Day In The Life: Of A Mechanical Repair Shop Owner

Feb. 23, 2006
What goes on in an automotive repair shop when you're not there?

7:00 a.m.

My day at the shop always starts around 7, when I arrive and open up the gate and the office, get the lights on, fire up the heaters, open up the parts room, fire up the air compressor and turn on the radio, etc. Most every day from there is spent in my office, generally getting ready for the day before everything cuts loose.

This particular day started up like any other, but changed real quickly when I was in my office, which is not easy to find unless you know where to look. At that time, there was the sound of someone entering. It turned out to be a local sheriff who had stopped by to inform me of an upcoming meeting. He's a talker, and right there my schedule was thrown off.

In comes our first customer of the day. He's an elderly gentleman, and like so many of the older generation, he was rather early. This caused me to stop what I was doing and begin to check him in for the day. My wife, Sally, had just arrived and I found out later that she got stuck behind this customer coming in, creeping along at a snails pace, holding up traffic. About the time he was checked in and the diagnosis was performed on his 1969 Chevy PU, the other employees had arrived and pretty much completed the further opening up of the shop.

By 8:15 a crank seal had arrived that was ordered the day before. We had started on the diagnosis and tear down, but I needed to help one of my employees get the seal installed so he could finish the job. I was doing this and what seems like a hundred other things all at the same time. Just before that, I had my employees briefed on the day's scheduled activities and was in the process of driving off in our shop vehicle to give the elderly gentleman a ride home. We got to within 1/2-mile of his home and he realized that he had left the house key on the key ring dangling from a hook back at the shop. What's a shop owner to do but turn around? What a time killer!


I headed from this customer's house to another customer's house to drop off our shop vehicle and pick up his vehicle. In the mean time, other customers are arriving and Sally checks them in. During all of this, an unscheduled customer comes walking into the office with a window stuck in the down position. I get the word and head out to see if I can make some sort of quick repair.

Just as I am heading out to do that, one of my technicians grabs me and says that there is a bad fuel smell on the vehicle that I have just picked up, and that the fuel pressure regulator is leaking. I look at the clock and realize that it's well after 9, and where our shop is located, we have only three deliveries per day. Sure, there are a few parts stores in the area, but their inventory is not always what you can depend on.

In the mean time there's this customer with the window problem, waiting for me. I make a quick call to the parts store to order the fuel pressure regulator. Usually I like to look the part up and order over the internet, but under the circumstances I have to resort to using a land line.

While I have the parts store on the phone I find that the part is available and ask for it to be sent up with the understanding that I haven't actually sold the job. I also had the parts man send up a heater core for another job that had just been sold. We had diagnosed this job the week before and the customer had to discuss the situation with her son and husband to see if either of them was willing to tackle the project. Both turned this labor intensive nightmare down. I made sure I got a hold of a particular parts man who is willing to go the extra mile.

I head back to check out the window motor problem. I was unable to get the window to work and realized that with the threat of rain and the mornings being super cold, this was a repair that needed to be taken care of ASAP. The soonest I could look at the window was mid-afternoon. I told the customer that I would give it my best effort to at least get the window in the up position.


We get a call from a good customer that is concerned about a fluid leak, and would like to drop off the vehicle for us to look at. We are really busy by this time, but make room for her. It turns out that she is also in need of another service and asks for that to be squeezed in. Of course, we do. It turns out that the fluid leak is just condensation.

We are an oil collection center and this day appears to be National Oil Collection Day, due to the fact that just about every five minutes a person drops off their used oil. This requires one of our employees to stop what they are doing, test the oil and drain it, along with paperwork.


The power steering hose for the old 1969 Chevy PU has arrived. It turns out to be a sort of universal design, requiring all sorts of finagling to get it to fit. We struggle with it until we contort ourselves just so and hold out our tongues just right. Finally, everything comes together and the project is finished.

It's now noon time and the first employee heads off to lunch. This is the time that, if everything works out just right, Sally and I grab a bit to eat. We laugh about the fact that we have a "standing offer" each day to have lunch together. We literally stand at the counter in the office and have a very quick bit to eat. After that, it's back to the salt mines.


The crew is finishing up their lunches, which are staggered to have some coverage during all business hours. The fuel pressure regular has arrived and been installed. A flush is performed and the vehicle is washed and vacuumed.

Sally tries to run her errands in the mid-afternoon. Just as Murphy's Law would have it, a customer comes in for her 2 PM appointment at 1:30. At this point I had to stop what I was doing and check the new customer in. As is almost always the case when Sally leaves to run errands, the phone will begin to ring, salesmen will arrive, UPS and FED-EX will drop off packages, and parts people from different dealerships will arrive. Today was no exception. I somehow got through it and was able to get a look at the A/C problem that our good customer was having.

I diagnosed the problem, got the authorization from the customer and called in for parts. This was a challenge due to the fact that we weren't sure if the vehicle had original R134a refrigerant, or if it had been retrofitted. It was all solved in time, but there was a lot more time spent then there should have been! Keep in mind that we had to work up an estimate, compare parts prices, have Sally contact the customer and then order the part. This also doesn't include all the paper work involved.


It's 3 and the customer with the window repair has arrived. It takes about an hour-and-a-half to tear into the panel, look up the wiring diagram, further test the system and diagnose the repair. The window was able to be raised and the customer could drive the vehicle with the door panel missing until the parts were ordered and replaced. During this time, Sally picks up the customer with the 1969 PU. In the late afternoon one of my employees begins the extremely labor intensive heater core job.


I drive the customer's car that had the leaking fuel pressure regular back to their place, and pick up the shop vehicle. The employees are wrapping things up and closing down the shop. I have a bunch of undone work, due to the fact that I got beaten up by a number of jobs that took a lot more time than first thought.

Even though we officially close at 5, it's more like 5:45 by now. Sally has a woman's jewelry exchange at our church tonight, and I have lots of shop work still to do, so we decide to have her pick up some sandwiches. She brings them back and this time we sit down in the office and enjoy the meal, as well as a moment of rest. Sally goes off to her gathering and I stay late at the shop. Time slips away and before I know it, Sally is calling to say she had a great time, but is wondering if I have fallen off the face of the earth.

9:30 p.m.

I gather my things and head home. You may be reading this and saying "he's crazy". I've been in this business for 28 years. There are times when I would like to get in my vehicle and just drive away, but most of the time I enjoy what I'm doing. It's like anything else, there are good and bad days and good and bad times. What I like most is that no two days are alike.

The next day was more of the same, only both Sally and I came down with the stomach flu at 4:30 the next morning. Did wetake the day off? Not on your life! That's the fun of owning and operating your own business!

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