From dangerous cars to diagnostics overkill


210910accex_300pxMike Owen answers aftermarket questions about how to retain staff, protect the public from dangerous vehicles and keep on top of new diagnostic tools.

A customer came to collect a car that I think is in very dangerous condition. Do I have to hand over the keys?

Unfortunately you cannot impound a customer’s property (other than for payment); whilst this may serve the public interest best, it would be against the law.

But, hold on a second, don’t we have to carry out duty-of-care inspections and inform the customers or we are held liable? Yes you do – and that is what you do in this situation. The limit of your liability is to inform the customer only – this is where the old proverb ‘there are none as deaf as those who will not hear’ must be taken literally and you protect yourself accordingly.

Either get a signature to the effect that you have informed the customer of the problems with their car or tell them in front of a witness – yes, you have to be that formal; if this all goes wrong your conveniently ‘deaf’ customer (or their insurers or, even worse, the police) will expect you to prove that you did this or hold you liable.

It is important that your advice can be referred to – the vehicle condition should be completely described on the invoice; further, I have used a red stamp with something like ‘customer informed of vehicle condition’ and got them to sign across as evidence of them having seen it.

I remember an instance with a customer who drove a Porsche 928 back when they were new but who would not put tyres on the vehicle his wife and au-pair used to ferry their fleet of kids about in. But I’ve always worked on one simple premise – what would I feel if it was my wife and kids coming the other way when it all goes wrong?

I’ve taken on three new staff over the past 12 months and lost all three of them to other garages. I think we got on – I tried to pay them well and show them a few tricks – so what am I doing wrong?

Something fundamental is wrong – I hate to be the bringer of bad news but generally staff don’t leave a bad job, they leave bad management. The rate of staff ‘churn’ suggests that the initial promise tempts them enough to join but the experience doesn’t deliver.

Look towards what you offer your staff, not just that they are lucky to have a job.

Do your technicians understand that your company is going somewhere, and that you see them as a part of it?

Do you look at their training needs and discuss their development or just issue rollickings? Do you get all thin-lipped and difficult or carry on like Captain Chaos leaving a trail of destruction and aggravation behind you?

No manager likes to face their own shortcomings a worthy American, Tom Northup, suggested: “No great manager or leader ever fell from heaven, it’s learned not inherited.”

Oh, and by the way, the process never stops for you any more than it does for your technical staff. Being a manager doesn’t mean you’re the best at fixing cars – you may choose to fulfil that role as well but your staff look to you for other qualities.

But where do you learn management skills? More and more we are asked to run ‘Introduction to Management’ modules; these are becoming more available, and better attended, as the understanding grows about the need for these skills.

Motivation isn’t about being friends and asking them for dinner once a month – in fact this is almost to be discouraged. Motivation, that often misunderstood management tool is about getting staff to ‘want to’ rather than ‘have to’ – and that includes wanting to stay.

I’ve got a cupboard full of diagnostic equipment of every shape, size and colour, but it never seems to be enough. When will it end?

The march of technology is relentless and, due to this, so is the investment in equipment to satisfy working on it. I’m afraid those are the industry facts of life.

As you so rightly ask, why is there no universal equipment? Unfortunately expecting such a piece of equipment isn’t likely to happen for no other reason than a lack of cooperation, at the engineering level, by the manufacturers – one could also ask if such a piece of equipment would suit their end game?

It does beg the question, due to required investment, should independent garages start to specialise in order to get the use out of their investment or perhaps form ‘equipment clubs’? If you will accept that the equipment is bought, together with the training to support it, in order to increase ability and efficiency, this would lead you towards the former as the latter would incur the cost of training that supports the equipment, but not necessarily the hands-on experience, to turn the training into profit.

I have said before, unnecessary investment, without clear ‘return on investment’ is not to be recommended (despite the promises of the silver-tongued salesman). What do you do, how often do you do it – or how often can’t you do it, all serve to build a picture of your requirements, focus on these to start with. Secondly consider the division of cost, initially you could say it adds a pound to every hour you sell – but not if it increases the hours you can sell by increasing your efficiency.

Back when I was on the spanners, we used to have a horrible suspension job that was a nightmare, hardly a pleasure more of an endurance test – seven hours book time to complete (and no chance of bonus). An equipment company developed a ‘special tool’ to do the job in-situ with no dismantling and could be completed in less than an hour – the cost of the tool was over £500. Our ‘foreman’ couldn’t get his head around the fact that he was not losing six hours but gaining five and that the yield for those hours would double (which would pay for the tool in days) – the right equipment has the power to do this.

Put simply training and equipment will remain a factor of the industry well into the future, accept it, structure your finances to reflect it – but ensure that return on investment.

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