So you want to become an auto mechanic, huh? You want to make good money doing you what you like to do? If you love working on your car or your friends cars, you may think this would be a perfect career choice for you. You think you can make a good living in the auto repair industry. Well, in this article I will give some information that may change your mind.
Doing what you love should be your choice for a life long career. As they say- “If you do what you like to do at work, it won’t seem like work”. That makes sense and may be the case in most industries, but maybe not auto mechanics. Knowing how to fix cars and actually being able to make money at it can be difficult. Years ago the guy (or gal) who was good with their hands and mechanically inclined could do most auto repair procedures on any car or truck. Things are a little different today. And by today, I mean ever since the early 1990’s. That is when electronics started taking over the automotive industry.
Now this article is not about how extensive electronics knowledge is needed to repair today’s vehicles; pretty much everyone knows that by now. Instead, I am going to talk about all the different things that happen to a mechanic in the day to day world of the new car dealer that directly effects your paycheck. A new car dealer mechanic (now know as a Technician) is much different than your local garage or national repair facility. We at the dealer must deal with warranty repair, which a local mechanic does not.
When a garage mechanic gets a newer vehicle with a problem, he must either realize that the problem is covered under the factory warranty and tell the customer to take it back to the dealer, or not tell the customer, and then charge him for the repair. I have even heard of some shops sending a vehicle to the dealer for the warranty repair, then charging the customer for the repair they supposedly made- but did not. We actually get a lot of cars and trucks at the dealer from other local repair shops because many people are not aware of how inclusive the factory warranty is nowadays. Most of the major car makers have increased the warranty from 3 years or 36K miles to 5 or 6 years and 100K miles on most major components since about 2007. And the federal government has mandated most emissions related problems be covered under factory warranty for even longer. Read your owners manual !
But back to trying to make money at this job. There are so many things that determine your paycheck as a new car dealer Technician, that I may not get to all of them in this article. I may have to continue next time.
1: Wages: As with any job, how much you make per hour plays a major role in career choice. And with any career, it also plays a major role in who and were you will work. In the last few years our pay is based mainly on experience and how many test you have take through the ASE program. ASE stands for ” national institute for Automotive Service Excellence”. You may be familiar with the rounds blue seal with ASE in the middle. This is a set of standardized test divided in the major automotive repair categories- brakes, engine mechanical, engine electrical, body electrical, steering, suspension, transmission, etc. Most anyone who has worked on cars can pass these tests though. From your 18 year old kid at the corner gas station to the professional dealer technician. So to me, these test do not mean a whole lot. But the dealers sure like to display that blue seal.
2: The service dispatcher: This is the person who distributes the workload to us Technicians. He is suppose to know by reading the customer complaint on the work order which Technician may be best suited for the job. Most of the time that is the case, especially if he has been at the same dealer any length of time. But this does not always work. Something as simple as a check engine light can turn into a major engine mechanical problem. That Technician that is real good with check engine lights and electrical, may not be the best or quickest with major engine mechanical repair. Not to say he can’t do the repair, just he is not as quick as, let’s say, then engine guy. So a certain warranty job that pays 8 hours to do may take the the guy that does not do this type of job every day 10 hours to complete. After a few of the same repair, he gets better and completes the repair in 7 hours. So then he is 1 hour ahead, because he gets paid the 8 hours the job pays- whether it takes him 7 hours or 10 hours to complete. Which brings me to number three…
3: The labor time guide: There a two different labor time guides. One is for warranty repairs. The time a particular repair pays is set by the manufacturer. That is what we get paid, not matter how log it takes. So if lets say the diagnosis of a check engine light that needs a sensor replaced pays us 1 and 1/2 hours, and we run into a problem like a rusted bolt of sensor that break off and is much harder to remove- if the total time actually doing the repair is 2 hours, guess what, we get paid the factory time of 1 and 1/2 hours. So basically I lost money. I spent 2 hours repairing your car but only got paid for 1 and 1/2 hours work. Can you tell me of any other job where you are on clock for 2 hours but only got paid for an hour and a half? But it can also go the other way. If I have done a certain repair several time, I have gotten quicker at it, so maybe I can get that hour and a half job done in 55 minutes. This does happen, but is happening less and less as new cars are changing what seems every few months, so many of our daily jobs are things we have not even done before.
3.1: The other labor time guide: This is the labor time guide for non-warranty repairs- know as “Customer Pay”. There are 2 major guides for this. The Motors Manual and the Chilton’s Manual. These are suppose to pay a little more labor time, since the factory guide is made by the company that built the car and sold it to you and has to pay for warranty repair- so guess what- the warranty labor time is very low and many times unreasonable. Since customer pay work has become less and less over the years as factory warranty keeps expanding, it seems the Motors and Chilton labor times have also gotten less and less. I can remember certain repair jobs paying 4 hours of labor and we could actually beat that time because we have years of experience doing this repair under warranty, that now pay us less than 3 hours. Now we can’t beat the time set for the fix, but that is all we get paid. So again, lost money. More about labor time guides in an upcoming article.
4: The parts department: If I do a repair under the customer pay labor time and for some reason the part fails soon after or a even a few weeks later, now I have to replace this part as a factory defective part. So I get paid the factory labor time. Again, this can be a loosing repair. Don’t even get me started on the sometimes incompetence of the parts department guy. When he tells me the part he had to order will be here in 2 hours and I start taking your vehicle apart to get ready for the arrival of the part, and 3 hours later it is not the correct part and my work area is now disabled with your car that I cannot fix, this is another loss of my time- which is money. More on the parts department soon.
5: You, customer: I am not sure if I can list how many ways customers effect my paycheck. From the guy that cannot explain exactly what is wrong with his car, to the one who has his car diagnosed, then says “I’m not going to pay that !”. Many times the service writer who talks with the customer will just give up and say here are your keys, just take your car and go. All the while, he is trying to explain to me how I am either not getting paid to diagnose that car, or he will “Owe it to me later on in the week”. More on customers later.
6: Extended warranty plans: You bought that expensive extended warranty that kicks in after the factory warranty. But guess what, they work off the Motors or Chilton labor time guides. I think they have a special relationship with those guides. Since those extended warranties only pay what those labor times guides say a repair should take, would it not make sense that they have a special interest in those labor time guides paying less time for repairs, since they are the ones paying me? If you bought an extended warranty for $1,200, it only takes one major transmission problem to equal what you paid for the warranty. So if you have even a small repair of a bad engine sensor needed a few months after that, the warranty company has just lost money on your purchase of their warranty. So does it not make sense they want to pay as little labor as possible for every repair? These labor times have been going down and down closer to warranty time over the last few years. I do not think this is coincidence. More on extended car warranty.
As you can see, this is from the perspective of the new car dealer technician. Things are different for your local mechanic shop. They do not have to deal with the warranty labor time, but they do have all the other problems stated above. So you decide –
“I want to make money as an auto mechanic“
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