How To Succeed As An Auto Mechanic: A Practical Guide

Hello, prospective mechanic. If you’re reading this post, there’s a minuscule chance that you’re actually considering a career spent repairing and maintaining that most of wondrous of machines, the automobile. If you’re not that person, please feel free to continue reading; I imagine this information will be useful to you as well. Somehow.

I’m your friendly(ish), average potential customer. I know a little bit about my vehicles. I know enough to install a new radiator on my own. I know to keep my oil checked and changed regularly. I can change my oil myself on my motorcycle.

I know that my 2001 Isuzu Rodeo is getting on in years. She’s about to hit 180,000 miles and I have to tell you, those have been some hard miles. I’m not her first owner (I’m probably the third or fourth, having picked her up for cheap when she was at about 120,000 miles). I haven’t always been the best owner, but I try.

With that said, please allow me to educate you on what I feel are a few basic tips that will help you to transform me from a potential customer to a paying customer and maybe, just maybe, into a returning customer. Here are a few simple steps for you to follow, aspiring auto mechanic:

  1. Don’t nag. Don’t scold me for the shit that I didn’t do. Yeah, it sucks that most of your job is going to be cleaning up the messes of people who don’t realize that car engines prefer to have oil in them and that sometimes you have to change that oil, or whatever. But scolding me for not getting a transmission flush at 100,000 miles? That’s not going to endear you in my heart, even if you’re entirely correct. (Although in my case, I didn’t own my vehicle when I passed that milestone). At this point, I’m willing to take my business to a mechanic specifically if he or she doesn’t guilt trip me about all the things I’m failing to do. I get enough of that from my doctor and my dentist, thanks.
  2. Try not to miss the forest for the trees. I went a little poetic here, so let me explain. If I bring my aging, slowly dying, fourteen-year-old, high-mileage car to you because my transmission is acting up, try to keep that in perspective as we’re conducting our business. Do I really look like I’m in a position to drop 3.5 grand into getting the transmission replaced? I didn’t pay that much when I bought the vehicle, and it sure as hell isn’t worth that much now! Consider the possibility that this sort of thing is wildly unlikely to happen. I’m more likely to respect and like you (and thus become a loyal customer) if you give me some realistic options or if you’re just flat-out honest with me about it. And no, telling me that I’m getting a good deal because the transmission is used and has “only” 100,000 miles on it doesn’t make it better.
  3. Don’t hard sell. Here’s a tip and it’s one that’s true whether you’re running an auto repair shop or a video game store or a restaurant.

    Don’t. Fucking. Hard. Sell. Me.

    The first time you do that is the last time you get my business. Don’t tell me that I need to replace my sticking shifter lever RIGHT AWAY BEFORE IT BLOWS UP ON ME, because you know what? It’s been doing that for over five years. It’s been doing that since I bought the car. It’s not high on my priority list. All that this particular warning does is set off my bullshit detector that you’re trying to hard sell me. And once that happens, I’m moving on.

    Don’t hard sell. Realize that there are many people like myself who just want to conduct our transaction as painlessly and with as little hassle as possible. Don’t push the warranty deal. Don’t push the extended plan. Don’t try to push for something I obviously don’t want. Yes, I realize that for many of these things and many businesses, the corporate overlords are forcing you to do them. Sometimes it’s not your fault. But sometimes it is.

With these simple tips, I think you’ll find the loss of revenue from that initial repair job is more than compensated from the loyal business I’ll bring to your establishment over the next several years. The initial loss will further be offset by the fact that I’ll tell everyone I know about how much I like working with you, thus driving more business in your direction. Everyone is happy.

On an unrelated note, does anyone know a good mechanic in the Tucson area? I’m looking. Thanks.

Thoughts After Installing A New Radiator In My Isuzu

My car radiator developed a leak about two months ago, although leak is the wrong word. Leak implies a slow, steady drip and what really happened could be better described as “torrential, geyser-like, and/or relentless.” Due to the poverty imposed by paying for my grad school course out of my own pocket, I parked the car for a few months and became a motorcycle-0nly commuter. This decision was advantageous for several reasons!

  1. Riding a motorcycle is fun.
  2. Riding a motorcycle is very inexpensive. $8 for a week’s worth of gas is awesome.
  3. Riding a motorcyle makes you look cool.

However, this decision was made in early October and while the rest of the country might be experiencing the prelude to winter that is autumn, for us desert rats, October is still basically summer (except it’s not actually summer, because it’s “warm” rather than “Nazi-face-meltingly hot”).

When November rolled in and the temperature began to plummet, the good reasons for taking the motorcycle to work each day were gradually eclipsed by the fact that it’s very, very, very cold at eighty-five+ miles per hour when the thermometer is a blip above the freezing point of water. So fixing my Isuzu was something that was always on the back of my mind, though the cost of paying to have it done made it untenable.

Unless I did it myself!

Last week, I bought a new radiator. This past weekend, with qualified adult supervision (i.e. somebody who knows what the hell he’s actually doing), I found myself on my back in the dirt, wrenching and torquing and sawing and doing my best impression of “guy who can fix his own car.” Here are a few things that I learned during the process:

  • You know how in Indiana Jones movies, the ancient switches and traps still function after thousands of years? That’s bullshit. It took me almost an hour to pry off a basic metal clamp because after twelve years, it had merged with the tube it was clamping. The tube and the clamp were as one. There’s no way an ancient stone pressure plate is going to slide down just because you picked up the treasure it was supporting.
  • If you can’t get a metal clamp off after an hour of screwing and pulling (how very deviant sounding, but it’s really not), it’s okay to take a hacksaw and cut the damn thing off, since you’re replacing the tube anyway. This is immensely gratifying.
  • I had no idea radiators and transmissions were even connected, but it turns out, they are!
  • Old transmission fluid is really, really gross when it splatters on your face and collects in your hair.
  • On the positive side, you’ll fit in with the motley citizenry of South Tucson when you go to buy replacement clamps because the first set of clamps no longer fit due to all the screwing and pulling you did earlier.
  • The first store you go to will sell you the wrong clamps.
  • The second store will have the right clamps, but will try to get you out of there as quickly as possible because you look and smell like a derelict.
  • When it’s all said and done, you’ll feel absolutely awesome because you saved a few hundred dollars on labor.
  • You’ll feel better still because of the strong feeling of self-reliance in doing your own work.
  • You’ll be grateful to the person who supervised your efforts and made sure you didn’t accidentally hacksaw the brake cable, or something.
  • You’ll cry out in rage and despair when you realize the next day that now you are leaking transmission fluid from somewhere.

Looks like it’ll be another cold ride tomorrow until I can get that fixed. Sigh.