underneath the vehicle which is cold and as things thaw they get splashed upon by the falling snow. Not a pretty sight. I had one technician who had a rain poncho in his bay especially for this type of situation. I believe allot of the comments on this forum have stated the points I've touched upon. In Canada it is hard to find good paying jobs that have good benefits. Yes, we do have great healthcare but, what I'm referring to is places that have a pension plan and extended healthcare such as dental, eye care, prescriptions etc. You basically need two adults working to make a living. Once you retire if you don't have a pension (where the company contributes as well as the employee equally) it is hard to survive unless you have been investing your money in mutual funds, savings plans etc.
Dealership owners have it hard too as they have to keep up to date with the latest technology by having the proper hoists, alignment racks, tire machines, detailing bays. They are always having to upgrade their buildings too in accordance with their brands requirements (ie. drive throughs and quick lube areas) which is paid by the dealer principal not the company.
What the automotive world is doing is trying to asses a problem repair it at a reasonable price so that everyone is happy. But, it can get totally out of hand in so many ways as I've mentioned above. It's a daunting task to try and keep everyone happy. It can make your days go well or it can be chaos. It just depends on how you look at it and go from there. This basically my take on this specific topic and hopefully I haven't offended anyone. I don't blame any technician in retiring today as the job may not be a fun as it used to be. Everyone is on edge with this pandemic and trying to live a normal life. Canadians just want to be happy and get along and have fun doing it too. With this crazy pandemic I'm sure it's not fun in the day to day operations. Take care one and all and stay safe. If any other Canadian out there wants to give their opinions please feel free to comment.

Cheers
SS
Reinhold_Weege
Instructor

If Canada starts using the paragraph, more people from outside Canada will know what's happening there.
markim
Pit Crew

Can't read?
Zephyr
Instructor

SS is using block paragraphs (non-indented paragraphs), pretty much the standard in business writing these days. Most writers would leave a blank line between paragraphs however.
Jteakus
Pit Crew

I've run a small shop out of my hobby shop for most of my life. Always helped friends, family and neighbors. I finally had to stop taking on anything I was unfamiliar with. I would spend most of my time on computer trying to see if someone else had a similar problem. A total lack of engineering for ease of maintenance/service is also a huge problem. You would not believe what it takes to change a water pump on some of these machines. We mainly stick to older Cummins trucks, Jeeps and hot rods these days.
Zephyr
Instructor

I once had a Chevy Equinox as a company car, and the headlights kept filling up with water every time it rained. I decided to remove the lights (the big plastic housing, not just the bulb) and drain them. I looked up the procedure for removing the headlights and one of the first steps was to remove the radiator. Decided to drive it the way it was.
Toddman
Pit Crew

This is any easy but multiple component answer. First, all Technicians are still paid on 100% commission basis. It is the only skilled blue-collar career that is setup this way, conveniently, to benefit the owner(s). Since no one actually pays you to show up, they (managers -owners) have no skin in the game, hence no value is given. This labor system has been around and the product of the Great Depression. Second, Maintenance (gravy) work has all but disappeared in modern vehicles. Hyundai started this ball rolling in 1996 with 10 year / 100K warranty's thus putting downward pressure on all other makes as by early 2000's using "Cost of Ownership" marketing to reflect actual values in a specific car / brand. Third, at the dealership level, a long warranty used to be 3 years and 36 months. Warranty work ratio to COD work was 20/80% less than 20 years ago. Today, that ratio has completely inverted. Lastly, warranty work has always been substantially less than the same COD time given for any covered operation, but since 2008 has continued to decline. So why should anyone consider automotive retail repair a career these days ?? Change the 'system', and you may see good people entering in. Otherwise it's nothing more than the existing situation of people stealing your work, stealing your money, cheating you at every turn. Oh and parts quality? ( lack thereof ). That's a whole subject by itself..........
neilscarlt
Pit Crew

Admittedly, I am out of touch with the reality of the car business now; I retired 23 yrs. ago after 32 years in retail & "the factory." During that time I knew many dealers, some successful & some who struggled (in those days, dealer principals were mainly people, not publicly traded holding companies). Those who excelled took care of their people with decent pay & benefits; those who struggled usually had poor employee morale & continual turnover. The attitude of the "dealer" toward his people made an enormous difference in the success of the business. The car business has never been a business for sissies; ya gotta pay your dues, but if you're willing to work & have decent people skills, I believe it's still a great business.
Gary_Bechtold
Specialist

I worked at a few dealerships over my life. I started my career in I.T. I consider myself technical, customer service focused and slightly mechanical. I have done everything. My first dealership experience was at a Cadillac dealership in the western suburbs of Chicago doing their IT stuff. I loved being at the dealer and I was around cars this should be fun, right? Somewhere less than a year into being there I had to do an update on our UCS system which was on an ancient IBM System 36 which was a mainframe with horribly old for 2002 hard drives and incredibly slow tape drives. It was a piece of crap and I by myself had to be there to do the update which took something like 26 hours! I started Saturday evening when the dealership closed and left late Sunday night. I did not go home and had to babysit this thing while we did the update. Now I had a car I bought to get me through the winter (a '92 Eagle Talon TSi AWD) that I bought cheap and it needed to get some things fixed as it burned oil and had a few other issues. So at least I had the perk of being able to put a car on a lift and do a little wrenching on the car while waiting to switch tapes on the mainframe. But it was a long, lonely and unrewarding experience. After I finished I had to be back at the dealer bright and very early Monday morning to watch the inevitable as parts of the software blew up for service or sales, etc. What a horrible experience. No real thanks or reward for the hard work, time spent and lack of sleep. When it came time for my annual review I got a good review but no raise. Found out it was not likely to happen. Spent the next year finding there was going to be no raise pretty much ever as they don't do that at that dealer for my kind of position. So when the next UCS update came I probed again. I got the No answer and I Quit with no other job in line at that time because I was not going to go through another 24-48 hours of living hell.

6 years later, a bit burned out on IT and loving cars and owning some Subarus I briefly tried working at a Subaru dealer north of Houston. I tried to get into service but got put in sales. That didn't last long as I was promised things but they blatantly lied. Sales manager played the pencil games crap with customers and I made nothing. Kept harassing me to call the same people over and over even though I left voicemails to get them on the phone and make the sale. Wanted me to use my cell phone since they were clearly ignoring the calls from the dealer. They used every trick in the book to split the sale with the tenured sales people or outright steal it from me. One day I said that's enough and told him I'm gone. I should have learned my lesson there.

3 years later I decided to try a dealer again and tried being a service advisor for a Chevrolet dealership north of Houston after a terrible IT contract job. That lasted about 3 months. I was on the guaranteed salary at first which wasn't great but I was going to eventually earn some money or so I was told. They had this "consultant" guy who kept trying to get me to upsell crap to people who didn't need what they wanted me to push. An example they wanted me to sell was a throttle body cleaning on a car that just had it's intake manifold/throttle body replaced under a recall. I sarcastically asked if we installed recalled items pre-carbon built up that this would be useful. There were many others. The service manager was overly flirty with the receptionist and would bring me into the office to complain I wasn't selling enough crap. Then you had those all or nothing surveys which could be used to deny or give bonuses. Basically if it wasn't a 10 it could hurt. I left because I could not honestly sell stuff to people that they did not need. I have a moral compass unlike that place.

So I got a break at a Lexus dealer in Houston because my wife worked there. I was not in sales but I did two different roles either "Lexus Delivery Specialist" or a photographer for the pre-owned department. Short version is that it was family operated and they genuinely cared about their employees until the old guard president retired. I watched the dealer turn into a family oriented place to all about the numbers. They only gave one raise because I changed from the delivery role to the photo one but when that role ended and I went back to the old delivery role there was no chance for me to get a raise. They don't do that again is what I was told. In 4.5 years I only once got a raise. Sure we had bonuses for goals I met but they so micromanaged the bonuses I never made more year to year effectively. Based on what I know today from my many contacts there I am glad I no longer work there. There were other problems because my wife also worked there. She wasn't the problem they made it a problem for us. Meanwhile the upper management did everything to benefit themselves with fat 6 figure salaries. I made many friendships and loved many of the people I worked with but I was really hating life there.  We sold the house and took jobs in the Austin area as we couldn't enjoy our time or our possessions. I have a friend in Houston who needs to quit his job as his dealership also treats the employees poorly while the upper management lives "fat".

I will NEVER go back to work at a dealership!

If you have a logical mind and can think for yourself being in a dealership is not the place for you. It will either kill you physically (I saw way too many heart attacks or other health issues among the dealership) and/or mentally (the stress some were under was insane). I saw what the technicians went through also. I wouldn't want to be one either. The dealership "culture" is a cancer and any sane person would not want the stress, poor pay or benefits most have to go through. It's a buddy club for the "elites" in the dealership and screw the rest. You are disposable they can hire any young person to replace you on false promises.

 

Reinout
Pit Crew

Although the article describes, I guess quite accurately, the difficult circumstances and low pay of auto mechanics, it fails to address where the problem lies. The problem is very similar to all labor shortages and not difficult at all (and it It is not the education system). It is us, the consumers who don't want to pay more. If employers offer mechanics guaranteed wages, high enough to feed a family, it would cost more. So either consumers should be willing to pay more, or shop owners should be willing to operate on a lower profit margin, or a little bit of both. It is no rocket science.
Billthecat707
Instructor

Low wages don't allow you to pay more. Thus the proliferation of poor quality parts and undertrained and underpayed technicians. Catch 21.
Billthecat707
Instructor

22
DUB6
Specialist

21 - 22 - whatever it takes...

Maestro1
Technician

Phillip, thank you, a conversation that has been going on here (The Left Coast) for a while.
I'd like to suggest another very expensive way to solve the problem: Buy it. Finance the schooling (no tuition) and build a string of shops called First Gear. We do everything including the heavy stuff; replacing engines, doing transmissions, the whole nine yards.
No body work. And we'll supply the tools. Do deals with Snap On, Craftsman and so on.
Nobody can tell me that there aren't a bunch of youngsters out there who love cars and
would get started in the business but can't afford it. Not only is the enterprise contributing to good work but contributing to social welfare as well.
The shops will be clean, heated with exhaust hoses so engines can run with minimum
concern around closed doors, and air conditioned in the summer. If the car isn't fixed based on work we did, then we fix it for free, no nonsense. Everybody is in a uniform with
their name on it (pride) and we'll do the laundry. Health plans for the workers and managers.
The cost? Millions. This is not a business plan. It is a way of viewing the problem as a business opportunity. The operation will generate millions annually with the appropriate staff and marketing. Investors will be happy.
Maybe you and others will think this is nuts but its the fastest and most profitable way, in my view, to solve the problem with immediacy.
Stay well.
MARK400
Detailer

Yes, and this is the reason I do all of my own work except for a few things I`m not equipped for like alignments. Worked at a Chevrolet dealership when I graduated high school back in the "stone age" and between flat rates it was not worth the effort pay wise and eventually went on to heavy manufacturing jobs which were much easier on a daily basis to make a living at and provided myself and family with much better benefits. I actually don`t blame the younger guy`s for throwing their hands up and saying that`s it and moving on. Perhaps if some of the new car dealers and private garages were a little more accommodating ( and there are some that do ) and not so greedy, their workplace would be filled with long term employees. No regrets.
TG
Technician

I've changed careers a few times in life. one of the first careers I went for was auto mechanic. I was 6 months in to the program when I learned most of my graduating peers were entering the market making 2 dollars over minimum wage, and having their starter set of tools referred to as bicycle mechanic tools. So on top of student loans and low pay, they were being faced with a significant debt to the tool man for proper tools in the neighborhood of five figures. I jumped ship and later became a diesel mechanic where the work was harder, but the pay was better and you more rely on shop tools. Even then, the pay is not really good enough to seriously save for retirement, and the body starts to give out well before retirement age. It is hard, thankless work with no real future, and everything that happens to that car after it leaves your hands is your fault. 'the radio worked fine before you changed the wipers'. People also don't tend to get that it might take two or three attempts to lick a complicated problem - and yes you need to pay for all three because parts cost money and people need to eat. If you want better mechanics, you have to pay them more and treat them better - which is not likely to happen
Reinout
Pit Crew

Exactly
turbobill
Intermediate Driver

I started in a Ford dealers service department in 1977. Warranty work was a screwing as was some of the flat rate. Those emissions engines had all sorts of driveability issues and keeping customers happy with them was a chore.

After a year and a half, I went trucking. A whole lot more money, less stress and a lot more enjoyable. In another 11 years I ended up in aviation. Eventually more money and fun. (flying airplanes is the best job in the world).

I still work on my own cars and trucks (don't trust anyone to touch my stuff). For a time I would take automotive jobs privately (both mechanical and body/paint) and made good money doing so. Today's unreliable junk is complicated, over priced and difficult to work on. My newest is an '08 and when it is not worth fixing, my newest will be in the 90's. I have a yard (and garage) full of vehicles with breaker points, carburetors and mechanical fuel injection pumps. I'll be good until I die.
Islandtinman59
Pit Crew

Wow. It is very close to what is going on north of the 49th in Canada. I have been in the auto repair industry for 45 year as a mechanic, service manager ,shop owner and inspector. Some of the problems is the manufactures warranty claims and how they reimburse the dealers for work on their product. It is liked to customer service scores and the can be penalized if the scores drop or if they have a spike in claims. I know it is similar on the other side of the boarder. You are correct about Flat rate pay as we call it. The manufactures set these rates and hours given to complete a job and on warranty it is not profitable for the mechanic or the shop flat rate pay can promote short cuts and sloppy work. My father was a mechanic but I have steered my kids in other directions. Spend 150 dollars on few tools and get paid 200 dollars to get the toilet to flush why would you want to work on cars. Thanks for knowing your stuff.