An auto repair shop consists of two main parts—the front end and the back end. The front end houses the service advisor who interacts directly with the customer and is the face of the business. The back end is where the technicians operate. Auto technician is the modern title for the person actually working on your car (traditionally called a mechanic). When it comes to your car, the modern independent shop technician must be technically savvy, careful and consistent, and respectful to customers and their cars.
I am a shop owner and a technician. I began on the technical end and learned about business. I have been thinking about cars ever since I learned how to get my little red wagon to go 25 mph down the hill on Easter Ave. in WaKeeney, Kan. I recognize cars I have worked in grocery store parking lots and struggle to remember who the driver is. I stare at bouncing tires on the highway, trying to judge if the strut is worn out or the tire is just out of balance. I believe all cars have a soul within their complicated array of metal, plastic and glass bodies, pumping vital fluids to and fro, keeping things either warm or cold, and sending important electronic messages from one bumper to the other. Your car is your safe haven, providing escape and privacy, instilling a sense of power, all while getting you and sometimes precious cargo safely from A to B.
I am particular about whom I employ. I admit I expect more than par. Life is too short to be unhappy at work. You can train a person to do something easier than change their attitude or core beliefs. I also like a real gearheads (like myself). The kind of guy who watches car shows on his computer while eating lunch. The man who buys his work boots from the Snap-on tool truck (yes, they make boots). A person with a drawer called “special tools” containing modified wrenches and sockets cut, bent and welded into various artistic looking shapes. Most importantly, I want a person who really cares for and respects your car when in contact with it. One who leaves it better than when he started, with mirrors, seats and radio all as found, with no fingerprints or puddles underneath.
When I interview prospective technicians, I ask questions like, “Who influenced you the most when growing up?” A true gearhead will have spent many hours with his dad, uncle or shop teacher rebuilding some old car. I also ask them if they have reliable transportation. The guy who goes on and on about why his car has never let him down even on the coldest winter day gets high marks from me. Of course I ask about their education and formal training which is always good, but no replacement for common sense, innovation and creativity. My favorite impromptu technical clincher is to ask, “What is a relay and how does it work?” A blank stare or poorly worded guess gets no points from me. However, the guy who tells me how he installed his own stereo properly fused, relayed and wired and how he gained the knowledge to do so, will end up in a long-winded conversation about electricity and, eventually, with a job offer. I will ask what he thinks about the concept of ASE certification, and the guy who proudly shows me his ASE wallet-sized certification without asking gets my vote.
I love small business and I love being independent. Independent shop technicians are rather unique. They must have the drive and initiative to think outside the box. They must understand the basic fundamentals and be able to adapt them to all makes and models. They must be able to pull information from a wide variety of resources and possess a significant amount of tools and special equipment. Most of them have more money invested in their tools than they do in their finest vehicle.
When you have your car serviced, whether at the dealership or the independent shop, ask about the technicians. Look at their achievements on the lobby wall. Give them very detailed descriptions of the car problems you are having and then trust them to do an over-the-top job. Finally, reward them by returning on a regular basis. Trust me, they recognize and remember.