Because I work in the automotive service industry, some people consider me an expert, or a professional (I’m not sure exactly), on all things automotive.
This usually happens when I’m away from work in social surroundings that I don’t normally frequent. One mention of the fact that I work in an auto parts store and someone is bound to ask me an automotive-related question. If it’s about a part, I have no problem, but service-related questions are a different matter.
I don’t mind being asked these questions, and I always try to answer the best I can, but some people are pretty surprised when I can’t give them the answer they want. They act even more surprised when I tell them that I don’t really work on my own cars all that much. If it has two wheels or was built before the advent of the EGR valve, I’m happy to dive in and get dirty, but maintaining my daily drivers is a chore I’d rather leave to the real professionals.
The conversation usually begins with some horror story about the last guy they went to and how bad he screwed them over. Their question then becomes, “Who should I take my car to and how much will it cost?” and that can be a difficult one to answer.
There are a lot of people in this world who work on cars, but that doesn’t in any way make them a professional or an expert. I don’t care how big the toolbox is; if the items most used are a hammer and a monkey wrench, it proves my point. The single most important tool any technician has resides in their head and not in their toolbox.
Selling people their parts gives you a firsthand look at what your customers spend most of their time on. Every one of them will use undercar parts like brakes, exhaust and suspension, as well as starters and alternators.
When you start getting into underhood drivability items, the list shortens up some. By the time you get to electrical gremlins or intermittent run problems, you can probably count on one hand the number of shops you might have enough confidence in to take your own vehicle to.
I realize that most shops can’t be too picky about what work they accept or they’ll have none at all, and that there are plenty of shops that specialize in specific repairs.
I also know that the shops with the best reputations and technicians are usually the easiest to deal with on a business level, especially in terms of warranty problems. If they return a part as defective, you can pretty much bet that it is, and that they’ve taken the time to eliminate all the other variables rather than just replace a part because the code scanner said it was bad. These are the people who have taken the time to stay ahead of the learning curve and have the proper equipment.
I’m not trying to make an indictment on any one type of shop or individual, but I can think of a few that fit the hammer and monkey wrench scenario to a T.
If you’ve ever worked in the parts or service business, I’m sure you can, too.
I remember reading a line about modern military aircraft: they’re designed by people with doctorates in aerodynamics and engineering; they’re flown by people with bachelor’s degrees; and they’re maintained by high school graduates. That’s pretty much true, but you can bet that high school grad got several years of intensive training before being turned loose on that F-16 fighter jet, and that’s what makes the difference.