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Confessions of an Ex-Mechanic ("Cass")

Forward: in case you wondered why independent mechanics can often do a better job than dealers, here are some reasons. We have, incidentally, also read that dealers have very poor employee retention, as a whole - which may explain why their service seems lower than local garages.

the joans dealershipI love cars and have been working on them all my life as an "amateur". Perhaps I'm more compulsive than most backyard mechanics, but I always study the factory manual before tackling a new job to make sure I know the procedure and have the right tools. I clean the work site, wire brush and lubricate threads, use a torque wrench where specified, and generally pay attention to detail and take my time to make sure every aspect of the job is done as well as I can do it. For me working on my cars isn't just a hobby, it's a sacred ritual.

Years ago I thought I might try working on cars for a living, but it was a rude awakening when I hired on at a Porsche-Audi dealership back in 1974. I saw how mechanics became experts at cutting corners to beat the flat rate, something I can't really blame them for. The flat rate system seemed to be a one-sided scam designed to benefit the owner of the dealership at the expense of the mechanics and customers. I learned that somebody who worked slowly and methodically like me had no chance of making a living in this environment.

Before I could quit, I was fired by the service manager (after he congratulated me on my "zero" comeback rate) for "not pushing enough work through."

Working at a dealership made one thing clear to me - I don't really love cars, I love MY cars. It was no fun working on cars that were close to being junk, cars that owners didn't care about, weren't maintained, were butchered by hack mechanics, smelled like cesspools; cars where I would have to clean out tons of fast food refuse and other crap just to look under the dash. If the owner didn't care about his car, how could I be expected to?

As a customer, I have always been disappointed the few times I've taken my car in for dealer service. Dealer mechanics don't pay attention to detail in their rush to get the job out the door, and quality lies in the details. For example, I've found greasy fingerprints on the steering wheel, vacuum hoses yanked out of their support brackets, tie wraps cut off and not replaced, wire harnesses stretched and pushed out of position, separated wire connectors, loose nuts and bolts, fasteners dropped into engine recesses etc. One time I even picked up my car and drove it home with a loose front wheel. The mechanic lamely explained that he was called to the phone and forgot to tighten the lug nuts, as if it wasn't his fault! I would have been more impressed if he had simply apologized.

In spite of this, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the real pros working out there. In no other field is a person expected to know and invest so much with so little remuneration, and so little recognition of the knowledge needed to do the job. In no other field can an idiot be hired to work next to an experienced professional at the same rate of pay. My hat is off to the pro techs because I know just how difficult their job is. But because of the system, I'll service my cars myself.

Contrary to popular belief, repairing a car is not a job anybody can do. It's more accurate to say that it's a job many people attempt, but few do right.

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