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I get asked this question all the time. It comes in many forms, but this is the most common.

Charles, you are a mechanic. How do I know if I am getting ripped off?

My advice has always been things like:

  • Ask to see the old parts
  • Ask if it is a NEEDED service or just RECOMMEND
  • Compare the recommendation to your owners book
  • Get a second or third opinion
  • find an auto mechanic

Following that advice will help avoid spending money that you do not need to spend. You can read more about How to tell if a mechanic is ripping your off

The other day I got this question,

How do mechanics rip people off?

This is an interesting way to look at it. If you know how you can be ripped off, you have even more ammunition to avoid it. Here are the most common ways that a mechanic “rips you off”

  • Selling service too early.
    This is most common. A mechanic recommending a tune up at 30,000 miles when it is not due until 60,000 miles. Or selling a brake job when the car has thousands of miles left on the brakes.
    How to avoid this. Ask to see the parts, and compare to your owners book.
  • Selling non factory parts as factory parts
    This does not really come up at the dealer level. We 99.99% sell factory parts. It can come up in aftermarket shops. If you are paying top dollar for factory parts, you need to be sure you are getting them.
    How to avoid this.
    Ask to see BOTH parts. They should be similar. Understand that sometimes parts are updated, but you can ask about that too 😉
  • Exaggerating the need for the repair
    “If you don’t replace your air filter, your car will catch of fire” This is an extreme (and insane) example of exaggeration. It is also something that happens all the time. The bad part is, you may actually need the service the shop is recommending. But this type of talk should send up a huge red flag!
    How to avoid this
    . Ask to see the part, and refer to your owners book
  • Selling services that do not exists
    I am not sure this type of thing really happens, but I need to talk about it. If a service doesn’t sound right, ask more questions. There is no such thing (as of 2013) as replacing headlight fluid, changing the muffler bearings, putting summer air in your tires, and who know what people come up with.
    How to avoid this
    . Ask how it is done. Ask WHY you need it. Ask what will happen if you don’t do it.
  • Charging “too much” for a repair
    This one can be a sticky situation. A repair is generally assigned a labor time. The labor time is used to create a price for the labor part of your bill. The sticky part comes in when we try to figure out what “too much” means. Auto mechanics get paid on Flat Rate. The easy way to think about Flat Rate is, a mechanic is paid by the job, no matter how long it takes.If a mechanic does a repair that pays 3 hours, they get paid 3 hours. It may take them 2 hours to complete, or 4 hours to complete. The mechanic gets paid 3 hours. You can read more about How mechanics get paid on Flat Rate.So how do you decide what is “too much”? The truth is I don’t really know. There are so many factors that play in to it. The best advice here, ask more questions. Things like “How long will it take to complete?” “Is this a hard job to do?” “What other parts need to be removed?”. It will show that you understand the way Flat Rate works.

There is one other way people get “ripped off”. I didn’t include it on the list because it requires more discussion. Selling repairs to fix your car, that do not fix your car. I have said before that diagnosing a car is a process. It is rarely cut and dry. If your check engine light is on, the computer rarely says “replace this part”. Times like this is when having a good mechanic is vital. If they get the diagnosis wrong, or find other issues, a good shop will work with you.

The other thing about getting ripped off is, each situation is different. You may not be due for a service, but really need it. If you drive at the beach your air filter may be clogged long before the owners manual recommends replacement. Following the tips I gave you will eliminate most of the problems.

What do you guys think? Are there other ways that people can “get ripped off” by a mechanic? If so, post them in the comments below. This is also a great post to share with folks. I tried to make sharing very easy. At the top and bottom of the post, you can click the icons to share to Facebook, twitter, Stumble Upon, Reddit, and Google +. I really appreciate when you guys share the site with others. That is the number one way we grow our community.

Mechanic Scratched a Wheel

Happy Tuesday everyone. I hope that your wallets are recovering from the weekend of shopping. I didn’t partake in any Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales. It is just not my thing. Today I want to talk a little about being an auto mechanic. This actually goes far beyond just fixing cars. It applies to almost any job, in any field.

Mechanic Scratched a Wheel

Here is the wheel I damaged

Yesterday I was pulling a car into the shop. It was a 2011 Jetta Sport Wagon with about 20,000 miles on it. As I pulled into my bay, I nicked the rim on the edge of my lift. As I am sitting in the car I kept thinking, “It will be fine, it will be fine, it will be fine”. I got out and checked the rim. It was not fine. I gouged the crap out of it. The feeling of messing up a customer’s car is not a good one.

I called the service manager over to check it out. He looked at the wheel, looked and me then said “I am guessing that just happened? Well, you know what you need to do”. I got with my service advisor and let her know what I did. She gave the customer another car to drive so that we could fix his wheel. Thankfully the customer was pretty cool about it. I don’t think he was thrilled, but he understood.

Why did I just tell you all this story? I told you this for a few reasons.

  • We ALL make mistakes
    It does not matter if you are the best or the worst at your job. Everyone makes mistakes, messes up, and does things wrong. You are not perfect, none of us are. The best of the best have off games.
  • Accountability mean everything
    I could have easily sent that car out the door with the rim scratched. Maybe the customer would have never seen it. But think of how mad he would be when he noticed it. It’s like when you were a kid. Your parents asked you a question that they knew the answer to, and you lied to them. Then they ask you if you are SURE, that was the truth. I would rather just admit to the mistake. It may hurt, but at least that customer know I would not lie to them.
  • I want that to be normal
    I want there to be no question on what is right. I am not a hero or anything because I fessed up to a mistake. That is just the right thing to do. I want the guys that I work with to have the same attitude. Mechanics(and everyone else) need to take accountability for themselves, and the work they do. If we all did that, there would be much less negative stereotyping in every industry

I hope that we can all learn something from this. I learned that I need to pull my head out of my butt and pay closer attention to things. Luckily that is easy to do. I hope that you all take to heart what I have said today. Don’t make excuses about why a mistake is not your fault. Own it, then do what you need to do, and make it right!

One last thing. There will be a special volume of Shop Shots tomorrow. It will be volume 40. For that I will be doing some fun stuff. Be sure to stay tuned. The best way to do that is to subscribe for email updates. It is the best way to be sure you never miss out on what is going on here!

How honest mechanics get paid

Hey everyone. Today I want to tell you a story, then ask the question “If you were a mechanic, how would you handle it”. Like so many things, there is somewhat of a grey area when recommending services to customers. Here is the story

A customer came in for a 50,000 mile service. It is a pretty basic service. We normally change the engine oil, and filter. We perform a wheel balance and rotation, and do a full visual inspection.

When the service advisor checks a car in, the also check the tread depth on the tires. These tires are right at the wear bars. That means they need to be replaced.

Balancing the tires will do nothing for the car. It will not prolong the life of the tires or improve the ride quality. The tires are just plain worn out. The customer does not want to buy new tires at this time.

As a service department, we have a few different options that we can do with this car. We can

  1. Perform the service as the customer needed, or was told he needed
  2. Say we performed the service, but do not rotate and balance the tires.
  3. Off the customer a (very) slight discount to perform the service minus the rotate and balance
  4. Tell the customer to just do and oil change. We do a 27 point inspection on all the cars we look at.

Now that you know the story, and have the options listed out, I will ask the question “What would you want your mechanic to do?”. I personally would prefer the customer perform an oil change only. In my mind there is no point in paying for an unneeded service. That includes the rotate and balance of those tires.

Please let me know what you would do. Am I nuts for un-selling work? Remember that most mechanics get paid on Flat rate. If you are not sure how flat rate works see “How Auto Mechanics get paid“. I really want to know what you guys think.

Humble Mechanic Logo
What Exactly Is A Master Certified VW Mechanic

You don't have to have 520 hours of training to know things about your car!

The average car driver is not a car expert. In fact, many drivers feel like they don’t know a thing about cars. That is just fine. But just because you are not a car expert, does not mean you don’t know anything about cars.

I have said before, there are a few keys to not getting ripped off, or taken when it comes to car repairs.

  • Asking questions
  • Being confident
  • Follow your owners book

Those are a few tips that will help you avoid getting ripped off. You can read more on How To Tell If Your Mechanic Is Ripping You Off.

The tip of being confident is what I want to talk about today. So you think that you don’t know anything about cars? Well, I would be that you know much more than you think. Let’s think about how much you DO know about cars.

Filters
Everyone knows what a filter is. It keeps junk out of stuff. We have them in our homes to filter the air for our heat and A/C. Or in our coffee pots to keep the grounds out of our drinks. Filters to the same thing for our cars.

  • Oil filters keep crude from clogging oil ports, or damaging bearings
  • Engine Air filters keep sand, and dirt from getting into airflow sensors and the air stream of the engine.
  • Cabin filters keep dust and and pollen out of the cabin of our cars.

Tires
You don’t have to understand the highly technical manufacturing process of making tires. Or truly understand how different tread patterns affect driving characteristics. All the average driver really needs to understand is the condition of their tires. Proper inflation, tread depth, and wear pattens are the keys to safe tires.

Wiper Blades
Much like other parts of a car, we don’t need to understand the technology or design of wipers. We just need to know that they clear our windshield. I also have some quick wiper blade tips.

  • Keep your windshield clean.
    It will help the blades from streaking or missing spots on the windshield.
  • Keep the blades clean.
    Cleaning the blades themselves can prolong the life of the blades. That being said, you can’t over replace the blades.

Vehicle Lights
As technology advances, the way light bulbs are lit. We went from very basic vehicle electronics to fully module controlled lighting systems. But your average driver does not need to understand all that. We only need to know when the lights are out. Well, the knowledge of how to replace a bulb is good to know too.

When we take things that sound complicated, or highly advanced, down to a basic level it makes them really easy to understand. When we understand the basics, we can have some confidence when dealing with an auto repair shop.

You don’t need to be intimidated when dealing with a service shop. You need to feel empowered, and confident. If you are not sure about a recommended repairs, ask, ask, ask. The more questions that you ask, the more you will know. The more you know, the better you can feel about making choices with your car.

If you are part of the great community on Facebook, I need some help. See Facebook changed the rules on the pages that you like. It makes it so you may not see all the posts that a page does. From time to time I post things to Facebook that does not make it on the blog. It is frustrating for me on the blog’s Facebook page and my personal page(which I don’t use much). If I want the entire audience to see a post, I need to pay for it. At some point, I will be willing to do that. For right now, that is not in the budget for the blog. So here is how to make sure you get all the updates.

To receive ALL of our posts, you must do the following:

1) Go to our page.
2) Hover your mouse over where it says “LIKED” and click on “Add to Interests Lists”

By doing this, you will continue to receive ALL of the posts

Thanks for helping me out with that. It makes me think I need to put more time in on G+. I have the page, I just don’t use it much.

Humble Mechanic Logo

This story comes from deep with in the Humble Mechanic customer service files. Okay this is actually something that happened yesterday. 😉

From time to time I like to share with you guys a story about doing the right thing. Service departments get a bad rep so when something good happens, I feel like I need to scream it.  I need you guys to understand a couple things about these type of stories.

  1. I am in no way bragging. Do not take this as a “look what I did” type of post.
  2. I want you all to take something away from this. I hope you will use this to do something good for one of your customers.

I had looked at a customer’s air conditioning system about a month ago. When I looked at it the first time, I found the a/c compressor was failing. Her car is a 2007 GTI with the 2.0t FSI. The compressor on those cars are a common failure point. I was able to get the a/c working better, but he system was failing. The estimate that I gave was about $1500 or so. The repair involved replacing several components and cleaning all the lines. As you might imagine, the customer declined the repair. $1500 is not pocket change. Plus the a/c was working much better, so she decided to hold off.

Fast Forward to yesterday. The customer had made an appointment to get her a/c replaced. She came in and we chatted a little. It turns out, her a/c has been working great! Her and I went over the pros and cons of making the repair vs not making the repair. I explained to her how not making the repair was really up to her. If she did wait, it would not cost her any more money. The parts were already failing. The repair I quoted would fix the car no matter how bad the a/c failed.

She again opted to wait on the repair. Now, here is what that cost me. It cost me about 2/3 of the day’s pay. Talk about a bummer for me. It was the big job that I had planned to do that day. The good part is, I was able to make the time up with other work.

Here is the real reason I am telling you all this story. I earned something with this customer that is far beyond the 7 hours pay. That is 100% trust. Think about it. I just told a customer she didn’t need a repair. What mechanic, or anyone in a service business does that? Someone who really gives a crap about their customers and their good name. It shows my customers that no matter what I will do right by them. That my friends is what it is ALL about!

If you are not doing right by your customer you are WRONG! I like to use these 2 little sayings from Gary Vaynerchuk  “It is about legacy, not currency” and “It is about running a marathon, not a sprint”. It is hard to argue with that!

I hope you guys can get a little something out of this post.The customer service part of my job is something that I take very seriously. I hope that all of you do too.

If you liked this post, please consider sharing it. It takes just a second to click one of the buttons below. See, wasn’t that easy? 😉

Shop Shots Automotive serivce pictures

I feel like I have been posting  a lot of car pictures lately. But hey, pictures are fun right? I dug deep into the archives for some good pics today.

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesBOOST!!! This is a close up picture of a turbo charger. This is the side the exhaust bolts to. Turbos chargers are pretty easy to understand.

As exhaust gas exits the engine, it turns this little wheel. This wheel is connected to another wheel called the compressor wheel. This compresses the air coming into the engine. When the air is compressed, more air can fit into the cylinder. More air into the engine means more fuel can be used. More air+more fuel is more power!

This particular turbo is bad. the wheel came loose. It made one heck of a noise when boosted was built. Then is just stopped working all together.

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesWhat you are looking at here is a coolant flange. This is actually the coolant flange that I replaced on my Passat 1.8t. This is a pretty common things on most 4 cylinder VWs. The issue generally comes from engine oil.

How can oil make a coolant leak?

Excellent question. Generally what happens is oil leaks onto this flange. The oil will seep onto the seal. This will cause the seal to expand. This will eventually cause coolant to leak past the seal. This is one reason to not put off repairing an oil leak. It can cause a coolant leak too.

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesIt has taken me forever to find this picture. I know the quality is just awful. It was taken with my BlackBerry from years ago. We had a really bad storm at the dealership. It knocked over a few big trees and caused a ton of hail damage. This is an Accord that got totaled! The weird thing is, they put the tree back up. It is still standing today.

The other strange this is the damage that we had. There were 300+ Hondas that had hail damage. Plus the 3 or 4 that got totaled from this tree. We had 4 VWs that had hail damage. What does that say about the build quality of Honda vs Volkswagen?

Shop Shots Automotive serivce picturesI was going through the setup for our new VW diagnostic software. When these type of updates come out, I found it VERY necessary to follow the process step by step. This is a the list of our current scan tools. My dealer has the 5051B, and 2 6150 laptops. This is the first I have heard of the 6160 tablet. I can only assume that VW is coming out with some type of Ipad like device. How cool would it be to have an Ipad as the vehicle scan tool?

It also makes me wonder what the price point would be.Generally our scan tools cost a fortune. The 6150 laptop costs about $5000, and that is without the test equipment box. That is another $6000.

Well that wraps up another volume of Shop Shots in the books. I do need a little help from everyone. The help I need is pretty simple. I just need everyone to answer this question.

What do you buy for you, or your car online?

Tools? Car parts? Car wash stuff? I want to put together a little discount club for everyone. I want to make sure that I can include the things you guys want, or already buy. Just with a discount. Help me out everyone. I want to make this a really great program for you guys.

 

Volkswagen Cabriolet Humble Mechanic

There are time when fixing cars, that no matter how hard you try, things just don’t go right. Today I want to tell you all a story about fixing cars, helping a customer, broken parts and trying to make it right. Okay, here we go.

A couple of weeks ago, my service manage called me into his office. He showed me a letter that a customer wrote to our general manager. The customer that wrote the letter explained how she was disappointed in the service that she got from our dealer.

She brought her 2006 Touareg in for us to diagnose her check engine and traction control light. The tech working on the car found that it had an issue with a sensor that monitors the position of the steering wheel. He determined the problem was either the “Clock Spring” or the steering electrics module. He could not prove which one was bad, at least not 100%. He rolled the dice and picked the clock spring. I can totally justify his choice. Most times when you have a moving part and a non moving part, you pick the moving part. It is way more likely to fail.

It turns out that the 1st clock spring didn’t fix the car. Thinking it was the part was bad, he ordered another clock spring. When that didn’t fix the car, the tech replaced the steering module. Bahzing~ the car was fixed.

Now I know what you are thinking, that customer didn’t really need to replace the clock spring. You would be right in thinking that. Since we can not return used electrical parts to VW, the dealer had to make it right. We charged the customer what it would have cost to repair the car, and we paid for the rest.

That is enough for the customer to be upset, but there was more to the story. The customer was upset because of all the back and forth. They live over an hour away, so it was a big deal for them to bring the car back. We did give them a loaner car, but that had some issues too. It did take several weeks and several trips to finally get their car fixed.

A short time after they got the Touareg fixed, the steering wheel started to squeak. I think that was the final straw and the reason for the letter. The service manager and I talked about possible reasons for the noise, and how to go about getting it fixed. I figured that the trim was not installed properly, and it was rubbing the steering wheel. That can make one heck of a noise.

We got the customer back in to repair the noise. This is when I got the Touareg. I pulled the trim off only to find that the clock spring was the problem. Try as i might, I could not get the noise to go away. We didn’t have one in stock, but the Audi store up the road had one. I ran up to Audi and picked up the new part.  The install is pretty quick because I had the car taken apart. I installed the new clock spring and put the car back together.

Thinking that I had the Touareg all fixed, I started to pull the car out. Well, as (bad)luck would have it, the traction control light was on. I went round and round trying to get the light to go out. Several attempts of relearning the sensor, all to find that it would not set.

By now the customer had spent about 3 hours at the dealership waiting for me to fix her car. We decided to give her a car to drive and send her on her way. I stuck around a few minutes late to see if I could find the issue. I wound up putting the old part back in. Again Bahzing~ the car was fixed, well it still made noise, but the light was out.

So far we had 2 bad clock springs right out of the box. I ordered another new clock spring and got the car all fixed up, or so I thought. When the customer came to pick up the car, the Airbag light was on. My service manager called and asked me if I was suspicions of anything with the Airbag. I said no, because the light was off when I pulled the car out. The Airbag light will stay on if there is any issue, plus it is hard to miss that light being on.

Since I was off that day, one of the other techs checked it out and found that the connector for the driver airbag as loose. He popped it back and she was good to go.

So what is the moral of the story? Sometimes things just go wrong. We did everything we could to make it up to the customer. I spend a while chatting with her while she was waiting, keeping her posted on the progress. When you get bad parts, there is not much else to do but try and make it right. Plus I am mad at myself for not plugging in that dang airbag. I promise you that will not happen again!

I know that this was a long post, I just needed to tell you all the story.