There's an old saying that nothing is surer than taxes and death.
I respectfully submit a variation for automotive repair professionals: Nothing is surer than mastering the basics.
You see, successful automotive diagnoses have been built on performing basic but essential tests first. Then — and only then — do competent technicians pursue the more-involved aspects of automotive diagnosis.
Although "basic" has a negative connotation with some service professionals, covering the basics actually fixes most problems, most times.
I have turned wrenches in the past; I still do. I have reported on the automotive repair industry for 41 years. I present tech seminars nationwide.
All this cumulative experience just reinforces the belief that covering the essentials first is the shortest path to a successful and profitable repair.
More times than I care to remember, I have watched well-meaning technicians lose their way during diagnoses.
Other times, they believe they're en route to a solid diagnosis but hit a dead end.
Countless times, I review the process with them and discover that they have leaped over basic but essential tests.
Then, walking the tech patiently through basic tests reveals problems. Repairing those problems fixes the vehicle for good.
The mentality of many well-meaning techs is that their experience entitles them to skip past tests they believe to be too basic to solving the customer's problem(s).
What's more, their experience may victimize them during some jobs. Namely, their extensive experience doesn't include instances of basic problems causing the weird, seemingly unexplainable symptoms at hand.
They falsely assume that the stranger the symptom, the stranger the root cause must be.
At the same time, some managers and owners at auto service facilities unintentionally foment these situations because they, too, believe that weird causes weird.
For example, the notion that a loose or corroded ground connection could cause a laundry list of symptoms isn't something they understand.
Therefore, they want to see a tech step past those silly basics and dig into the supposedly big-time diagnostic maneuvers.
Furthermore, covering the basic checks demands patience and focus.
Bosses should groom and coach techs to cover the basics thoroughly even though the process may appear slow, perhaps wasteful.
It's only human nature: Techs tend to skip steps whenever they sense the boss' impatience with a task or "feel" his watchful eyes upon them.
I have urged bosses to charge for diagnostic time repeatedly in the column.
Knowledge is invaluable — especially the knowledge needed to diagnose the car correctly the first time. So, charge for knowledge, charge for time.
Over the years, I repeatedly also have emphasized that a proper diagnosis is the key to fixing it right the first time.
In turn, fixing the car correctly the first time is essential to meeting customer expectations.
All the Internet and social media savvy in the world, for instance, won't overcome a bungled diagnosis and an unhappy customer.
Matter of fact, it's very disconcerting to hear bosses at various industry functions spouting their supposed knowledge of modern marvels such as the Internet and social media.
Meanwhile, back in their bays, my first-hand experience is that their techs aren't coached to master the basic tests first. The team isn't focused on fixing the vehicle correctly the first time.
Simply put, this boss' priorities are wrong.
Covering basic tests first often sounds boring, but building a foundation for a solid diagnosis and profitable repair is exciting.
Dan can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].