What Technicians Will and Won’t Pay For

The modern automotive service market is highly competitive. Not only are independent shops combating increasing marketing challenges from service and retail parts chains, they’re competing with new-car dealerships with their “state-of-the-art” service departments.

Caught in the midst of this competitive maelstrom is today’s ASE Certified Master Technician (CMAT) with the L1 Advanced Engine Performance Certification. Today’s CMAT L1 technician must maintain a tremendous personal investment in tools, equipment and information. Unlike his predecessors who depended upon intuition and basic test equipment to diagnose engine performance issues, it’s not unusual for today’s L1 tech to invest at least $40,000 of his own money in hand and air-powered tools. In order to improve his work productivity, today’s technician may also own an extensive inventory of professional digital ohmmeters, digital lab scopes, scan tools and accessories to diagnose today’s vehicle electronics.

Moreover, the modern CMAT L1 knows that he must keep his technical know-how on par with his tool and equipment investments. Because the modern technician must be an experienced problem solver, he must allocate a tremendous amount of personal time to reading technical publications, researching technical problems on various Internet Web sites, and learning how to use the newest tools of his trade. Consequently, today’s L1 tech is a walking corporate entity who bases his professional marketability upon his possession and command of an extensive inventory of tool, equipment and information items. With that in mind, let’s explore what technicians are willing to pay for, and what they’re not, in the areas of replacement parts, tools, equipment and training.

The Cost Of Parts

Because the fit and quality of replacement parts are critical to the success of any repair, both are a major issue to any technician wanting to produce a satisfactory repair. If the parts being installed do not fit properly or break often, then the technician may end up paying for them.

Of course, performance-related issues are a major problem on the modern vehicle because of the precision required to make an engine function properly. A remanufactured mass air flow sensor must, for example, measure air flow into the engine in an exact gram per second calibration. If the calibration is off by a few percentage points, the engine management computer may store a “lean air-fuel mixture” trouble code. Of course, this leads the technician to waste precious time trying to determine if the lean mixture is caused by a worn fuel pump, clogged fuel filter or a bad oxygen sensor.

Universal-fit parts are another cost to the technician because they often double the installation time of the custom, OE-style part. After all, the savings of the universal fit part are in inventory costs, not installation time. As a result, the additional installation time may come out of the technician’s pocket if his service writer quoted “book time” to the customer on the part replacement. Of course, this is an injustice to the technician who absorbs the true cost of the part out of his own portion of the flat-rate formula.

High-failure rates also burden the technician because precious time must be spent diagnosing and replacing the part. If warranty pay is available it usually pays only for half of the time spent replacing the part. If the part fails repeatedly, the technician has only to count the times that he has installed that particular part to estimate its impact to his paycheck.

The Cost of Tools

Although buying quality tools is a must for any technician, it’s also important that he buy tools that perform well on the job and last throughout his entire career as an auto repair technician. After all, the $20,000 to $40,000 box of tools parked at the front of his service bay is a lifetime accumulation of sweat and hard work. That simple fact explains why technicians pay seemingly exorbitant prices to tool truck vendors for basic items like wrenches, screwdrivers and hammers; However, once purchased, the technician keeps them for a lifetime of service.

In the current market, many techs are discovering that their local jobbers sell tools equivalent in quality to those sold by tool truck drivers. In most cases, jobber-supplied tools are sold at a considerable savings, not to mention the convenience of dealing with a local source. The key to selling tools to the modern technician is to sell a tool that performs well and includes the critical “lifetime” warranty.

The Cost of Equipment

Here again, most CMAT-L1 technicians maintain a basic hand-held diagnostic equipment inventory. Accuracy, reliability, warranty and service are equipment components that he’s paid his hard-earned money for. Modern diagnostics require a technician to measure electricity in thousandths of a volt or ampere, pressure in a few hundredths of a pound per square inch and time in millionths of a second. Similarly, computer scan tools must be able to instantly communicate with as many as eight on-board computers and modules found in modern automobiles.

Accuracy means that the equipment reports the exact data, time after time. Repeatability means that the equipment reports the same data or measurement time after time. Reliability means that the equipment must perform day after day in a rough, hostile, shop environment. Warranty means that the manufacturer must remedy defects to the purchaser’s satisfaction within a reasonable amount of time. And service means that, if the equipment is damaged, it can be repaired in a cost-effective and expeditious manner!

The Cost of Training

Unlike parts, tools and equipment, training is a technician’s investment in professional development. The only way he can lose the value of his training is through time and obsolescence. Of course, training involves an investment in time and money. Today’s technical training usually costs $200 to $300 dollars per eight-hour segment. This training may cost more if the topic is highly specialized or requires long-distance travel and housing.

Since jobber-supplied training is often paid by the jobber himself or by a token fee paid for by the technician, it’s particularly important that the presentation be worth the technician’s investment of time and effort. Because aftermarket manufacturers present most aftermarket jobber training, it’s a given fact that some product promotion will be interwoven throughout any training presentation.

But, what the technician expects for his investment of time is new information about new products, new tools, new equipment and new vehicles. Too often, that objective is obscured by product promotion, industry happy-talk and a re-hash of old and very basic technical material. On the other hand, a good presenter can take a mundane topic like gasket technology and turn it into a technological bombshell by examining in-depth the current technology and installation requirements of the common gasket. Lubricants and coolants are another, often taken-for-granted topic that, in recent years, has become a very technically intricate topic. This subject has left technicians adrift in a vast sea of product claims and counter-claims. In this instance, some clarification from a major manufacturer would be an excellent investment of a technician’s time and money.

The Cost of Net Worth

As mentioned at the outset, the modern CMAT L1 automotive technician is a one-man corporate entity who represents a net worth of tools, equipment and information to his employer. Therefore, it’s exceedingly important for the jobber to understand that each purchase is a decision by the technician to meet the ongoing demands of his trade. Failure to spend wisely will result in the technical demise of the technician and, eventually, of the jobber who serves him. Avoidance of that end is well worth the price that the technician is willing to pay.