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9/30/16 – Limbo

Limbo. No, not the kind where you think you can get down 6 inches off the ground and work your way under a fake bamboo rod and have a chick waiting on the other side with a shot of tequila and cheers from the crowd. I mean the purgatory kind. The kind that mechanics spend a lot of their time in.

I should probably say, hello! It’s Joe again. I am probably going to be the main Blogger here. I don’t know if Todd knows what a Blog is. I think he thinks it’s my pet name for him.

I say “Hey man, I got a new Blog!”

He gently holds my face in his hands and whispers “You’ll always have Blog.” Then he leans in and puts his forehead on my forehead… for like 20 minutes we do this. Had to pee…

So yea, limbo. I just spent the last 20 minutes or so in there. My wife and son were making some kind of dish that calls for ricotta cheese; ours got all moldy so they are going to the store for more. Meanwhile, I get to stay home and enjoy the peace of my daughter’s unprecedented 3+ hour nap she is currently taking. I am telling you, not a peep from her. There more evidence of a fart in a fan factory than there is that she even exists she is that quiet, and that’s a rare treat for me.

I don’t think much of it. Of course, when the wife is pretty much out the door she drops a line at me, “When you’re done with those dishes make sure Sophia (my daughter the napping fart) is ok”. I tuck into the dishes… and while I do my wife’s comment settles in and infects my brain like a damn prion disease.

I start to wonder “Hey, why is my noisy ass daughter sleeping so well?” and “Hey, is she actually sleeping? Or is she dangling cold and lifeless from her sleep sack that she managed to turn into a noose like a prisoner wanting to get out of solitary by any means possible?”

So I finish my dishes, and I calmly go upstairs. Trying to give myself some time to let a cooler head prevail before I go find the answer to Schrödinger’s Sophia. Fun fact about me, I don’t have hair but I still behave like an engine low on coolant, my head is the first thing to overheat. You’d think without hair to insulate it… anyways. I step into her room and give her a “Soooophia?” Nothing. I reach into the crib and gently shake the hell out of her trying to ascertain her state of being. Nothing but an icy cold baby arm. I feel my heart drop out and I start trying to develop a tweet to break the news to all you CARtassholes. Then she pops up with some nonsense baby babble, she was just chilly and sleeping like the dead, not actually dead.

My point is I spent about 20 minutes or so 85% sure my baby was dead. It’s this state of limbo I am talking about, and I hate it! As a mechanic, we deal with it a lot. Is that front end squeak going to be taken care of by that stabilizer link I replaced? Until you go on a test drive and hit a thousand potholes you are in limbo. Is that hard to duplicate misfire going to be fixed by that EGR valve I put on? I had a P0404 as a hint about a sticky valve… but I never actually did confirm it was sticking. Guess I won’t know until a couple months have gone by with no come-back! Did I forget to torque the caliper bolts on that 02 Malibu? Guess we’ll find out if there is nationwide coverage of said Malibu slamming into a daycare.

I feel for you guys, spending all your time in limbo. My advice? Go spend some time in limbo! You know the crappy fake bamboo stick kind with the tequila!

Joe

9/10/16 – Advice for the Industry

Hello everyone!  If you’re reading this you are either a fan (or hopefully soon a fan) of our podcast or you are an internet hacker intent on stealing either mine or Todd’s identity.  This is Joe by the way, if you are looking for identities you’re not going to want mine.  Mine comes with a lot of bills and a very assertive wife.  So good luck with her…  I’d take Todd’s identity myself.  That dude’s got a go-cart and hair!

Alright, that’s the only advice I have to dole out to identity thieves.  Lazy bastards…  So for everyone else, thanks for listening to our show!  I am assuming for a most part you are either automotive mechanics, or dudes that have all but for the grace of God barely avoided a fate as a mechanic.  You probably love cars, you love working with your hands, and you love figuring out how things work.  Me too.

For those of you who figured out how to make a living while slaking your thirst for the mechanical hunt and kill without actually working on cars professionally I salute you sir.  You have avoided the dire toll a full time mechanic takes on his body.  I find myself with myriad aches and pains that will likely follow me to my grave, and I’m only 31, so that’s at least a decade away.  That’s a long time to feel like a broken old man!  Make your living with your brain, fix the cars as a hobby – that’s what I do now and what I salute those of you for doing if indeed you are.

The rest of you.  This is who the blog is for.  You are the full time professional mechanic. You put in your 8-10 day on the clock, hopefully logging more than 8 hours of work, then when you punch out you fix your own car and those of your buddies.  This rounds out a nice 7 day week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year where you are living and breathing CAR.  It’s a tough job, but I don’t need to tell you that.  I am one of the wussies who hung up the shop towel (those weird reddish ones that sometimes have machining metal left in them) and thought to do something easier.  You keep the cars on the roads, and since for the most part the tires stay on the cars, you seem to do a good job.  I most definitely salute you all, I stand and applaud.  Then I sit back down, still applauding though, cause c’mon, standing is hard.

The industry.  It’s a battlefield out there.  It’s us against the cars, us against the clock, and sometimes us against us.  The cars are getting more and more complex (Interactive Adaptive Neural Networks anyone?).  The clock is the same old 24 hour day but the work we need to jam into it get’s more and more just to break even (you get .6 hours for re-ringing the second bank…).  The “US”, that’s really the only thing we can control and sometimes it doesn’t seem like we can even do that.  Ever been driven so hard by the boss that you flipped out and threw an oil jug at a new car and then spent an hour cleaning the oil off like an idiot?  I have.  The industry makes us all idiots sometimes.  Even now that I don’t touch them on a day-to-day they make me an idiot.

To make this job on this battlefield a bit easier I have some advice for you all.

  1. Take your time and do the job right. The customer might not know that each bolt that gets removed gets a poly-lube or anti-seize bath before going back in, but you will.  The customer might not know that you felt a bolt cross-thread so you backed it out and tapped the threads clean again, but you will.  If you do the job right you will get to be good enough to make flat rate while the other guys are scrambling, trying to get around this or that catatsrophe to get to the next time.  Soon you will have less come-backs than them.  You will have customers asking that YOU are the only one to work on their cars. I still have people call my cell phone today, asking if I can work on the side, they want that badly for me to work for them.  You build a loyal group of gracious customers and pretty soon most of the cars you touched will have had YOU as the last guy who worked on them.  Who doesn’t want a car with all the bolts clean and lubed so they come out like a dream?  Your fleet of customers will bring in the easiest cars for you to work on.  Not only that, but you will be able to sleep at night knowing those cars and those people are safe because you made sure they would be safe.  Brian in the next stall might lay awake at night thinking about that bracket for the airbag that had one cross-threaded bolt in it, but that should be ok… right?  Nighty-night Brian…ass.
  2. Inspect EVERYTHING!  Don’t go crazy, but do a good inspection.  Fluids, belts, hoses, radiators, leaks all the way around, tread depth on the tires, pad material left on the brakes (yes pop the tires off if you need to).  Get a consistent set of inspection parameters that you stick to.  This not only generates more business, as you are consistent in your message the customer get’s more comfortable with you and will believe you when you say they need this or that work done.  This is what we are here for.  90% of customers don’t know what’s wrong with their cars, and the 10% that think they do are usually wrong anyways. It’s up to us to make sure they are in good shape.  You miss a radiator leak, granny might melt the engine in her Lacrosse.  You miss a leak on a brake caliper, it’s ok, little 16 year old Johnny probably wanted to fly through that windshield and off the bridge anyways.  There is a lot on the line for us, we fix one and a half ton death machines that people strap their families into. I can’t tell you how hard it’s been to get a good inspection done since I have stopped working on cars.  I have been to 5 places, one place told me that all my fluids were bad but my tires and brakes were great which was literally the opposite of what was true.  Another place told me my brakes were “Pretty bad man, like… just pretty low”.  I asked him how much material I had left and he said “Oh man, like… just pfffft… not much.”  He then did not quote me a brake estimate.  I can only assume he is allergic to money.
  3. Specialize.  There are some things that are pretty much the same on all cars.  You want to do maintenance on everything, that’s fine.  I dig it.  Although an oil change on a Mercedes can be anything but easy, you gotta prostrate yourself and beg the oil level indicator to reset, ditto the oil change light.  What I’m talking about is knowing where your wheelhouse is.  Maybe there should be a rule about a driveability complaint on a car that doesnt land in your “specialty”.  Give them an hour of diag, if you hit some traction and think you have it on the ropes then keep going.  But if nothing is adding up for you and you find yourself chasing your tail then you’re not doing yourself or your customer any favors by keeping it up.  Give it back to them no charge.  Maybe that Lexus RX400H with the hybrid codes should go to a shop that specializes in them.  If I worked in the aftermarket nowadays I would say I do the usual work on everything, the diagnostic work I stay with Honda and Acura.  Hell, if I got enough business I might even just make all my work Honda and Acura, and frankly if I could I would drop the Acura stuff too.  This will keep your stress level down, keep you in the game longer.  It’s just not possible to stay up on everything that all the car manufacturers are doing these days.  All Todd and I do are work with the Asian stuff, we research and think about them 8 hours a day and we can scarcely keep up with just that.  If we had to work on them, and Dodge, Ford, VW and BMW?  Forget about it.  You are spreading yourself too thin.  You’re like that residual moly-coating that you have on the brush in the empty container that you try to get one more brake job out of – can’t possibly be that good a job.
  4. Shop owners.  Treat your damn technicians with some respect!  Pay them what you think they are worth, then if they prove themselves worth it give them another 20% just to keep them around.  Put them on a salary that ensures they will work hard without rushing.  Tell a guy he needs to beat the clock and get his 3.4 hours from a timing belt job no matter how long it takes him and you’ll see a dude do some deals with the devil about how it gets done.  That’s scary.  If the tech can’t sleep at night cause he cut this or that corner and you employ 5 technicians when do you sleep?  Keep your eye on the guy that gets work done quickly, make sure it’s done right.  Don’t worry about chewing on the guy’s ass who gets work done slowly, no one wants that car out of his stall more than him.  Everyone works at their own pace, let them do it.  Try to adjust bad attitudes or get rid of the guy who’s got it.  He is a poison in the shop, and if his complaints are not justified then you don’t need him.  My buddy runs a shop with 3 happy dudes working there, smoothest running shop I have ever seen.  About bad attitudes – you might get a guy who has one from another work experience he has had.  Let him know that bad attitudes don’t fly here.  Make sure he feels like he is valued and treated fairly and as long as he is not a psychopath he will shape up quick.  This usually applies to the older techs.  The younger ones pose their own unique challenge, these young brats would rather go catch Pokemon and sext their girlfriends than work hard all day.  They may have an entitled attitude that is just as bad as the grumpy old ass.  Don’t be afraid to drop them if they’re not willing to shape up.  As long as they have had other shop experience and what you’re offering them is legit they should shape up as fast as the older guys.  Couple that along with some computer savvy and they can be a diagnostic powerhouse.  One more thing, when it comes to dealing with customers there comes a point where they should be let go too.  If you have a customer that has a bad case of the ever-since, i.e “Ever since you did that alignment in my son’s car the radio in my wife’s car stopped working!” or “Ever since you did that recall on the power steering line my car isn’t as shiny!” (this was an actual complaint), then you should politely tell them to hit the road.  They know when they are asking for something unreasonable.  And in the rare case a completely unrelated failure happens during a repair that they have a justified stand in protesting, I don’t mind that they get lumped in with the others and booted.  Those are very very rare, and sorry, but if society in general didn’t behave this way we could believe the poor guy with the radio problem.

That’s it for now.  My kids are waking up for a nap and frankly I can’t imagine most of you read this far.  Thanks for reading as much of it as you did!  I will probably put my lady-pleasers back on the keyboard and do another of these sometime.