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We have talked about “Dealership repair vs Aftermarket repair” many times before. One thing that I didn’t touch on is the “Right to Repair” issue. This is legislation aimed at forcing auto manufacturers to provide more repair information and tool to the aftermarket. This is going beyond the how to information.

Based on the legislation, it seems that “Right to Repair” is trying to get information on the control modules in the car. You can read the legislation here. This comes from the “Right to Repair” site.

While the problems experienced by independent technicians are wide ranging, the following are three major issues now faced by independent repair shops in attempting to obtain the information and tools needed to work on today’s and tomorrow’s vehicles:

  • Codes needed to reinitialize vehicle computer systems are not made available. Independent shops often are able to perform many repairs only to be stymied at the end when they cannot obtain the code to reinitialize the vehicle’s computers and thus complete the repair. Absent entering the code, in many cases the car owner would not be able to restart the car following the repairs.
  • Information provided to new dealers is more effective than what is provided to independents. A great deal of diagnostic and repair data is provided to car company franchised dealerships over “hotlines” that are not accessible to independent repair shops or consumers. Information available through these dealer-only networks provide valuable diagnostic assistance for hard to solve problem and might also have information regarding safety related repairs that need to be completed, but which an independent shop and car owner might not be aware of until a technical service bulletin or recall is released, a process that can take months if not years.
  • The growing use of telematic systems by car companies will permit critical marketing and repair information to flow wirelessly using cell phone technology to the dealer, leaving the independents out of the loop. While telematics will provide extensive benefits to car owners, it also will be used by car companies and their dealers to tie the customer to the dealer long after the new car warranty has expired.

As I see it, the aftermarket wants to have full access to all of the control modules and their information. Anything from coding modules, to advanced diagnostics. It will also include the information that we get from VW technical help line.

The truth is, most of this information is already out there. Think about all the information that is in repair manuals like Alldata, Chiltons, Mitchell and so on. Most if not all of the information needed to repair modern cars is out there. It is just a matter of PAYING for it.

We can take VW for a great example. If you buy VCDS (an aftermarket diagnostic software for VW and Audi) you can do just about everything with anything we can do with the dealer scantool. You can also buy the rights to adapt new keys and control modules. That would allow anyone to perform just about repairs on VWs. Like I said, the channels are out there, it is just a matter of finding and paying for them.

So what is the solution?

Well, to me the solution is really easy. If an aftermarket wants to play, they need to pay. It might be a matter of buying the proper diagnostic equipment and tools. The funny part about that is, it will increase the cost of doing business with an aftermarket shop. Tool and repair manual companies can have the information available shortly after a new car comes out. Well within the warranty period. If an aftermarket shop wants to do advanced electrical diagnosis, then it is up to them to buy the proper equipment.

What would happen if car makers were forced to GIVE the information away? Would it give you more options on getting your car fixed? Yep! Would, at some point, raise the cost of buying that new car? Maybe.. Remember that the costs will always roll down hill to the customer. I don’t care what side of this you are on, NO ONE can argue that.

I will be keeping my ear pretty close to this one. With that said, what do you guys think? Do dealers have “unfair” advantages? Please keep in mind the word “UNFAIR”. I really would like to know your thoughts on this.. Post it up in the comments.

Hey folks! Today we are back with a “Behind The Wrench”! Today we have Joe, he has been around the industry for about 23 years, and works in a body shop! I am sure he has seen some crazy stuff especially when it comes to accidents.

NAME:

Joe's handy work Behind The Wrench Auto Mechanic Interview

This Truck is all taped up and getting some paint action!

Joseph Frederick

How long have you been in the Industry?

23 Years

What is your current job title?

Mechanic

What were you doing for your first automotive job?

General Service

Do you currently work at a Dealer, or in an aftermarket shop, do you prefer one over the other?

Aftermarket / Never worked at a Dealership

Walk us through what you do on a daily basis.

Almost anything from an oil change to replacing an engine.
Being a mechanic in an independent auto body shop there is no routine.
I even do some of the collision repairs when we are busy.
Most of my work is rebuilding busted up suspensions.
We / I don’t do transmission, transfer case or differential overhauls and
can’t do some of the major engine repair so computer related issues.
Mostly cause of not having the correct tools or equipment.

When you are not working on or with cars, what do you like to do?

I don’t really have any hobbies but do like surfing the internet, watching TV / movies, and play with my dog.

What kind of car do you drive?

2005 Chevy Cavalier and have a 1995 Chevy 1500 W/T (2WD) I am restoring.

What was your first car?

1974 Chevy K5 Blazer.

What made you want to work on cars?

I’ve always had a passion for them (what makes them tick) since I was about 3 or 4 years old.

What is the weirdest thing that you have found in a car, that should not have been there?

I don’t know if Snakes count a weird since the cars were park in a field but they definitely
didn’t belong there.

Do you have much customer interaction?

About 99% for customers just wanting mechanical repairs.
I give them estimates, schedule them in, order parts, do the repair, do the bill, and call them when the work is completed.

The customers for collision work maybe 2%. Usually if they have a question about something the office people can’t answer.
Or if I need to find out information about something related to how the vehicle was wrecked.

What is your favorite part of your job?

For the most part I’m my own boss.

If giving the chance, what would you never do again at work?

I can’t really think of anything.

The auto industry has a really bad rap, what do you say to someone who thinks you are trying to take advantage of them?

That don’t happen very often, I can’t think of a specific situation of what I did tell the customer.
I can think of three and what I did tell them that I don’t think I’ll ever forget:
One customer’s car had a very slow brake fluid leak, I found it and told her the price of the part (dealer only part).
She went through the roof, took it two another shop, they told her it wasn’t the part I told her and replaced something else.
It still leaked, she took it back to them and they told her it was the part I told her it was to begin with. She call me and
wanted me to replace it, I told her have the other garage put it on cause she called me up complaining and calling me a liar.

I did a State Inspection on a Jeep, the guy calls up the next day raising hell because the battery was dead and it wouldn’t start.
And how he work at a law firm, and I didn’t do my job, etc. I tried explaining to his that the batteries state of charge was not
part of the Inspection procedure. He didn’t want to hear it, I had enough of his big mouth and hung up on him.
He called back about ten minutes later and apologized and actually let me explain what got checked during an Inspection.

I did a State Inspection on a W- Body GM car and found the front brakes would not pass. Told the owner and he starts telling me
that so and so up the street just checked them and said they were good. At the time (so and so) didn’t do State Inspections.
On this particular vehicle you cannot see the inboard brake pad with out removing the caliper (which I did), so and so didn’t.
I showed him and he was content, not too happy with the other garage.

Of all the maintenance that cars need, what is the ONE that will keep my car healthy the longest?

Regular oil & filter changes.

How important is reading your vehicles owners manual?

Deplyed airbags Behind The Wrench Auto Mechanic Interview

I don't get to show you guys deployed airbags, this is what they look like,kinda saggy huh!

Very important, more than most vehicles owners think.
I’m a mechanic and I refer it on customers vehicles.

Have you read the owners manual to your car?

I skimmed through it cover to cover cause I knew there was not too much I didn’t already know.
And the fact that I can refer to it when I need too cause I will never remember everything in it.

What tool in your tool box do you use the most?

Probably my 1/2″ Dr. Impact Gun.

Is there a brand of tool that you prefer?

I prefer Snap-On for most tools.

If you could only use 3 tools from now on, what would they be( and why)?

A hammer, screwdriver and pliers.
If I can’t fix it with them then “sorry you gotta take it somewhere else”.

If you were building a “James Bond” car, what is the one thing you would add it?

“Censored”  I actually got the idea from another movie, just can’t remember the name off hand.

You are sending your kid off to college, what car would you buy for them?

Probably some sort of compact SUV, Ford Escape or something like it.

What is the one thing that you want folks to know about your job that they might not know?

I’m not by any means getting rich from being a mechanic and the tools I have to have to do my job are expensive which comes out of my pocket.
I guess that is three things, but I don’t think a lot of customers know that.

 

Awesome interview Joe! Thanks for the insight! You can check out some of Joe’s work on his Facebook page. The pictures are not private, so head over and check them out!  If you have a question for Joe, just post it in the comments! Also if you would like to be featured in an interview, just contact me and we will get it done!

If you enjoyed Joe’s interview, select one of the buttons below, then click it. Come on, Its Friday(Friday, we’re gettin down on Friday)

I am REALLY sure that someone will be pissed off at me for writing this post! This story will be a great example of cheaper is not better, and how important it is to have a mechanic you can rely on.

I got a text from my little sister Ashley. She asked my “how long is it ok to drive without that big plastic piece underneath the car?” I may have said it before, but she drives a really nice 1999 VW Passat wagon. Her car has a plastic shield, or belly pan, under the car. It covers up the oil pan and prevents things from getting up into the engine. Her car will run with out it, but it is something that needs to be there.

This is a picture of a good belly pan. When this falls off, it's $200+ down the drain, or down the highway 😉

So, I get the text, and text her back, “What happened to your belly pan”. She tells me that she took it to a place to get the oil changed that was not the dealer. The later then belly pan fell off while she was driving down the highway. The bad part is, the pan is totally destroyed.

Trying to be a good brother, I called the place and talked to the service manager. He was polite enough, but I could tell that he had no interest in dealing with me. I also called the local VW dealer. Basically the same treatment, but I was able to get the information that I needed. It turns out the cost of a new belly pan and related hardware was about $230.

The manager from the quick lube called her back and told her that they would pay up to $50 for a replacement belly pan, leaving her with a $170 bill. So far she has be out about 2 hours of her time, $35 for an oil change, and add on $170 for the belly pan. When I asked her why only $50, she said they told her it was held on with zipties and it was already damaged. That might be true, but why didn’t they tell her that when they were servicing the car? Not only that, but I have used zipties to attach belly pans, it works REALLY well.

This is Ashley's 1999 VW Passat wagon.

After some fighting, she got her belly pan replaced. It took several phone calls and I think her and her dad had to go down there, but it is fixed. She learned a few life lessons with this experience.

  1. Cheaper is almost never better. I still learn this one from time to time.
  2. There is a difference in getting your car serviced at a good dealer vs anywhere else.
  3. The people that work on your car better know what the heck they are doing
  4. Wasting time to try and save money is a bad choice.
  5. If a place does something wrong, YOU have to fight to make it right. Do not let someone walk all over you.

Well Ashley, sorry you had to be the topic of this post, but I thought it would be a good story to help everyone out. I am really glad you got your car fixed, and to quote her, “I know that now. First and only time I didn’t/wont take it to the dealer”.

 

NAME:

Joel C Armstrong

How long have you been in the Industry?

Since 2005

What is your current job title?

Currently Unemployed

What were you doing for your first automotive job?

I worked at Manhattan Motorcars Inc. In New York City. It’s a luxury/high end dealership that specializes in Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley, Rolls Royce, and Lotus sales and service. I was a Porsche and Lamborghini Technician. We have a certified Pre-Owned/ used car department that sell other high end brands such as Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz/ Maybach etc.

Do you currently work at a Dealer, or in an aftermarket shop, do you prefer one over the other?

No, after Manhattan Motorcars I went to work at Mercedes-Benz. I honestly prefer to work at a dealership because of certain benefits but you have more of a family oriented feeling at an aftermarket shop because it’s smaller. There’s less politics to deal with.

When you are not working on or with cars, what do you like to do?

Everyday i get up at about 5:59 (because 6:00 is just clichéd), I take my mom to work, come home and take care of what I’m doing for school because I plan on going back to Law School.

What kind of car do you drive?

2004 Ford Expedition. I also have a 2006 Yamaha R6 Anniversary Edition.

What was your first car?

1990 Ford Taurus. It was a free gift from one of my teachers when I went to school.

What made you want to work on cars?

I always loved cars. I had several subscriptions to automotive magazines like Road & Track, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, Automobile, and Euro Tuner. Naturally, I was attracted to the higher end performance vehicles and wanted to work closely to them. I wanted to see what it felt like to be able to do 150+MPH, just because the car has the ability to do so. The mechanics and engineering that was put into creating such cars captivated my interest while reading about them in said magazine subscriptions.

What is the weirdest thing that you have found in a car, that should not have been there?

I was once removing a headliner on a Cayenne Turbo and while doing the R&R on the driver side visor, a bunch of Polaroids fell in my lap. Upon further investigation, they happened to be naked pictures of the customer’s girlfriend(s) lol they were at least 3 different girls. Weird.

Do you have much customer interaction?

Yes, for the most part I do. well, when I did work on their vehicles.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The Road test. Definitely.

If giving the chance, what would you never do again at work?

It’s sad to say but I would never trust people so easily. You’re of the mind that everyone is on the same team, but I realized it’s never like that.

The auto industry has a really bad rap, what do you say to someone who thinks you are trying to take advantage of them?

Depending on the situation, I would try to find out what the problem was and then explain to them what we would’ve done or what we usually do in our situation/shop. Most of the time a lot of women think they’re being given the “Shaft” because they’re usually ignorant of most automotive problems, but I explain to them how things work as far as let’s say: why your car takes so long to get an oil change. or why does it cost so much to change a tire or repair a transmission. etc I let them know about labor times, over head, flat rate, parts, tax, test and asses and making sure your problem is fixed when you walk out our door. Things like that take time. So i explain that to them.

Of all the maintenance that cars need, what is the ONE that will keep my car healthy the longest?

I would have to say get regular oil/filter services. That goes a long way. Trust me, I’ve seen what NOT changing your oil EVER would do to an engine. This one customer hadn’t changed her oil in her Boxster since she had gotten the car. She came in complaining about her engine pinging. We first off opened the drain plug and what looked like black jelly dropped out in globs. The whole engine was filled with the stuff.

How important is reading your vehicles owners manual?

It’s really important because it answers mostly all the questions you may have, from what kind of gas your car needs, tire pressure numbers, how often you should change fluids in your car etc.

Have you read the owners manual to your car?

Yes. I’m proud to say that i have!

What tool in your tool box do you use the most?

It’s either a toss up between my Makita Drill (set) and my Snap On 3/8″ flex head ratchet with the soft grip and smooth ratcheting action.

Is there a brand of tool that you prefer?

Snap-On. Not trying to sound like an advertisement, but it really does make a difference!

If you could only use 3 tools from now on, what would they be( and why)?

A light for dark places, my drill with bits/ sockets and flat head screwdriver for prying. I think those are the most universal tools of all. The bottom of the drill would also act like a hammer indifferent applications and the screw driver for leverage.

If you were building a “James Bond” car, what is the one thing you would add it?

A HUGE pair of hands to toss these Sunday drivers/ NYC yellow cabs out of the way when I’m going somewhere and running a little late. lol

You are sending your kid off to college, what car would you buy for them?

Maybe a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord. Those are good reliable cars and pretty OK on gas.

What is the one thing that you want folks to know about your job that they might not know?

It’s actually EASIER to get a job there than you may think. Go in and apply, but be prepared to work, though. Any sign of slacking and you’re outta there faster than you can read this sentence!

 

GREAT interview Joel! I am totally cracking up about the pics of the customers girl friends!!! I am also pretty sure that if I was a Lamborghini tech, test drives would be my favorite part if the job! If you guys have any other questions for Joel, post them up in the comments.If we can get him to post in the comments, I would like to ask him how hard working on such high line cars~ How cool!

 

Yesterday I gave you guys some things to consider when decided between dealer service and aftermarket service. Well, that reminded me of a story, where the customer spent about $3000 more than they needed to.

This happened last summer(which means the details might be fuzzy). Another shop brought a 2004 VW Touareg to our dealer. They told us to replace the ECM(engine computer). We replaced the ECM and sent it back to them. An ECM replacement generally costs about $2000. We found out a few days later, that they shop also replaced the instrument cluster. They replaced that part before we replaced the ECM. That repair would cost about $1100.

A couple of days later, the customer that owns the car brought it to back to us. They were mad(at us) because it was still overheating. Well, it turns out, that was the problem all along. The shop told us they wanted the ECM replaced. They never said anything about the car overheating.

We go in and diagnose the problem. It turns out that the water pump was bad. The good thing for the customer, is they were due for timing belt maintenance anyway. On this car, the timing belt turns the water pump. This is about a $1400 job on a Touareg. We replaced the water pump, and the timing belt. Wouldn’t ya know, the car is fixed.

The customer realized that it wasn’t our fault and everything was cool, or so we thought. Another couple of days went by, and the shop that originally brought us the car called mad at us. Their issue was, the mileage reading on the Touareg was wrong.

When we replace an instrument cluster, we have to program the mileage. The cluster reading is 0 when it is new. The only way to do that is with a VW scan tool, and the knowledge on how to do it. There is a code that needs to be retrieved from the original cluster and imported to the new cluster, AND you only get 1 shot at programming. Remember that the shop replaced the cluster? Well since they didn’t have the proper equipment, they never set the mileage. The customers car had 90,xxx miles on it, but the cluster showed 4xx something.

The shop was mad at us because “We never told them to program the cluster”.  I remember the parts manager asking me about the replacement process. We talked for a while, and came to this conclusion, “NOT OUR PROBLEM”! That is actually a pretty cold response, but it is not our responsibility to make sure other shops know how to replace parts. We will supply anyone with any part, but we can not train people how to replace them. We tried to help the shop out, and sold them the replacement cluster at cost and cut them a deal on labor to replace it.

After several trips to the first shop, and several trips to my dealer, the customer finally had their car back and running properly. I think the total amount the customer spent was just shy of $4500. Had that customer just brought the Touareg to us, they would have saved ~$3000, lots of time, and the gas money they spent running back and forth.

Just remember that when another shop tells you they can “Fix it cheaper” it doesn’t mean they can fix it at all! A vehicle like a Touareg is hard enough for me to fix. I have all the resources available, plus I have had my butt kicked by more than my fair share of them. I can’t imagine trying to fix one in an aftermarket shop.

Your inside look into the world of car repair and Volkswagen Dealer service

I know this debate comes up alot. I have been doing a little research on the subject and found that most if not ALL the articles are VERY bias on the side of aftermarket shops. Now, I really don’t have a problem with folks taking their cars to a good mechanic, whether it is at a dealership, or an independent shop makes little difference to me. There are GREAT mechanics at independent shops and dealers, and some not so great.

I do work at a dealership, so OF COURSE I think its the best place to get your car serviced. Dealers spend tens of thousands of dollars every year on training mechanics, buying specialty tools, and advanced diagnostic equipment. Does that mean that a dealer will fix your car right the first time, every time? The short answer is NOPE! That is just not possible. That goes for aftermarket shops too.

The big point that I got from some of the articles I read are

Aftermarket shops are cheaper

Now, if you compare labor rates, and parts prices on paper, that can be true. Aftermarket shops can charge less. Aftermarket parts can be cheaper. Quality may or may not play a part in that, it all depends on the part. As for labor, the dollar amount is not that much different. One post said it could be $20-$40 cheaper per hour. That may be true, but I think $5-$10 is much for accurate.

Something that needs to be considered is overall cost. If an indy shop is cheaper for a repair, but doesn’t fix the car right, customers will spend more in the long run.  I have heard on several occasions people say “I only bring my car to the dealer when my mechanic can’t fix it”. Well, in my mind, you have paid someone to NOT fix your car. Now you are paying someone to fix your car. Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to pay once?

Customers will not get personal time with mechanics at the dealership

CRAP! I don’t really want to say much more than that is CRAP! I think that my perception of that statement is slightly skewed. I say my perception is skewed, because I know that a lot of dealership mechanics HATE talking to customers. That doesn’t make them bad mechanics, its just that talking to customers is not their thing. I on the other hand really enjoy talking to customers. I have always enjoyed talking to folks when they are in the dealer. My dealer really excels when it comes to personal relationships between customer and mechanics and service advisors.

Dealership mechanics are better trained

DUH! I could just leave it at that, but let me say just a little more. I do think that dealer mechanics are better trained. My dealer spends a lot to keep us as up to date as possible. We all go to training at least once a year. Dealership mechanics also work on only 1 line of car. So we tend to know the cars better.

The thing about aftermarket shop are, the mechanics have to be good. They work on every car, from every line. They usually do not have access to the level of special tools that we do at the dealership. That means they have to be more creative in the way they work. I have a lot of respect for the great mechanics at indy shops.

After all that, it really boils down to 2 things.

  1. What type of car you drive
  2. The person doing the work on the car
If you drive a Honda Civic, taking your car to an independent shop is great. There are so many Civics on the road, so more mechanics know how to work on them. Not only that, Hondas are easy to work on. If you drive a VW Touareg, take it to the dealer. They are hard vehicles to work on, there is not a lot of repair info, and almost every job needs a special tool.(Not just the mechanic) 😉
The more important thing is really the mechanic working on the car. If the mechanic is good, it doesn’t really matter what the front of the building says. Taking the time to get to know your mechanic and your service advisor is critical.
I think this will be a topic I will tackle again. There is so much to consider when talking about dealer vs aftermarket. There is also places like Meineke, Jiffy Lubes, and Walmart. Oh, and what about the shops that do only tires. –Side note, I find it funny that Just Tires, does more than “just tires”!
If you guys have any ideas for topics, or questions that you want answered, go ahead and submit them HERE.

This is a debate that has been made time and time again. Factory vs aftermarket one has the backing of the brand, the other is usually cheaper. As a dealer mechanic, I officially recommend using factory parts. 🙂

FACTORY PARTS

This is a part that is the same part that came on your car from the factory. For the most part, they are not made by the car maker. Volkswagen doesn’t make many of the parts that are on their cars, they are made by other companies.

Factory Parts–PROS–

  • Fit and Finish. The way that a part fits is crucial! The factory parts are built to the exact specs to ensre proper fit.
  • Warranty. If you buy factory parts, the part will most likely come with a warranty. It will often time be much longer than a non-factory
  • Updated parts. Dealerships know when parts get updated. Some parts get several updates, getting parts from a dealer will ensure you get the latest, coolest, fastest, bestest part you can
  • Service. The dealership should have the most extensive parts catalog out there. They can get pics and have mechanics to help if needed

Factory Parts–CONS-

  • Price. This one is pretty easy, factory parts are almost always more expensive. There is not much you can do about that!
  • Quality. Just because it is a factory part, is no guarantee of quality. You need to replace the part right? The quality might not be any better, but it shouldn’t be worse

Aftermarket Parts

These parts are not parts purchased from the dealer. They are not the parts that originally came on your car from the factory. They can be made by anyone anywhere. That can be a good or bad thing.

Aftermarket–PROS–

  • Price. This can be a great way to save some money. The competition level of AM parts is huge. That can drive the cost down.
  • Selection. There might be lots of choices. Some options might have slightly different features. They might overcome an issue with factory parts
  • Quality. It might actually be better than factory. Aftermarket companies do not have to have the “mass appeal” that the factory does. They can fine tune parts to make them preform slightly better. They do not have to meet strict government regulations.
  • Shopping options. Aftermarket parts can be shopped for the best deal. The internet has so many parts retailers, with some work, you will get a great price
Aftermarket–CONS–
  • Questionable Quality. this, in my mind, is the biggest issue with aftermarket parts. The quality has NO guarantee
  • Warranty. Most of the time you get NO warranty with aftermarket parts
  • Fit and Finish. The odds of an aftermarket part fitting and functioning just like a factory part is VERY slim
  • Selection. With so many choices on aftermarket parts, it might be difficult to figure out which ones are good, and which ones are not.
The truth about the whole thing is, it just takes research to know which is best. When it comes to repair after an accident, ONLY factory parts are OK. A perfect example of factory vs aftermarket parts is the 1998-2005 Passats. They HATE aftermarket parts. If a customer installed aftermarket axles several things will happen.
  • The will not fit, never no matter what you do, they will not fit.
  • If (somehow) they do fit, the ABS light comes on at 55mph
  • They ruin wheel bearings
I know this from several attempts at using aftermarket axles. The factory axle for these Passats cost ~$650 per axle. The aftermarket one costs ~$125. The savings in parts is HUGE! What usually happens is a customer gets aftermarket axles installed somewhere other then my dealer. Then they come in and say they have a strange problem. It is pretty obvious when the axles are not factory. Now the customer has to pay to fix the problem twice.
What do you guys think? Is it always worth the extra money? Can aftermarket actually be better than factory?