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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...
144 REPLIES 144
DUB6
Specialist

I have a very good friend who owns a tire shop. They do oil changes and lubes, alignment and some very minor mechanic work. His claim is that he just can't find people who actually want to do the work. It's dirty. It's hard. The shop doors are open a lot, so it's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. His shop is in a stellar location (busy intersection with businesses all around), so the "drop-in" traffic is typically high. Many can't pass a drug test, and many more who do don't show up after the first few days.
He's a wonderful guy and I've seen how he treats his employees (very well, in my estimation), so I don't think it's "the management" that's the problem...
WyattBowman
Intermediate Driver

Do you know what his starting wages and benefits are?
DUB6
Specialist

   I do not, but the next time I talk with him, I'll ask and post it here.  But, anticipating where you might be going with this, I'm sure it's not going to be something that's going to be wonderfully impressive.  It's just a tire shop, after all.  However, I'm of the belief that if you start modestly and work hard, you have a better opportunity to advance than you do by sitting on a couch and playing video games all day - just my opinion...

DUB6
Specialist

   This tire shop owner started by working in one as a high schooler (he was my oldest son's best friend and lived 2 doors over from us).  Now he owns his own.  My oldest son started bagging groceries at 16 - he now owns his own grocery store.  I once hired on as an apprentice (taking a huge cut in pay), and ended up becoming the General Manager of a very large printing operation for a major retailer.

   I'm not trying to hint that every kid who starts "at the bottom" will own the company someday - nor am I saying that today's wages and benefits (or lack thereof) vs. today's expenses can be accurately compared to those of yesteryear.  What I am saying is that - in my opinion (I'm not trying to declare this as absolute fact - it's just my opinion!) - starting somewhere and applying yourself gives you a better chance of success.  Again, in my opinion(!), failing a drug test or not showing up for work after 2-3 days actually lessens that chance.

   And to everyone who is itching to type words to prove me all wet: I'm also not trying to say that auto mechanics and repair work is a fabulous career to get into.  If one has the opportunity to be CEO of Microsoft as their first pick of jobs, I think they should take it.  All I was trying to say with the story about my friend's problems with hiring, is that the owners of shops are sometimes having their own challenges in getting employees.  I'm sure there are downsides - but I'm also certain that some downsides exist in EVERY job (including the Microsoft CEO gig!)...

AMatyas
Pit Crew

Have you considered watching news media other than Fox News? Have you tried to support a family on what they pay? As a person with a 7 figure savings, I am aware of what hard work USED TO DO FOR YOU. I don't think the climate is the same today as is was for me. As an example, I had a pension, BEFORE Ronald Reagan made them obsolete. And I am only 66 years old.

BMD4800
Technician

Since you brought politics into this:

I’m mid 40s, have 7 figure property, investments, AND savings.
Hard work will STILL get you there, but one can no longer rely upon the safe-bet of a zero action pension plan.
I actively manage my investments, I bet I know the stats on all my funds and investments better than the typical pensioner knows sports stats.
I am a STEM grad, worked my way up in several trades. Now I’m in service as white collar, but I can spin a wrench, weld in a Uni-side, or machine a new part that is obsolete.
Just because you don’t like Conservstives doesn’t mean what they say isn’t true.
These wonderful pension plans, provided the plan or company doesn’t go under, pay a lower rate of return YoY, and die with you. The wife and I, our total net worth isn’t dependent upon us remaining alive. I drop tomorrow, she will be just fine.
Geok86
Instructor

You beat me to it, as my wife and I are in the same age range and situation, as you and your wife.
TigerTiz
Pit Crew

BMD, you get it. Politics has Very little to do with working hard to get ahead.
zappafanx
Intermediate Driver

Guess you have some kind of underlying problem with capitalism maybe? Frecking libs. SMH
DUB6
Specialist

@AMatyas - congratulations on being able to amass a comfortable nest egg and a nice standard of living, despite all of the forces aligned against you.  Also, good on ya for making it to the ripe age of 66 - I truly hope you live long and prosper.  Now, it would be nice for you to relax a bit and enjoy the fruits of your labors.  No, no - I really mean it: try to relax...

BMD4800
Technician

100%

We can’t get people.

If we do, they use our job, position, and pay to get more $$ someplace else.
We pay very well, but young folks with a year or two experience want pay that isn’t matching their skills.

Good people are like gold. You don’t want to work them too hard, but they are good and they are reliable, so as long as they produce, we have to give spiffs, spot bonuses, gift cards, all sorts of little things to keep them engaged.

The guys and gals that being politics, hatred, wokeness, they are like a cancer and often can’t hang with the hard work.
Djarum
Intermediate Driver

Are the people leaving your company costing you money?

I'm not in the automotive industry, but the software industry. My own experience tells me that a good mix of Experienced, mid-level, and entry level software engineers can work really well. This means that after a few years the entry level engineers go find more money somewhere else, which is normal. Entry level engineers bring new ideas to the table but also engages the older folks with teaching.

You say that pay isn't matching their skills, but obviously it must if other companies are willing to hire them.

I made the mistake years ago by starting in an underpaid position for a private company doing niche hardware. I got a few raises every now and again, but when I got laid off and took a new position, that new position was also underpaid. I'm at a much better position financially but still underpaid. I can't get paid more with the company I'm currently with because how I came into the company (underpaid) and my experience with the company.

While a long story, the point here is I've lost thousands of dollars because I should have jumped ship after the first few years with the first company. I don't blame anyone who leaves a company if they are getting paid better somewhere else.
BMD4800
Technician

Because of the labor shortage people often spring board their pay to a point where the cost of labor outstrips their addition to the bottom line.

we don’t run a charity or a sewing circle.  Too many want to work 9-4, with an hour and a half for lunch and unlimited breaks.  

Tim
Technician

Ah, such is the other edge of the sword of capitalism. When the job market favors employers and wages are low, you don't hear companies complain. When the minimum wage didn't raise even a single penny for 12 years, you didn't hear companies complain. But the magic of capitalism works for both supply and demand. If employees can find a better job elsewhere, employers have to compete. That means in part, realizing the ways the job market is changing and responding. Hanging onto to nostalgic ways of running a business and compensating employees isn't going to work.
peterlhaughton
New Driver

As a shop owner and working lead technician/master technician for more than 40 years I can help answer this question without knowing much more than: it is a tire store and the question is entry-level wages and benefits.

First, how much money does it cost you in labor to pay this tire store owner to install a set of four tires on your late model sedan/car/truck? You know, the one that has a low tire pressure warning light on the dashboard.

Then, you divide that dollar number by four. Then you ask that shop owner how long it will take the entry-level technician to do the job. Now, let's say that job takes exactly 60 minutes. Let's say that the labor that you pay to have that job done is $80. This is quite typical for an independent tire store.

That entry level technician is probably going to need some supervision for six months. That is because someone needs to make sure he is not going to break the tire pressure sensors, leave lug nuts loose or over torque them, or any of the other simple mistakes which can result in a bus full of dead nuns.

That guy who's doing the supervising is going to probably eat up about 20 of those dollars. So that leaves $60.

That entry-level job is going to pay the entry-level guy somewhere between 15 and $20 an hour.

It takes the remaining $40 to pay the garage owner's liability insurance, the light bill, the mortgage, the owner's salary, the service writer, taxes, etc. etc.

The profit margin on the tires is only around 15 to 20%. That doesn't help a whole lot for paying those above-mentioned costs.

So, the reason there is no one entering this industry is because it's a whole lot easier and more profitable to apprentice as a plumber, welder, HVAC technician, electrician, etc. but that is what this article was about.

CitationMan
Technician

What a fantastic well written article. Real journalism.
I'm so lucky that I found a great shop for my 14 year old daily driver BMW.
The shop is all younger guys. They're sharp, honest, personable, and have all the business they can handle. In these days of online reviews, shops really need to be on top their game, and it's that much harder with less top notch mechanics available.
win59
Advanced Driver

Yes, excellent Journalism (which is in short supply these days as well)
I got a job washing cars at a BMC Dealer in 1967. Worked in Parts & Service in dealerships ever since. The Technician shortage is critical and we have cut shop classes from all our schools and impressed every student that they have to go to college, get a degree and make big $$$ at a computer screen. Working as a tech is a difficult, hard, and dirty job but like any other, if you get good at it you can do very well financially.
A Tech's biggest problem is the dealership culture that pressures the Service Advisor to squeeze every repair for extra usually un-necessary flush, additive, and "preventative" maintenance operation they can. Packing as many hours of labor into each job and this pressures the tech to work faster or, if he is not as skilled, cut corners. The culture makes customer satisfaction a game not a job.
Krippel
Pit Crew

I left the trade after the better part of twenty years. Now I drive a tractor-trailer for a certain shipping company that everyone has heard of.
I make substantially more (35%+) than I ever did or most likely ever would spinning wrenches. I’ve got a private four window office with ever changing scenery, and I still go home every day.
I was at an indie shop in a major metropolitan area specializing in higher end European makes; primarily BMW and Porsche. The fact that I had to go drive a truck to make real money is shameful.
bradfa
Detailer

Many trades still have unions but auto techs don't seem to have any such group which they can be a member of who can push for changes on behalf of many workers across employers. Sure, there's lots of problems with unions, but some good comes from them, too. At least local to me, your quoted "electricians, utility workers, or welders" are all heavily unionized trades.
Starting a union isn't exactly easy, especially today where there seems to have been major consolidation of "independent" (ie: Firestone/Monro/JiffyLube/etc) and dealerships who would likely resist and have lots of power to successfully resist. But it seems unfortunate that the tech schools don't try to band together to make things better in the industry for their graduates. As kids hear about how they can make more money doing other things, they're not going to sign up for auto tech school and that's how vicious circles gain strength.
9lbhammer
Detailer

I think that's one of the only ways to fix the problem, but it'll never happen because the dealerships would lose their minds and many big dealer groups are politically connected. I bet a smarter man than I am could think of a way that a union could help with the start up costs of tools too. That's a big barrier to getting in the industry.

Union men built this country; it's a shame what's happened to unions.
BMD4800
Technician

Unions did it to themselves.

I worked a Union assembly line and saw the nonsense first hand.

They served a purpose, but they became drunk and fat on their own power, passed out and nearly died aspirating on their own vomit.

You want my steadfast UAW support, a US built Silverado should be better in every way than a US-non-Union Tundra or Mexico-built Silverado.
9lbhammer
Detailer

I wasn't union, but I worked with UMWA local 2245.  Same things happened at the mine.  They were supposed to protect everyone and they mostly helped the guys who were buddies with the president.  Good unions are great, but bad ones are worse than the company.

Tinkerah
Gearhead

From my observation unions don't seem interested in fields that don't have a lot of money that can be skimmed. Sure: police, electricians, other respected trades and even many government departments have powerful representation but the low-paid sector, who could really use it, not so much. My favorite example is the food service industry.
Zephyr
Instructor

No unionized trades in California anymore. According to the latest statistics the vast majority of union members work for the public sector - i.e. - the government. Teachers, firefighters, police, county workers, state employees, federal employees - all unionized.
Billthecat707
Instructor

I worked at dealership chains in 2 different states where you could be terminated for mentioning the word "union" and would definitely gone if you were seen with a union rep. Autonation is the worst.
BMD4800
Technician

I had a meeting at an Autonation dealership for a SAE event.  Bear in mind, they invited US, and the dealership tried to tow my Buick.  They said they thought it was “abandoned”.   Guess which dealer I NEVER shop? 

(to be fair, it still looks like some one abandoned it, but parts cars never get any love)

PecosBill
Intermediate Driver

Nearly every time there's a repair industry article the pictures shown are Euro-weenie types in their pretty blue jump suits and spotless work shops.

Take a picture of an American garage and an American mechanic or two next time!

Balocco
Intermediate Driver

LOL!! True
BMD4800
Technician

Ours is organized and clean. There is no profane music blaring and cursing is rare.

The customer should be able to walk into the shop with a writer at any time and see a professional environment.
Zephyr
Instructor

Don't know where you live but here in California the shops have all been blue jump suits and spotless for decades.
9lbhammer
Detailer

I worked as a mechanic for a while, but the pay isn't good enough in most shops to justify the amortized cost of tools. Especially after I broke up with the boss's daughter (too small a shop to have a service writer) and I got more and more of the jobs that boned me on the book time.
Tinkerah
Gearhead

Service writer wouldn't've helped, it would've been his daughter instead.
MikeD
Pit Crew

Great article. Spot on. My son is a tech at a Porsche dealership in the Northeast. We have this discussion all the time. He's in the business about 3 years. Tried conventional college, but it wasn't for him. Ending up going to an automotive trade school. It wasn't cheap, but was still a lot less than your average 4 year university. Upon graduation, he got his first job as a tech at a BMW dealership. Starting pay was $15/hour with no benefits. They would hire anyone with a pulse because they had 30 spots to fill. A little scary when you think about it since the average BMW probably goes for $65,000. When it was clear that he had potential, he asked for a raise but management ignored him. He ended getting recruited by Porsche where he is now making decent money at flat rate. Porsche, unlike BMW can't hire just anybody to work on a $180,000 911 turbo. But qualified techs are really hard to find since not enough people are entering the business. If the typical dealership model is like that BMW dealership, the repair industry is in serious trouble. On the other hand, if you're a good tech, and you work hard, I would imagine that you will be in high demand.
DougL
Detailer

I am now retired, but I worked in the automotive service industry for almost 45 years. I would not recommend working as a flat rate mechanic to my worst enemy. Poor working conditions, long hours, hot in the summer, cold in the winter, many parts of the job are unpaid, benefits are poor or non-existent and you have to supply many thousands of dollars worth of tools. You probably need 3 bays with hoists to make decent flat rate hours, but you are lucky to have one hoist and one flat bay. It may not be the worst job currently available in the USA, but it certainly is in the competition for that title.
ede2357914
Pit Crew

What most people don't realize is lawyers are a dime a dozen but try to find a really good mechanic. Not that easy.
KYColonel
Detailer

So true 👍
audiobycarmine
Instructor

"... increasingly tough to find reliable proprietors."
Most of your article seems to refer to the larger facilities: dealers and repair chains.
While these may indulge in less-than-saintly practices, it's probably more difficult to keep them secret.

My experience informs me that it's the small shops where out-and-out dishonesty can be found.
Even though a single-proprieter has the most to lose, to bad press, they continue to pad the bill, recommend unneeded work and sundry other monetary misdemeanors.

I'm sure that the majority are quite honest but, like police officers, it only takes a few to sully the reputation of the whole group.
The good ones are like gold.
hyperv6
Racer

Here is the trouble. Americans don't want to get dirty anymore working on cars. I wish people would stop blaming everything on the virus. I hear the White house cop out on that too many times already.

Today their is a lack of good mechanics as many people don't want to get their hands dirty, We have has a lack of welders and construction workers too. Everyone thinks if they spend a lot of money on a degree they will make a lot of money. That is not always the case anymore.

Another issue today is the investment to work on cars. My buddies shop has to spend thousands on equipment and programs just to work on many cars. Few want to invest.

Then you have shops and dealers that push quotas for money on jobs. Some places guys are replacing good parts just to keep their job.

The reality is today a good skill trade can make some really good money. My father in law just retired as a welder and was making six figures. Now they can replace him.

Bust to go out as a mechanic like most jobs you don't start at the top. You need to go out and get experience and establish yourself. Going in on specialties also warrants big money. You need to investigate and find your place as just going to a oil change place or dealer will garner top money right out of school.

Life rewards have to be earned not given.

 

Note to myself as like my coworkers we all started out getting dirty and changing oil. But we also worked our way into the auto industry in areas like racing and found a way to make a good living developing and selling the parts people want. 

 

We still get dirty but now on our terms. 

 

Wrenching on cars is great when you are young but it can get old. Also the customer base is getting more and more rude. They want their car fixed but they don't like to pay the cost of it. Many things are not cheap anymore.  One could have over $20,000 just for a tire machine that will not jack up your expensive wheels. 

GRP_Photo
Instructor

The virus isn't the only culprit, but it's a big one. One of the two mechanics at the shop where I take my cars died from it, and the owner and his wife were both hospitalized for some time. I don't know what happened to the other mechanic, but he's no longer there. That's at least 3/4 of the work force out of action, one permanently. If it hadn't been for the Federal forgivable loan program, that shop would be gone.
Bobby has one replacement mechanics now. He is not as conscientious as the guys he replaced.
I miss the guy who died. He had a flathead Ford he was working on. He kept trying to convince me to get back to work on my 1940 Deluxe.
hyperv6
Racer

Sorry to hear of the loss. But the shortage of mechanics and tech was around before we knew what Covid was. 

while Covid has created some issues society today many use it as an excuse for many things it had nothing to do with. 

The repair shop people I know have had trouble finding reliable good techs for 10 years. Even paid well they either are slow or too often just not dependable to show up daily. 

Even in my line of work I see people get fired for lack of attendance than anything. One guy was hooked on. Idea games and he would use up all his sick time gaming. He has to leave before getting fired as he knew he would not make the end of the year. Sadly he was married with two kids. 

ed
Advanced Driver

This is only the beginning. The manufacturers' rush to EVs and the ever-more use of technology occurs far faster than the education needed to service it. My 10 year old AMG has 49 computers in it, simple by some of today's standards - no cross-traffic detection, collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, rear-view camera. Without the right tools and the right experience, repair is a guessing game. We've all heard the stories - they replaced this and this and this, and it still didn't fix the problem until they replaced/did THAT. And, if the vehicle is out of warranty, the car owner probably paid for this and this and this and THAT.
hyperv6
Racer

Actually most expect things to become simpler. As EV models go they have less moving parts and less in general. They will use less motors vs ICE engines. No transmissions, less no real fuel systems or emissions systems. No oiling systems. 

 

They will have mostly plug and play items a cooling system for battery temp stability but most other items will be diagnosed by the cars system. 

 

Todays ICE engines are ever more difficult with cylinder drop systems, With turbo systems, New oil systems. Cam variable timing systems. Transmissions that are ever more complicated and unreliable. 

 

If we had the basic engines and cars of the 60s' yes the electrics would be a jump in complicity. But with the way they are going about to keep the ICE engines viable they are more complicated than some spacecraft of not so many years ago. 

Oldroad1
Technician

Your right today's automotive ICE CANs are faster and more powerful than the Space Shuttle's.
hyperv6
Racer

Our cell phones and or the pad in my hand is faster and better than the Shuttle computers. People really forget how basic their systems were. 

ConfuciusRacing
Detailer

...the answer can be found in Germany.
Right out of high school equivalent, all German students are given an aptitude test.
The people with a propensity for white collar work you go to college, and you with the blue collar aptitude go to trade school. There is no stigma to being a person who fixes things with your hands and brain...and it is a career path. Society recognized the VALUE of both and the pay is consummate.

It's the education system to blame, no more wood shops,machine shop, or automotive shop classes in High School in the USA. And then where are the the trade schools to support those students who are 'good' at that stuff?

I went to a Maritime Academy and ran small floating cities in the engine rooms of 1000 foot container ships pushing 60,000 horsepower for 27 years...hard work? Yes. But I was one of the lucky people who found my path and didn't end up with a worthless degree in English Literature what I couldn't feed myself with nor contribute usefully to society in some way.

And that's the truth.
buellerdan
Advanced Driver

Amen. Like the article states, high school shop classes are being shut down and students are encouraged to attend four year universities. Big mistake, but apparently the school administrators get bonus points for funneling HS graduates to colleges instead of tech schools. Best decision I ever made was to quit a four year college and get an Associate degree from the local two year votech. Resulted in a 40 year career in mechanical engineering. Unfortunately, I had to work with certain BSMEs who couldn't design their way out of a wet paper bag.
GRP_Photo
Instructor

Same deal in Norway. I was talking to a photographer from Tennessee about it. I told him I'd heard that they might decide that they had enough photographers and tell him he was going to be something else. He said "They keep telling me that back home, too."
OHCOddball
Advanced Driver

Wrenching these days is tough. I was trained in the early 80's when electronics was just coming out. I didn't end up in service, but worked on an auto assembly line instead. Better money and actually easier work. Knowing the construction process makes it easy to understand why service is so hard these days. The cars are harder to work on as everything is packed in tighter. Parts are made cheaper (to produce, NOT your cost) so they break easier. Flat rate is tough. New hires can't make any money because they don't have the speed. They still have to pay their education costs and tools. Some can beat it and make money, but I would say most can't without cutting corners. The diagnostics is complex. You can't hire the high school dropout that is functionally illiterate. It takes almost college education, or at least the equivalent, to diagnose cars properly. Customers freak when they find out how much some jobs cost. The part might be $50 but it cost $1500 to get to it as everything has to come apart. Heater cores come to mind or timing chains on GM 3.6 V6's.
Hotrodbuilder
Pit Crew

I worked as a mechanic for 40 years. The last 20 was at major car dealerships. I was a working shop foreman. Most of the issues for mechanics were created by the management. Service writers were encouraged to upsell the customer for additional work, often not needed. The mechanics were encouraged to upsell in order to get good jobs dispatched to them. If you didn't play the game, you got the crappy dirty jobs. Mechanics had to buy their own tools. You could easily spend $30,000 annually just to keep up with changing technology in tools and in replacing lost or stolen tools. Management would not want to spend money training mechanics on newest technology. Usually a few top techs would get occasional training and the rest were supposed to glean their info from them. Since everyone was under the gun to produce, no time was allowed to pass along the knowledge. You were punched in on the time clock on each job. If you didn't keep up with the flat rate schedule, you were berated or suffered pay loss against flat rate. I saw a lot of talented mechanics leave the trade because of hassles, not because they couldn't perform. Lastly, too many shops want to hire at a low starting wage with no guarantee of increases. The tools cost just as much for a beginner as they do for a senior tech. The industry has long suffered under those conditions and the customers end up paying more.