Restoring the Auto Service Industry’s Reputation
It was a Toyota Corolla that had lived longer than it had any right to and yet it was being brought in to diagnose a number of problems, not the least of which was ensuring it would pass its annual smog inspection.
It was apparent this was going to be a challenge. But, what I didn’t know when we got started was that this was going to be the poster child for just about everything that’s wrong with our industry, at least, everything that’s wrong with the industry here in California.
You see, other than what is mandated by the smog program, we have no vehicle inspection. That’s right, we don’t care whether the vehicle is capable of stopping straight or stopping at all for that matter. We don’t care if it goes where it’s pointed either. We don’t care what’s wrong with it as long as it meets its numbers for CO2, NoX and unburned hydrocarbons. If the facility is not a smog inspection station, we don’t care whether the facility is licensed either. Oh, it has to be registered, but the last time I checked, licensing and registration aren’t the same thing. One is all about keeping track of how many and the other at least implies a minimum acceptable level of performance. In other words, it requires published, accepted and enforceable standards.
We don’t care about the technicians working in our industry either. Or, perhaps, more to the point, we don’t care about the people working in our industry. We don’t care if they are trained. We don’t care if they are competent or qualified. In fact, we care so little that they don’t need to be licensed or registered.
This Toyota needed a lot, a lot to make it run, even more to make it safe.
The valve cover gasket had been replaced by a barbarian, someone who had cranked the cover down so tight that an entire section of the gasket squeezed out leaving a space wide enough for a river of oil to flow onto the exhaust manifold. The friction material in the front was nonexistent, the rear brakes had a couple of thousandths of friction material left and the right rear hub bearing was crying out for mercy.
The check-engine light was on. The catalytic converter was poisoned. And, the vehicle would barely run, which in this case wasn’t such a bad thing. No sane, rational, full-functioning adult would want something like this on the same roads traveled by anyone you even remotely cared about.
Nevertheless, we estimated the repairs and presented our findings to the person who had brought the vehicle in and that is when reality, at least as I know it, ceased to exist. When confronted with this laundry list of failures running from trivial to critical, her answer was incredibly open and honest.
“I’m going to pick the car up. I have people and they can make it pass,” implying that for a price, the “right price,” she was going to have her little Corolla clean-piped. That’s the art of having someone enter one vehicle into the computer while placing the emissions probe into the tailpipe of another.
What about the oil leak, the brakes and the steering?
Brace yourself, because here it comes. “I’m not going to invest any money in this vehicle. My daughter drives it and she doesn’t have a driver’s license. If she gets stopped they’re going to impound it! So, it’s OK if it’s a piece of (insert your own euphemism).”
You’ve got to think about that for a second. You’ve got to let it roll around inside your head. This person had no problem breaking a half-dozen of our laws. She had no problem allowing her daughter to drive a vehicle that was dangerously unsafe. In fact, because it was likely to be impounded, she actually preferred it remain in its present condition.
Was the vehicle insured? I think not?
We already know it wasn’t registered, at least, not yet. And, we know it isn’t safe. We also know that it won’t be long before it’s registered and back on the road, repaired properly, or not.
What does this say about our industry? What does it say about personal responsibility, morality and ethics?
If you ask me, the real tragedy is that while she has people, we don’t. At least, not the right people.
We don’t have legislators with the courage to take on the dishonest practices and shady people who populate the industry that exists within our industry. They aren’t motivated nor do they have the courage to talk about licensing shops or technicians either.
We don’t have people, enough people within our ranks, willing or able to tackle the impossible questions that have haunted our industry long before I entered it and that will continue to haunt it long after I’m gone.
And, without people, enough people, we have no power. Certainly, not the power our numbers would suggest we should have. And, we won’t until we can honestly say that we have people too.
Mitch Schneider is a fourth-generation auto repair professional and the owner of Schneider’s Auto Repair in Simi Valley, Calif. He is an industry educator, author, seminar facilitator, and blogger at mitchschneidersworld.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.