Over time, I have had a great many people to talk to me about services rendered at various mechanic shops. I think that we can all agree that none of us has been 100% satisfied 100% of the time at any shop. Mechanicing is an inexact “science”. This accounts for a lot of the problems—whether real or perceived. Also, parts’ quality varies constantly. That’s one thing that we CAN guarantee.
Mechanics make a profit by being able to diagnose a problem and solve it under time constraints. An experienced mechanic usually can tell how long a common job will take. If not, he may have a “book” that can tell him, at a glance, how much time a specific job will take. If he can do the job more quickly, he makes more money. If the job takes longer, he loses money (time is money). He has a set amount which he charges for each hour’s labor.
Mechanics also usually obtain parts at a discount from the warehouses and parts houses—especially from those with whom they do a lot of business. They do not pass this discount to the customer—they make a little on the deal.
This is a rough idea of what is going through a mechanic’s mind as you drive into a shop to ask the owner to diagnose your car—then to give an estimate of time and cost.
In the case of vintage cars, this diagnosing and estimating becomes quite tricky. Now, we are talking about “old”, which may involve great difficulty for removal of old parts, location of replacement parts, toying with replacement parts to get them to fit old cars, and on and on. I do not blame a mechanic for not giving an estimate of time and cost for some work—he just is not going to be able to discern that. Also, some cars are so old that there no longer are any written specs to tell a mechanic how long a specific job should take. He is going to have to work on a “cost-plus” basis (time plus parts and perhaps some other elements thrown in there). As a contractor for going on 30 years, I often found myself having to tell a customer that I could remove the wall covering at some similar rate (cost-plus on an hourly basis). I could not project the length of time nor the difficulty it was going to take. If I finished the work quickly, I felt good and the customer did too. If I could not do the work more quickly, the customer already had been made aware of the inherent problem involved in the work.
With vintage automobiles, this is more and more the case. We have to recognize this fact and make decisions based upon what we can stand in the way of time and money.
There is another facet to this formula (time equals money).
I have learned never to tell a service person to “take your time”. While this sounds noble and our hope is to get a better job by thinking that we are giving the workman more time in which to do the job, this cannot be true—when we sit to think about it.
As I have outlined above, a mechanic (since we are concerned here with auto maintenance) cannot make money by taking longer to do the job. Our telling him to take his time can only be perceived by him that we are not in a hurry to have the finished job. So, the job is going to be put off until such time as he deems. He then will begin the job and will do it at such a speed which will fulfill his formula—time equals money. He’s not going to try to take longer to do the job!
I recommend to everyone who is going to have work done to a vintage vehicle that he have a sit-down with the chosen shop owner to discuss the diagnosis, the cost and the time constraints. Be sure that both you and the mechanic understand and are in agreement about ALL of these points.
I do want to mention one other factor: in my case as a contractor, it was the weather-factor. When I started an outdoor job, I always notified the customer that if the weather turned bad, I would need to remove myself from the job and I would go to an indoor job. I could not afford to sit at home to await better weather. I also told the customer that I would finish that indoor job before returning to the outdoor job. I could not possibly leave an indoor job in an unfinished state— for example, a customer needing her kitchen while I went back to do the exterior job. There had to be a clear understanding of this at the outset of any exterior job which I started—before I began the job.
It is often the case in the automotive world, that although the mechanic may have begun my job, he may be called upon to do an emergency job, or a tune-up or some other smaller job which cannot be put off. One reason is that the customer will go elsewhere and he will lose work. The reasons can be varied and many. It happens. It causes great distress amongst customers, but it IS going to happen. It cannot be avoided. Get used to it! Especially if it is a one-person shop.
I know that a great deal more can be added here. I know that some mechanics seem to have great dexterity about putting off work. We are not going to change the way a person runs his business. If we cannot put up with such a situation, we have to weigh the alternatives and chose a better one, if it is available.
In the case of Volkswagen mechanics, we are hard-pressed to find good shops that “function” well. We probably are going to laugh some, cry some and stomp some. I haven’t a good answer to this situation.
One of the best answers is—to learn to do most of the work ourselves. We CAN do most of the work ourselves. If Salser can do it, I know that the rest of us can. Fortunately, there is a growing body of helps available. We also have one another within the VW Community with whom to discuss problems. That will be in our favor—we have good interaction with VW friends while we are learning neat skills and enjoying the fruits of our labors. If you have any doubts—ask Eric Shoemaker…or Richard Lee…or Dick Diaz…or Robin Snook…or Beth Leverman…or…any one of the many Readers of 1967beetle.com!