Plain sailing

John Batten examines the course you need to follow to enter the seas of perpetual success

Published:  21 November, 2017

I'm not the nautical type, but I know that setting sail without sufficient preparation is foolhardy and the likelihood of you reaching your destination in a timely manner, at an agreeable cost with a healthy profit margin would be highly unlikely.
Why then do we set off into ‘technical repairs’ without preparation, but remain surprised when we meander into fog, or ends up on the rocks... No I'm not sure why either.

Elements for success
How do we avoid the perils? It's quite straightforward. The amazing thing is that the components for a smooth journey can be applied to any repair regardless of vehicle or system. So what do you need?
 

  • Clear business strategy
  • Effective marketing
  • Great front of house skills
  • A business owner who’d like to fix the vehicle first time and maximise long term profit
  •  A technician that cares. Notice I didn’t mention skill. There’s a reason for that…
  •  The right serial tool. A mix of manufacturer and generic works well
  •  The right information. Generic info has a place, just... it’s really manufacturer all the way for me here though!
  •  The correct tooling such as smoke machines, gauges, scopes etc
  •  The right amount of time. Which is not an issue if you have great marketing and a super front of house team
  •  A killer process!


That’s all you need. If we have these, we can fix the car first time, at a cost that’s beneficial to the customer and profit from technical repairs

Easy? No! – Achievable? Yes!
If it’s so straightforward then why doesn’t it always happen? Some of this can be attributed to awareness of the business owner and steps required to move forward. Although more often than not it’s common for a business owner to become entrenched in the day to day mayhem of the independent repairer rather than take a strategic look at the root cause of the issue. Take a high level view and you’ll see the reason is a simpler one; Habit! If we’re to expect consistently positive results (and we’re missing the mark currently) hen we’ll need to take action and change our habits.

If changing our habits was easy then I’d have a six pack, BUT I don’t. Why not?I don’t have a compelling WHY. Your WHY is a reason that drives you towards the desired outcome, the one thing that pulls you towards the intended result and keeps on pulling regardless of the undesirable bumps in the road that challenge your path.  With a strong enough WHY you really can achieve anything!

Ironically the reason that I don’t have a six pack is exactly the same reason technical repairs meander and sometimes hit the rocks. The business owner doesn’t have a big enough WHY.

My Epiphany
Like a lot of independent repairers I spent many years without a WHY. I opened the doors in the morning, we smiled at clients, fixed their cars, put some money in the bank. Sleep, eat, repeat. One snag though; Fixing cars was quite frustrating in some instances as they took me longer than I’d have liked and that hit my bottom line. Not great,  in fact if I’m being honest (which I can be because we’ve been together in this article for five minutes and I think we’ve become friends) it could be pretty crap some days. This was until I was exposed to a new way of thinking. I was a much younger man than I am now, back in the day when pulling codes meant looking at duty cycle (Mercedes in the 90’s if you’re wondering) and acid house was my music of choice. At this point my gaze was firmly fixed on North America. There were some technicians that just seemed to think differently and their “test the living **** out of everything” attitude sat quite well with my OCD nature. This new awareness started a chain of events that continue to this day as I’d just found my WHY! So, my new North Star was ‘diagnostics’. I’m allowed to use that word in this context as back in the day it existed as a sub genre of vehicle repair, and I’m not sure that’s broadly the case today. Anyway I committed time and resources to improve my skill set, regular visits to my ‘diagnostic gym’ revealed skills I’d not realised I had and the ‘fat’ started to fall away with just a hint of a six pack emerging. The really cool thing here though  was I started to fix the ‘technical’ issues rather than just make them better.

Better Isn’t Fixed
A first time fix is crucial. There’s a bunch of reasons why a vehicle returns to your workshop for a second crack of the diagnostic whip and it’ll be down to one of the ‘Elements for Success’ not happening (Points 4-10). The focus of our training program is to STOP cars from returning, while increasing profit along the way.

Picture a red Ford Fiesta. It was tidy enough but the MIL light was on. My client’s complaint was that he’d replaced the catalyst (trade client) as it’d had the MIL light on previously for a P0420 catalyst efficiency code. The vehicle was back with him as the light had re-appeared while his customer was driving a week or two later. I’d been asked to test the catalyst as a new one had been fitted, but I needed to find out a little more first. It transpired that the vehicle had become a boomerang and had a few issues of late. It started with a misfire. An easy enough fix, a new coil had been fitted and the client happily sent on their way. One problem… Three weeks later the vehicle's back with a misfire on the same cylinder. The same test was applied, swapping coils from one cylinder to next. Unfortunately, though the fault did not move from the offending cylinder, further testing revealed that the ECU was faulty as the coil was not being driven. The customer was called and after an awkward “why didn’t you find that last time” conversation a new ECU was fitted and the vehicle restored to good health, or at least that’s what all parties thought. You guessed it, it returned once more.

Technical Evaluation Part 3
So, the vehicle is back in their workshop, the codes are pulled to reveal a P0420 and the client is contacted to be told they have a new fault, to fix this a catalyst is required. A genuine catalyst is advised although the client does not like the quote and requests that the cheaper aftermarket alternative is supplied and fitted.

This work is duly carried out, codes cleared, learned values reset and the customer sent on their way. Well, you know what comes next. The light’s back on once more with a grumpy customer on the phone to my client That’s when the vehicle is brought to me, for the new aftermarket catalyst to be tested. It failed. We’d seen it a few times previously when the aftermarket catalyst is half the size of the original. Our procedure thereafter was nothing magical, we took a look at some serial data, carried out a few tests to ensure the engine systems where healthy and that a new genuine catalyst wouldn’t fail once fitted. Followed by our post fix procedures, we ensured the vehicle was not only better but stayed fixed. With the correct processes in place, and some additional tests carried out when the first coil was fitted, the customer could have been made aware of the impending doom that followed and made an informed choice as whether to continue with the repair or cut and run. It would have also saved the repairing garage some awkward conversations.


My client took the mistakes they made on the chin, with no cost for ‘their mistakes’ to their customer. We’re not here to judge, but to be pragmatic and if you’ve been in this industry long enough and do some honest soul searching you’ll have experienced similar situations to some greater or lesser extent. I’m keen to analyse these events and chart a voyage out of the fog.

The big question is how do we reduce these instances or rule them out completely? It’s quite straightforward. Your business should take a hard look at the ‘Elements for Success’, be honest on where you require improvement and take small but regular steps to achieve them.  You could even come and work out at our ‘diagnostic gym.’

Want to know more?
If you’d like to benefit from the experience that John has and improve your business or technical muscles then call Auto iQ today on: 01604 328 500.

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