Tire dealers who want to succeed at automotive service need detail-oriented workers who use their heads more than their muscles to get a job done. A thinking technician with finesse will earn a dealership more money and loyal customers in the long term than pure muscle ever could—especially in the underhood service area.
On the other hand, overemphasizing talents such as speed and muscle creates too many needless comebacks, lost profits and angry customers.
Here's how I see this issue unfolding.
For years, tire dealers have tried to grow their businesses by expanding into one or more aspects of auto repair. Some tried to do it all. Others just embraced undercar work because it seemed to naturally complement existing tire sales and service.
By the 1980s or 1990s, it was a foregone conclusion that a progressive tire dealer would offer at least a limited menu of undercar services. At the same time, exhaust specialists, worried about diminishing exhaust system sales, saw the same handwriting on the wall and figured it was time to branch out into undercar repairs. By the end of the century, tire dealers and exhaust-cum-undercar shops were competing over the same kinds of work.
But I've noticed another trend in my travels. Many of the service facilities that used to be exclusively undercar repair providers are tackling underhood tasks such as air conditioning, electrical, tune up and cooling system repairs. Some businesses that used to be household names in exhaust and shocks now approach being full-service repair shops that also sell tires.
As Mr. Shakespeare liked to say, "There's the rub."
Many owners and managers I meet are trying to perform underhood work with the wrong cast of characters. They're stumbling because they assume that mechanics are mechanics, technicians are technicians.
Bosses overlook the minor detail that they're expecting their crews to make a smooth, rapid transition from the least-complicated to the most-sophisticated area of the vehicle. It's a big leap from undercar over to underhood work today.
By now, some readers are ready to lynch me or at least lecture me on how ABS and ride control systems have made undercar work so sophisticated. Respectfully, I say these systems don't approach the overall complexity of underhood systems.
Doubt me? Compare the number of inputs and outputs an ABS computer handles to those an engine computer manages. Compare the complexity of the hydraulic brake system to that of the basic engine. Or, just have your best undercar guy compare notes with a competent underhood guy!
As long as I've been involved in this industry, I've recognized that there are different breeds of workers. I don't mean to look down on anyone or perpetuate stereotypes. But the fact remains that for years, many bosses built their businesses on teams of people who could chisel or torch off the old part faster than anyone else in town.
They attracted techs with the mindset that a money-making mechanic torches off anything that gets in his way. Simply put, wield the air chisel or torch first, ask questions later.
Every repair shop seeks the ideal tech who has quick hands but still completes tasks without tearing up the vehicle. The underhood service wannabes out there have to realize that this work requires patient people who think before they act, because engine compartments are crowded, the systems are complicated and the parts are expensive.
It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rush much of this work.
Workers who take an "air-chisel" mentality to underhood service are prone to changing the wrong part or to damaging something else in the process of replacing that part.
Certainly, people who fix cars need a certain degree of strength and dexterity. They need ongoing training so they know how to identify failed parts.
But they also must be groomed to "finesse" their way around obstacles with a combination of patience, clear thinking and the proper tools for the task so the job's done correctly the first time, on time.
That, readers, is the path to profitability. Think about it.