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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?

It is no secret that dealers have the most state of the art diagnostic equipment in the industry. Everything from our $1100 battery testers, to our $12,000 VW scan tool.  In fact, the amount of dollars that are spent on special tools and equipment is truly unbelievable. With all that money wrapped up in scan tools, many folks think that they are magic boxes that fixes cars.

The high dollar equipment is just another tool. They are VITAL to repairing most cars, but they don’t fix cars. Would you believe me if I told you a wrench fixed a car?, NO, the wrench was needed to fix the car, it was the mechanic that fixed the car.

I can’t tell you how many times I have heard

“You can just hook it up to the computer and KNOW whats wrong with my car!”

Well, the truth is YES and NO. When I hook a car up to the scan tool, I read the information that is stored in the car’s computer. That information gives me the system that has failed. It does not say “replace this part”.

Take an Airbag light for example. When I use the scan tool to check faults, it will tell me the area that has a problem. If the fault is for the drivers airbag(the one in the steering wheel) that does not mean the airbag is bad. It just means that the system is faulty. The actual problem could be:

  • It could actually be the airbag in the steering wheel
  • the Airbag Module might be faulty
  • It could be the wires from the module to the airbag in the steering wheel
  • the “clock spring” might be faulty(see the bottom of the post for a description of this part)
  • the battery voltage might be causing a false error

Now, the scan tool will not say which one of these things have failed. That is where a mechanic comes in. The testing of components is where the problem is found. That is where the knowledge of the car, and the specific system is vital. It would be almost impossible to fix one of the failures listed above, if I didn’t know how it worked. I will say advanced diagnostic techniques for another post.

I think the issue comes mostly from service departments doing a poor job of helping cusotmers understand the process. Has your mechanic or service advisor ever taken the time to explain how this works? I would be willing to bet that very few have done that. I have heard it explained like this

“The diagnostic fee is $100. We will hook it to the computer and then tell you what is wrong with your car.”

That statement doesn’t really seem like your getting $100 in value does it? It just feels like a customer is paying $100 for a few minutes of work. If all things go right, hooking a car to the scan tool takes just a couple of minutes. –side note, that rarely happens, scan tools can get stupid sometimes– 🙂 Where the value comes from is

  • What the mechanic knows
  • the diagnostic equipment
  • the information available about repairing the car
  • special tools that it takes to fix the car.
What do you guys think? Does your mechanic/ advisor do a good just explaining things, and helping you understand what they are ACTUALLY doing? Do you even care, as long as the car is fixed?
**From above, A “Clock Spring” is what electrically connects your steering wheel to the rest of the car. It allows you to have a horn, and buttons on the steering wheel, and still use them with the wheel turned. The newer ones are a ribbon cable wrapper in a plastic housing. It has enough cable to allow the wheel turn fully in both directions. With the fault I talked about, this part is the most common failure.**

Happy monday everyone!

I had a post all written for day, but instead I wanted to tell you guys a cool story about a great customer of mine. I will call her Ann.

This morning I got paged up to the service drive. I walked around the corner, and much to my surprise there was Ann. It had been over a year since I had worked on her car. She moved to another part of the state, and I guess driving 5 hours for service didn’t was just too much. 🙂

She told me that her car was using oil. So after chatting for a minute about that, she tells me what had happen to her car over the last 33,000 miles. She was on a trip in PA. Driving down the highway, her timing belt broke. After getting it towed to the nearest VW dealer, she got the bad news. The engine had seized. I didn’t get the specifics of what exactly happened, but basically she needed a new engine for her 2005 Passat v6. -Side note this car looks just like mine-

The dealer that performed the work did a really good job. She said that they took good care of her while the car was being fixed. Ann made a choice to have a used engine installed in her car. Now, I am not sure that was a great choice, but it saved her some money.

Over the next ~14,000 miles, she found the engine was losing oil, about 1qt per 3,000 miles. This is actually well within an acceptable range, but it was getting worse. Due to the remote area she lives, no one near her wanted to work on the Passat.

Since she was in town visiting friends, she brought her car to me. I had worked on her car for about 2 years before she moved so we know each other pretty well. I bring the car in, and find that the valve covers are leaking oil into the spark plug holes. Not really a crazy repair, but not something that can be fixed in 15 minutes. I had also found a couple of other things that needed attention as well.

We talked about what was needed, and decided that repairing the car was the best choice. Her car is too nice to trade in for something else. I was able to find a car for her to drive so I could keep hers for the day. She went about her business and I am currently working on the car.

I wanted to tell you guys this story because I am really excited to have this car back in my bay. It is such a great feeling to have a customer come back after such a long time and make sure I work on their car! I hate that she had such a costly repair, but I am happy to get her back on the road!

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

People tell me, almost daily, “I can just do that myself”. Normally, I laugh it off and think “good luck with that”. The truth is, lots of jobs can be done by someone with very little skills and just a few tools. I wont be teaching you how to do your our work, but here are some things that you need to consider when tackling a DIY repair on your car.

Price

I think that about 70% of people do not let a mechanic fix their car because of price. We all look to save a buck everywhere we can. Saving $25 by replacing your own air filter seems like a good idea right? If your time is worth $25 per hour, and it takes you 3 hours, NOT worth it. If you can do it in about 1 hour or less, do it!

TIme

You will see that most of these completely overlap! If you can pay a mechanic to do a job that take him, or her 45 minutes, but you take you 4 hours, pay for it. You will spend more time screwing around with it than its worth, pay it and go do something fun, or go back to work!

Tools

Some jobs, most on VWs, require specialized tools. This can be something as common as pliers to remove clamps or Torx drive bits. It a tool that is only used for 1 certain job on 1 type of car. If the repair in question MIGHT require on of these tools, consider paying of the repair. If you can justify buying to tools(this is something I NEVER have a problem with:)) then it might be something you want to consider fixing yourself.

Know-How

This one is tricky. There is so many great resources online to get repair information, that anyone can learn anything. A friend of mine Katie used a YouTube video to learn how to replace a filter in her car! The look on her face was a look of pure pride! The information is out there, don’t use that as an excuse.

Passion

This one is EASY. If you love working on your car, then DO IT! The cost of the tools, time, know-how will all be worth it. It will be worth it because you will enjoy the time working on your car.

Caution

There is a DIY caution that I want to give everyone. If you decide that you are going to work on your own car, I support that 100%! (I mean that is one of the points of this blog!) Just understand that if something gets messed up, it is NOT covered under warranty. It will most likely cost you more now. A mechanic will have to undo what you did, then fix the initial problem

Here are some really great DIY things that I recommend people doing(unless you are my customer)

  • Wiper Blades
  • Light Bulbs(some are a pain, ask me if you are not sure)
  • Cabin Air Filters
  • Engine Air Filters(some VW filters suck, ask me 1st)

There are other things that are DIY, but the the maintenance stuff is easier! I left off spark plugs because they need to be properly torqued( you need a torque wrench). I also left off oil changes. In my mind, its too much work, a big mess. My dealer charged ~$14 in labor for that service. WELL WORTH IT!

What do you guys like to do on your cars? Did I forget anything easy that people like to DIY?

How honest mechanics get paid

Like I said in yesterdays post, when I am out of the shop, cars are not at the front of my mind. I like talking about the industry, but not always the nuts and bolts of the job.(I feel like there is a joke in there somewhere) 🙂

When I talk to people about my job, one of the questions I get all the time is, “Has work been busy?”. That is a really interesting question, because it always leads to me explaining how most mechanics get paid. After I tell people, they usually say, “Wow, I never imagined that you got paid like that”. So I thought I would give you guys the low down on how I get paid, and how Flat Rate works.

Most dealership mechanics get paid on Flat Rate. The easiest way to understand Flat Rate is, I am paid based on productivity. The more work that I do the more I get paid. It is a pretty simple concept, but let me break it down a little more. I think if more people understood how mechanics get paid, they would appreciate what we do a little more.

Like I said, I am paid on productivity. Each job has an amount of time that it pays to complete. Lets take a job like replacing a headlight bulb. That job pays me .3 of 1 hour(that is 18 minutes). It does not matter how long it takes me to replace, I get paid .3 hours. If I can complete the job in less time, the extra is a bonus. If it takes me longer to complete, I come out losing. So if I made $10 per hour, I would get paid $3 to replace a light bulb.

What that also means if I am not working, actually doing work, I am not getting paid. I could go in to work for a 10 hour day and only get paid for 1hour. The flip side is, I can work a 10 hour day and get paid for 20 or more hours. It is a pretty interesting pay structure.

The times are based on several things. My dealer uses a calculation of warranty time. There are other labor guides that shop use like All-data, and Motors. They “say” the use the average time it takes a master mechanic to do the job. I think that sometimes they just make stuff up, because the times can be crazy!

I did a search to see what other say about how mechanics get paid. They are ALL written by professional writers that really do not understand the job. The system has pros and cons for mechanics and for customers.

Pros for the mechanic

This one is easy. The harder a mechanic works, the more they get paid. Simple! Working hard directly pays off. If its a job that does not pay well, you can hustle through it and move on to the next job that pays better.

Cons for the mechanic

There are some jobs that suck, plain and simple. They take longer than they pay. The other big con is, if there are no cars in the shop, mechanics get paid nothing! There is also the opportunity to take short cuts to do jobs faster. I can tell you, that almost always come back to bite a mechanic!

Pros for customers

The times are set. You will not have to pay more money because it takes longer to complete a job. This also makes mechanics work harder to get cars finished.

Cons for customers

Just like for the mechanic, it opens the opportunity to take short cuts that can result in the car not getting fixed. It also can let customers question how much they are paying. A job that takes 3 hours to complete, might cost a customer 6 hours worth of labor cost. ~this can be a post all on its own~. My reply to that is, “Would you want to pay more if it took longer?”. The answer is always no. 😉

That is pretty much the basics. Flat Rate is a love/hate relationship for me. Love the good days, HATE the bad ones. I think that I will dive deeper in this topic. Its one that is debated a lot in the shop.

What do you guys think? Good or bad for customers, mechanics?

 

 

 

Metal chucks in a vw transmission problems

So I really wanted to write a nice blog about cars tonight. My head, however is just not into it. Its been a really challenging week.  Here is what went down.

The very first car of the week belongs to a good customer that has since become a great friend.  He called me and told me that he thought his clutch had went out in his 2003 Jetta.  I test drive the car and its making a crazy noise from the transmission.  I check it on the lift and confirm something in the transmission is not happy.  I drain the fluid and find chunks of metal. I quote up the rebuild parts, only to find its way cheaper to replace the whole thing.  I totally feel for the guy.  I think that started me bumming this week.

2 cars later, one of my sweetest customers came in with with her ABS (antilock brake system)  light on.  She drives a 99 Beetle.  This lady reminds me of my grandmother.  I pull her car in the shop, scan the codes, and find some bad news.  After some checking and testing some wires, it find that she needs a new ABS module to the tune of $2300.  I cant even explain how it makes me feel telling anyone that, but especially her..

Yesterday I spent about 4 hours dealing with a radio that would not work correctly.  A VERY long story short is that VW had updated the radio to one that looked like a radio from 2006, but the internal parts were new.  I found this out after 5 calls to VW, and of course the complete run around.   I am currently waiting to see if the 4th radio I get will work correctly.  This guy has a 2009 Jetta and cant use his Ipod.

Then today, I am pulling a car out of the shop right after lunch.  In the lot, a customer comes up to me and says

“Hi, are you the diesel guy?”.

I say “we don’t really have a diesel guy, we all kinda work on everything”.

“Oh, we talked a while back about me buying a TDI Touareg.”

I of course don’t remember right a way, but after chatting with him, we get on the same page.  He tells me whats going on with his 05 Beetle.  Based on what he tells me, I was pretty sure it needed a cam shaft.  I spend some time checking his car out, test driving it, running some computer diagnostics, and looking at scan tool data.  While I was still not 100% sure, I was about 85% sure that the car had some internal engine damage.  I bring him out to the shop and have another talk.  We decide that pulling the valve cover and looking inside the engine would be the next step.  I take the valve cover off, and find that the cam shaft has flat spots in it.  That’s a VERY bad thing.  He asks me what I think it will cost.  I tell him that I would bet its about $2200.  He tells me I am crazy, and that it couldn’t be more than $1200.  He was totally nice to me, I think he was floored that I thought it would be that much.  As luck would have it, I was off by $1200.  The estimate came to $3400 for a cam shaft and related parts and labor.  He is currently calling Volkswagen to see if they can offer him any help.

Oh, I also forgot that another really good customer turned friend was coming in.  I was paged up front, and there she was.  We chatted for a minute, and she could tell I had no idea why she was there.  I thought she just came by to hang out or something. (that does happen from time to time.  It usually makes my day so feel free).  It finally dawned on me that we had talked about her getting a state inspection done.

I know this post is full of bad news and me complaining, so for that I am sorry.  It just really bothers me when I tell people their car needs so much work.  It REALLY hits home when they come in and ask for me to be their guy.  It feels like I let them down somehow.

Thanks for reading, and I guess before you bring your car to me, see how the first car of the week went.  It could be a sign!