THE NAKED TRUTH REVEALED: IS YOUR MECHANIC PAID TO CUT CORNERS?

Illustration for article titled THE NAKED TRUTH REVEALED: IS YOUR MECHANIC PAID TO CUT CORNERS?em/em

Maybe the other shops will hate me, but I feel obligated to tell you how most auto mechanics are paid. First, let me say that magicians never tell their secrets. However, magicians are meant to entertain you. Mechanics, on the other hand, are meant to fix your vehicle to the best of their ability - and sometimes they are paid more to NOT do that.

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Most all shops today charge by “book time or flat rate”. I had heard about this many years ago as a customer, but only really got to understand it when I opened my shop. The basics are this: You want to know how many hours it will take to replace your water pump. The service advisor / mechanic / receptionist / janitor will check the computerized system for the specific year, make, model, engine, transmission, and drive system of your vehicle, and then the system tells us how many hours to change that specific part for that specific vehicle.

Book time tells us how many hours an averagely competent mechanic can accomplish the job. Who decides this? I Googled for an hour and couldn’t figure that out. It must be a group of mechanics, engineers, and people working in lab coats with clip boards, somewhere in a secret think tank underground facility.

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Is book time helpful to everyone involved? Very much so. This allows the customer to compare shops (to see if someone is blatantly over-estimating the hours for a job), and to be able to have a reasonably firm estimate of the cost of the repair before any work is done.

For the system we use, the hours given for book time is usually quite accurate. Yes, some jobs will be done in a shorter period, but an equal amount will take longer. It really all depends on how much rust we find, or if bolts break when we are trying to get them unstuck for the first time in many years. 90% of the time we will charge the customer for the book rate hours, as most shops will do, so you know everyone is playing on the same field. For the other 10% of jobs, we may charge less if it took considerably less time than the book said, or we may charge more if there were unforeseen complications, like major rust.

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OK, HERE IS THE SCARY PART ABOUT HOW MOST MECHANICS ARE PAID.

The vast majority of mechanics are paid based on this book time. In other words, if the book says it takes 3 hours to do a job, and they complete the job in 1.5 hours, they get paid for 3. If it takes them 5 hours to do the job, they still only get paid for 3. Major shops (dealers and big chains) will have variations on this system. The bottom line is that if the mechanic rushes through the job, cutting corners in the process, he or she stands to make a lot more money in an 8 hour day.

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We would hope that most mechanics would have personal pride and a good moral compass to do the job right. If they are really experienced and work hard, they can do the job in less time than the book says, and they are financially rewarded for their great efforts. However, we KNOW that there are human beings working on cars that will rush to make more cash, and make mistakes. How can YOU or the shop manager know if the job was completed properly? You can’t - until the vehicle breaks down due to incompetence. Almost no mechanics are being watched to make sure the jobs are being done right.

So it all comes down to trust? Yes, but there is a better way.

Some shops, like mine, pay mechanics by the hours that they are in the building. I do not pay based on what the book says. I’ll monitor how much time they are taking for a job, and if they are consistently over time, then perhaps they need better or different tools, some updated training, or encouragement in some other way. This way, their incentive to do the job right is personal pride rather than their variable paycheck.

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But why would a mechanic come work for me if he can get flat rate elsewhere and possibly bill out for more hours? I pay my people top rates for our area. Once my business is a little more established, I’ll also offer the top benefits package anywhere. Happy, trained, well equipped employees = cars fixed right = happy customers = happy me.

I opened 8 months ago. Yes, it’s been a tremendous financial struggle. Yes, maybe doing business this way means I won’t survive. But if I do go down, it certainly won’t be because me or anyone I work with cut corners or cheated customers.

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Just MAYBE I can run the best place possible and thrive! I hope so.

In the meantime, when you take your car into a shop, get an estimate, check around before committing to the big expensive jobs, and ask how the mechanics are paid!

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View From The North is written by Shawn T. Greek, located in the Great White North of Salmon Arm, BC. That’s in Canada, eh! “Silly” is my default setting. Visit on Facebook

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