Archive for April, 2014

How Your Mechanic is Paid – It Should Matter to You

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

airdrie auto mechanicThis week, something strange happened. We charged a customer to diagnose and repair an issue that was 100% covered by their new vehicle warranty. Normally, we just wouldn’t feel right about a situation like this, but the customer was happy to pay because they had taken the vehicle into the local dealership multiple times for this issue, but the dealership was unable to correct the problem each time.

The customer – let’s name him John – was pretty upset about his experience at the dealership, and questioned the capability of the technicians working there. I stopped him there, and tried to explain to John that the dealership’s technicians were likely very capable, but the technician assigned to his car simply wasn’t getting paid to find his problem!

What? Let’s rewind for a little explanation! The dealership in question (along with most dealerships, and most big name chain stores such as the “____ Tire” franchises) pay their technicians using a system called flat rate. Under this system, the technicians receive no hourly wage, and are 100% commission paid. Every repair job has a “book” or labour guide time assigned to it, and the technician is paid the listed number of hours for each repair they complete. As an example, replacing the front brake pads on John’s car is listed at 1.0 hours, so a flat rate technician would be paid 1.0 hours at their regular wage to replace these pads. If they can do the job in half an hour, they are still paid for one. Of course, it works the other way, too: If the technician runs into problems and the job takes two hours, they are still paid for one.

Understanding how flat rate works, let’s get back to John’s experience. In an effort to reduce warranty costs, many vehicle manufacturers have modified their labour guides in recent years so technicians do not receive any credit for their time spent diagnosing problems that are covered under warranty. Technicians working on these vehicles must hope to be able to find the problems fast, and then “make back” their lost diagnostic time by completing the repair very quickly (which is a challenge in itself, since warranty repairs are paid out at reduced “warranty times” that are much lower than the regular labour guide times). As a result of all of this, many dealership technicians will only spend a little time looking at a problem like John’s, before “giving up” or replacing a part at random, in order to move on to the next repair – which is hopefully a better paying one. Is this right? Of course it isn’t. But can you blame the technician? Maybe not.

Just think about it: Imagine that your boss handed you a folder. Inside the folder is a report that needs to be completed, but your boss tells you that you won’t be paid for any time you spend doing the report. How much effort would you put into this report, especially if you knew there was a rack full of reports waiting outside your office that you would be paid to complete?

It’s a broken system, and customers like John – who, ironically, are paying for the whole system – are losing out.

So why would a business owner choose to pay their technicians on flat rate? For one thing, it makes management’s job much easier. Flat rate can allow a poorly managed or disorganized shop which normally wouldn’t turn much of a profit to do quite well, since technicians are 100% commission paid. If there are no vehicles for a technician to service because of scheduling errors, incorrect parts or other problems, there are also no wage costs to cover. Plus, it has been proven that most technicians will work faster with some sort of incentive-based pay system in place. Unfortunately, it’s also a fact that some mechanics will cut corners in order to beat the book time; some of the “shortcuts” we’ve seen would make most customers quite upset.

Ten years ago, a customer would never ask a shop how their mechanics are paid. But today, more vehicle owners are starting to understand how pay systems like flat rate negatively affect the quality of diagnostics and repairs that they are paying good money for; and we’re glad that customers are asking. Many of you already know that we do things a little differently at Tools in Motion, and this includes something that almost nobody else is doing: We pay our technicians a straight hourly wage, with no incentive-based pay system in place at all. Our focus is on quality over quantity, and we have hand-picked an awesome group of technicians who are doing their jobs for all the right reasons.

We work hard, and as a team, because we really love what we do.

Be a Happy Camper: Checking your Trailer

Sunday, April 13th, 2014


Airdrie Trailer MaintenanceWith the weather finally starting to look better, lots of people are starting to think about summer, and the summer adventures that lie ahead. For many Albertans, that means a family trip in an RV. Camping trailers are by far the most popular form of RVs, and (we feel) for good reason. They are much easier to maintain than a motor home; since they don’t come with a second engine, transmission, brake and suspension system that needs attention. Providing you have kept your tow vehicle in good shape throughout the winter, you can expect your whole set-up to be pretty reliable.

That being said, trailers do need some annual attention. Most of the trailer break-downs that we respond to involve the trailer tires. There are a couple things every trailer owner should check before going out:

  • The tire pressure,  even if the tires look OK. If they haven’t been checked since last season, they are low for sure. Low tire pressure reduces the tire’s ability to carry weight and causes it to heat up more as it rotates. Low pressure is the leading cause of tire blow-outs.
  • Carefully inspect the tires, including the sidewalls, for any cracking or signs of separation. Many trailer tires are a bias-ply construction, and prone to the tread section peeling off. Before this happens, you may notice cracking where the tread section meets the sidewall of the tire. Besides being inconvenient, this kind of tire failure can cause extensive damage to the side of your trailer. Since they usually don’t see regular use and have a chance to “bloom” (this is a natural moisturizing process that occurs when a tire rolls, and waxes are released) regularly, it’s not uncommon to replace trailer tires well before the tread is worn out!

Trailers should also receive an annual inspection of their brakes and wheel bearings. Wheel bearing failure is the second-most common trailer break-down that we see on a regular basis. Sometimes, a “spun” or failed bearing can result in having to replace the whole axle, which can be an expensive proposition. The wheel bearings should be serviced at least every second season, which involves cleaning them, packing them with new grease and adjusting them, plus replacing the wheel seals. At the same time, the trailer brakes can be inspected and adjusted. If you can’t remember the last time you’ve had your trailer’s wheel bearings serviced, it has been too long!