Archive for August, 2008

When Is A Deal Not A Deal?

Friday, August 15th, 2008

Unless you’re Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or like them, most of us are feeling the pinch from the higher costs of almost everything we use from day to day. Everyday I pick up the paper and watch the news, the overall theme of our economy is not good. Record foreclosures, the slipping dollar, record highs for a barrel of oil, the list goes on and on. There hasn’t been a better time to tighten our collective ‘bootstraps’ for awhile now.

Lets face it, most of us love getting a good deal, and in todays economy it makes good sense to shop for a bargain. Or does it? I’m a firm believer that certain things should not be shopped the way we would by looking for who has the best deal on a box of Cornflakes. You might not be like me, but if I were to have a heart attack, I’m not picking up the phone book and doing a google search on who has the cheapest by-pass operation listed. I want the best doctor and hospital my money can buy. The IRS is looking into my tax returns, I’m sorry I’m not looking at a PennySaver for a low cost CPA. This may, or may not be, a foreign concept to you, but services can not be shopped the way you would for commodities. At least it shouldn’t be in my opinion. Which brings me to the point of his blog.

If you’re reading this, you might put two and two together and figure somehow this is automotive related. Big surprise, it is. I’m amazed at the deals circulating in various publications trying to get a share of your dollar for automotive repair. I’m equally amazed at the volume of consumers that think this is a good way to shop for who is going to take care of your second most valuable possession. The vast majority of my phone calls from prospective new customers focus on cost, instead of why I should trust you to take care of my vehicle. I’m going to explain why this is not a good idea, or at least try to.

First off let me talk about some of the facts about this business that you may or may not be aware of, at least in the state of California. This also holds true, with a few exceptions in the other 49 states.

Other than smog, and brake and lamp inspectors, mechanics are not licensed in the State of California.
What this means, is exactly what it sounds like. There are no minimum requirements to start working at a shop and subsequently, on your car. Better repair shops would not employ someone with little or no experience, but it happens all the time at some of the so-called competition. I wouldn’t be comfortable trusting the kid who was last in his medical school practice medicine on me, but at least they have passed a competency test.

I once worked at a GM dealer, that when I had come back from lunch there was a new mechanic working next to me. It turns out that he had just gotten out of the Air Force and was now looking for a job. He had his fishing tackle box ‘o’ tools, so he was ‘qualified.’ There was one small problem, the truck he was assigned to fix was not racked correctly and was ready to fall off the rack. I went to the service manager to find out what the heck was going on. He kindly asked if I would help the guy out, as he was new. On the job training was not part of my job description, so I politely declined and found employment elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was not the last shop I worked at that this happened. You might be wondering what this has to do with me and getting my car repaired. This was almost 30 years ago when this first happened and it still happens today. When I started in this business, points and condensers and once a year tune-ups were the norm. Today there are networks in your vehicle, with multiple computers, yet the process of shopping for car repairs remain almost the same as they were thirty years ago.

Opening a Shop

Here again, with the exception of smog testing, air conditioning repairs, and Brake and Lamp stations, the state of California is remarkably quiet on what is required to open an auto repair shop. As long as I don’t have a criminal record, I send off my $200 to the state for a license and basically I’m in the auto repair business. Many, if not most of the shops that are opened are started by ex mechanics that got tired of their job situation and decided they could do better and hung a shingle on the window. To be honest this was me 17 years ago. I’ll try not to toot my own horn, but when I opened, I decided what services I was going to offer and actually tooled up based on that. It seemed like a simple concept, but if I was going to be taking customers money for a service, I should at the very least be properly equipped for what I might encounter. I decided I was going to start with tune-ups/driveability and electrical repairs. I bought/leased/used credit cards for my new business. I purchased a scope, scan tool, books, VAT 40, and some other specialty tools to add to what I owned already. Once I had officially opened, I found I was better equipped than quite a few other established shops. Not all, but quite a few. Here we are competing for the same dollars, yet they are not capable of doing the job correctly either due to not having the proper equipment or experience. See licensing of mechanics above. In the 17 years since I’ve started my own business I’ve seen quite a few auto shops open and close. It’s truly an eye opening experience to see shops open without so much as even books, or a computer information system that think they are qualified to accept payment for fixing your car. Which brings me to some final thoughts on this…

The State Of California, Bureau of Automotive Repair Mission Statement :”To protect and serve California consumers by ensuring a fair and competitive automotive repair marketplace and administering a model motor vehicle emissions reduction program.” From the Department of Consumer Affairs, Bureau Of Automotive Repair

If this were true, the state of car repair in California would not be in the condition it is in. Competition, in my mind, at least means we are all bound by the same rules. I guess to back up, since the state has not spelled who can call themselves a mechanic, and shops the minimum tooling required to perform certain services, I guess we are all ‘playing by the rules.’ Which would then leave the “fair and competitive” statement as a contradiction. You can not have fair competition without rules. Which might explain why consumer complaints for auto repair rank near the top. Comments?