AKRON (July 4, 2005) — Contrary to what some motorists and managers believe, looking up service information is a sure sign of a savvy, cautious technician.
In fact, reckless technicians are ones who act first, research later.
It is wrongly ingrained in the minds of some bosses as well as vehicle owners that it's time to worry whenever they see a tech opening a book or scrolling through screens of data on a personal computer. In reality, the opposite situation is accurate: Worry whenever you see a tech who doesn't crack open a book or consult a computerized information program.
This is particularly relevant when the tech is struggling to fix a vehicle or battling a comeback.
I've been working in the auto repair business in one capacity or another since the late 1960s. If this experience has taught me nothing else, it's convinced me that some wrongheaded beliefs and attitudes die very, very hard.
First and foremost among them is this very suspicion that service personnel who pause to look up information or do any kind of homework on a vehicle are goofing off, showing off or generally wasting the shop's and the customer's time.
Also, let's speak the unspeakable. Traditionally, auto repair has been a very macho, male-dominated industry. In many circles, the guy who has to look anything up just isn't a manly man. (Note to colleagues: Deny vigorously when caught in the act!) Meanwhile, this conscious or unconscious pursuit of machismo is raising havoc with the service department's productivity and your business' reputation.
For example, a stubborn tech who insists that the timing belt reference marks on all Honda Civic engines are the same wastes half a day working his way around a fundamental mistake. The timing marks on that particular Civic do happen to be different from what he's used to.
Five or 10 minutes of book time would have saved him and the tire dealership 240 minutes of wasted time.
In another service shop, a tech has a Volkswagen tied up for more than a day because he can't get a satisfactory “pedal” after doing a major brake overhaul on the car. The morning after the brake job, he discovers that this car could be equipped with more than one style of ABS (antilock brake system).
The proper brake bleeding procedure varies according to the particular type of ABS this car has. No surprise here—he did no homework until he realized he couldn't get a decent pedal after repeatedly bleeding the brakes the conventional way.
Many techs don't see nearly as many engines with conventional ignition distributors anymore. In yet another case of macho hard-headedness, a tech replaced a set of spark plug wires on a pristine older car driven by an older motorist. When the engine in this Ford product cranked unevenly, ran roughly and backfired, the tech refused to admit that he couldn't remember the correct firing order for a basic V8 engine he used to service all the time. His stubbornness cost him and the shop at least an hour of time—not to mention the aggravation and arguing.
At this point in life, I think this concept merits a mention in both the employee manual as well as the job interview.
Yes, it should be stated clearly but politely—even at the risk of insulting the intelligence of some prospective new hires. Also, spell out penalties or sanctions for repeat offenders.
Communicate that your service department has no time for workers who refuse to look things up or do homework.
However, keep an eye out for another possibility. In some in-stances, potentially good workers are hampered by reading or learning disorders.
Worse yet, these disorders can range from mild to severe and some workers have managed to conceal their problems for longer than anyone imagined possible.
Offer support to the repeat offender when you suspect a reading disorder or disability. Keep the discussion of the disorder and offers of remedial training confidential.
However, workers who don't respond to these approaches leave you few options.