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So last weeks “Shop Shops” was a pretty big hit! Thanks Brett for the great name. I think this will be a Thursday post from now on.

This picture could fall under the “Tech Tip of the Day” post. This is a transmission seal on a 2002(or so) VW passat. One of the mechanics in the shop replaced this seal because it was leaking. This is actually a pretty common repair. Well, a couple of days later the customer comes back in saying his car is leaking worse than before.

The mechanic that had replaced it was off that day. One of the other guys had to remove the axle and the flange to gain access to the seal. He called me over to show me what he found. It turns out that this seal is installed BACKWARDS! We fixed the car no problem. The guy that installed the seal, got the time taken back for his mistake.

This is actually a mess that I made. I had to replace the engine on this 2004 VW Passat. The engine locked up and broke the timing belt. I think it was due to lack of oil changes, but could not prove that. The engine on the right is the new one. This type of job usually takes about 2 days to complete.

I think I took this mid day. No way I would have left this mess overnight. This is not really my favorite job. There is a lot of “How does this go together” on a job like this.

This is a picture of a buddy’s Passat. I have turned a few wrenches on this car. In fact, I think we rebuilt the entire front suspension, among other things. He bought this car with 187,xxx miles on it. He actually knew the original owner of this Passat. Not only that, but he worked on the car starting at 30,xxx miles.

With 284,xxx miles, he sold it to buy a newer Passat. It couldn’t have been 3 weeks after he sold it, it got totaled. It was really sad to see a car that was so well maintained, with such high miles go to the car grave yard. Don’t worry, everyone was ok. It just stinks.

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Thanks for reading
Charles

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.
Today we get to know a little more about being a service manager. I know “technically” he is not behind a wrench, but Rusty has a pretty cool view of the industry.
If you would like to be featured in this interview series, please email me.
NAME:
Rusty

How long have you been in the Industry?
Holy Crap! 25 years. When did that happen?

What is your current job title?
 Dealership service manager
What were you doing for your first automotive job?
One of the coolest jobs I ever had. I was an assistant in a performance street shop that was associated with Team Highball. Team Highball was a racing team, in Raleigh NC, that raced in the old IMSA days. They built from scratch, and raced Mazdas with some factory assistance. They ended up winning the 24 hours of Daytona 4 years in a row. Amos and Bunny Johnson were some of the nicest folks I’d ever met. Heard some great stories there.
Do you currently work at a Dealer, or in an aftermarket shop, do you prefer one over the other?
See question 3. The independant shop that I did work at was pretty cool, but you can make a better living in a dealership. Depends on the mindset of the individual as to whether a dealership or aftermarket/independant is better.
Walk us through what you do on a daily basis.
There is not enough room on the net to list that. I was shocked, when I was hired, to see that my job description was 6 pages long. I will say that my job is equal parts psychologist, technical, accountant, ad-man, den mother, daycare manager, punching bag and “Lucy” from peanuts when she is sitting in the stand that has the sign over it that says “The doctor is in 5 cents.”
When you are not working on or with cars, what do you like to do?
Mainly been a family guy for a long time. My 2 girls played travel soccer, danced, swam and I’ve never had more fun in my life than the time I’ve been able to spend with them.
I’ve also been enjoying playing guitar and singing in a bluegrass band, turning my garage into a man-cave and modifying whatever I drive.
What kind of car do you drive?
Yukons, had an ’03 since new, just bought an ’08 Denali.
What was your first car?
1965 Mustang coupe. It was arrest-me red and slow as hell 6 cylinder.
What made you want to work on cars?
The real genuine love of cars. I genuinely like to interact with people and solve their problems. My mother loves to tell the story that the first toy I ever asked for, when I was a baby, was a police car….and it sorta grew from there.
What is the weirdest thing that you have found in a car, that should not have been there?
Would baby mice count? A snake in the “A” pillar? Shotgun pellets and blood? Cigarette tar like a gummy stalactite hanging from a rear view mirror?…..that’s probably enough.
Do you have much customer interaction?
Um….plenty.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Actually solving someone’s problem or teaching them something that would keep them from having problems in the future.
If giving the chance, what would you never do again at work?
Listen to someone complain about someone else. OMG! People have really lost the concept and the ability to get along.
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’s a hard thing to do. Lot’s of folks really build up their defenses when they think they’re getting ripped off. Most of the time it’s becuase they are in a position of weakness. either not knowing what they are talking about or not knowing how to proceed. I just do the best I can to teach them what they need to know, so that they can make an educated decision from a position of strength.
Of all the maintenance that cars need, what is the ONE that will keep my car healthy the longest?
Oil, do it more often than they say you need to.
Check the air in your tires, change your wiper blades every six months, and clean your windows inside and out. Those things may not make the car last longer, but they will improve your enjoyment of the car. And never, EVER use armor-all on the INSIDE of the car.
How important is reading your vehicles owners manual?
Critical. You will learn something that you weren’t even expecting to learn. But you will know your car.
Have you read the owners manual to your car?
Oh yeah. Each car I’ve ever owned.
What tool in your tool box do you use the most?
Knowledge. With that, you can figure the rest out. Does that sound as corny as it feels?——-From HumbleMechanic YES 😉
Is there a brand of tool that you prefer?
The best one for a reasonable price. I think many guys, especially young ones, get caught up with the name on the tools. Start off with something like Craftsman. If you stay in the business, which is rare, then move on to the high line stuff. Do NOT bury yourself in debt early.
If you could only use 3 tools from now on, what would they be( and why)?
Does a Gerber multi-tool count? Is that cheating for one tool?
Vice grip pliers, and a good pocket knife.
Maybe, given what I do, I should have said a Bic pen.
If you were building a “James Bond” car, what is the one thing you would add it?
My grandfather converted his windshield washer tank to squirt moonshine under the dash to fill his cup. Now I can’t condone that but it was very creative. But James Bond? Jet pack I suppose.
You are sending your kid off to college, what car would you buy for them?
Started with a Passat variant. It was a great car for high school and would have been great for college except she went to school in the mountains and needed 4 wheel drive. Next was a Honda Element. It’s a driveable U-Haul trailer and was all-wheel-drive, but cannot withstand being crushed by a Mazda. Now she has a Jeep Cherokee XJ and she loves it. My other daughter is still on her first First Car. Honda CRv. All of them used. Never buy a young driver a new car.
What is the one thing that you want folks to know about your job that they might not know?
I’m proud of the people I work with and we really do put a great deal of energy into giving them the best product we can. We are human and many times make mistakes or don’t do things well, but most of the time there are very few that can compete with us.

Is that it, are the cameras still rolling? Am I done? I’m going to bed now.

What a great interview Rusty. I want to see some pictures of that moonshine dispenser your grandfather had.

I really felt like keeping today’s post fun. I thought I would post some pics and tell you guys the stories behind them. I think this will be cool. Post in the comments what you think. Also, this might be a cool post to share!

This is a picture of a VW thing. I don’t really know what the year is. This is the very first thing I seen when I went to the dealer for my interview. I flew out of Chicago Midway in the dead of winter. I got to the dealer and it was 55 degrees. They had just cleaned up from an ice storm, the reason for the snow on the ground. I remember leaving Chicago, the temp was, -14 degrees AIR TEMP! Talk about shocking.

I flew down for just one day. In that day I had a great lunch/ interview, got the job(DUH) and found an apartment. Needless to say, it was one for the best, most stressful, craziest days of my life. I had to call my wife and tell her, in 2 weeks we are moving to a state she had never been to before. Oh, by the way, this was my first trip to NC as well. Nuts? Maybe, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.

This is an EOS. I took this at a training course in Atlanta. It was the first and only time I have ever been to Atlanta. Not much of a fan, but whatever. This is actually the service position for the convertible top. The trunk is fully released, and the top is about half way open. I would bet that any mechanic that has to do this to an EOS, will not be happy!

The one good thing about Atlanta, is that I got to visit a good friend of mine. I had not seen Katie in years, so it was great to catch up. We had some good sushi and craft beer. If you guys didn’t know, I am a HUGE craft beer fan. I actually home brew as well.  🙂

AH, the Bentley. This is by far the most expensive car I have ever worked on. I think this model is a Bentley Continental. The general manager of my(and several other) dealer got married. I guess they took this Bentley to the wedding. The owner of my dealer group has millions of dollars worth of cars. Its actually crazy some of the cars this guy has.

On the way back from the wedding, the Airbag light came on. My boss asked me if I could check it out. I did my normal diagnostic routine, and found that the fault was for the drivers airbag. I started to take the airbag off and found something familiar. It looked just like a VW Phaeton. Turns out, it is a fancied up Phaeton. Even down to the clock spring, it had the same part number and everything. Crazy right! So I was working on a $125,000 car, owned by the owner of the company, driven by the general manager of ~9 of the ~30 dealers in the company. No pressure right?? WRONG! I was tweaking out. I got everything worked out just fine..

 

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

Before I start coming off like I am hating on the A.S.E certification program, I need to tell you that I am an A.S.E certified mechanic. 🙂 That stands for Automotive Service Excellence!

The A.S.E certification program is designed to test mechanics and show they are knowledgeable about fixing cars.  The way it works is, a mechanic has to pass a series of tests, and work in the automotive field for 2 years. Now based on that, its a great program. If nothing else, it shows that a mechanic has the motivation to be a top mechanic. Over the years, I have found that certification programs like that do not tell the whole story.

There are benefits to the program. I think that employers like it because it shows a commitment by the mechanic. If a mechanic is willing to take all 9 tests, which are NOT easy, they should have a high level of dedication to the profession. That coupled with the ability to say your facility has “CERTIFIED MECHANICS” can mean a lot for customers. When I worked at Carmax they displayed each mechanics certifications on a board for everyone to see.

I did a google search on the phrase “how to find a good mechanic”. In that search, almost every site says, “Be sure they are A.S.E. certified. The problem that I have with that is, it means almost nothing. The ability to pass these tests proves nothing about fixing cars. You can not use it to gauge a mechanics integrity. It doesn’t mean you can trust them, or the work that they do.

At the dealership level, the broad knowledge that A.S.E. test on does not apply. It is understood that a dealership mechanic should know the basics about cars. In addition to that they need to know that brand inside and out. That is why people take their car to the dealer in the first place. I think the brand certification carries much more value. There are only 206 or so master certified VW mechanics in the USA. That says a lot about the level of commitment it takes to be a master certified dealer mechanic.

I will say that no level of certification, even specific brand, will tell the whole story. Some guys are better at taking tests than others. Some guys just don’t care about a high level of certification. That doesn’t mean they are not outstanding mechanics. Here are a couple of quick tips to finding your great mechanic!

  • They should have some level of certification
  • Some experience is important, but not everything
  • Talk to the mechanic – Having a conversation with the mechanic will tell a much better story
  • Ask friends that drive your kind of car
  • Bring them cookies – I have said it before, bribery gets you everywhere

These are just some very basic tips. In fact, this is a topic that deserves a dedicated post.

 

Its only a tab for a valve, but it will get fixed

Yesterday my serivce manager asked me for some help. He said that the Service Express guysIts only a tab for a valve, but it will get fixed needed some practice, and wanted to know if they could use my Passat. I was not really due for an oil change, but my car is a tricky oil change to do the right way. Oh, just so everyone knows, I drive a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon, that my friends named “The Danger Wagon”

I work across the shop from the Service Express lane. Seeing my car on another lift made me very tense. I am the only one that has worked on that car in about 70,000 miles. The last guy that worked on it is one of the team leads in the shop, and the BEST mechanic we have! Now guys that are as rookie as it gets are working on my car.

The whole idea behind S.E. is to be fast. When the program is in full swing, it will take about 20 minutes from start to finish. Since the boys are still learning, it took about an hour and a half. The oil change on a 1.8t Passat is not the easiest oil change. If you don’t do it just right, it makes a HUGE mess.

After they finished the service, I thought it would be a good idea to do a little quality check. Turns out they didn’t do such a great job. The checks they perform(lights, tires) were perfect. The oil change, not so much. There belly pan was covered in oil, a clip was installed wrong, and they broke the air box. The oil and clip were a really easy fix. Just some clean up. The airbox however, will need to be replaced. It was nothing that would effect performance, but I get OCD so I need to fix it.

I don’t want to sound like I am giving these guys a hard time. This was actually a really great teachable moment. I showed them what they did, and how to do it properly for next time. I am pretty sure they got what I was saying, they might have been a little scared ;). It is also a good thing that it was my car(not really for me). I would much rather them be able to make a mistake, and see the result right away. This worked out great because we did not make a customer unhappy.

I will be sure to keep everyone posted about their progress. It will be fun to follow along while they learn the ropes!