Auto Service World
Feature   February 1, 2005   by CARS Magazine

A Customer Speaks

Motorist Dave Hunt spied a copy of SSGM at 2002 SSGM Garage of the Year Modern Tire & Towing in Agassiz, B.C. As a customer, his thoughts are pretty interesting....

Motorist Dave Hunt spied a copy of SSGM at 2002 SSGM Garage of the Year Modern Tire & Towing in Agassiz, B.C. As a customer, his thoughts are pretty interesting.

Dear Jim:

I picked up a copy of SSGM magazine while waiting for my car to be fixed. I became interested in the article about technician payrates, and some of the reader comments that were sent in. I am not a mechanic, but I am a customer and therefore I will be the one indirectly paying any technician’s wages. Consequently, I thought my comments as a consumer might be of interest.

I sympathize with some of the comments made, and in particular appreciate the amount of effort and money that goes into training, equipping, and developing a good technician. The comment about technicians having to read more in a year than doctors was particularly enlightening. I am willing to pay higher rates for repair service but that willingness comes with some conditions.

First and foremost, the industry is in my opinion suffering a PR and customer service problem. When you read articles such as Reader’s Digest annual review of service centres and see that up to 70% of shops misdiagnosed a small engine problem, or overcharged for work that was not necessary, then as a customer I have to ask myself why I should pay more for this type of “service”? If there really is so much training and learning going on, and technicians really are so qualified, then why the poor results in the annual surveys? Whatever the reasons, you have to admit that the results don’t inspire confidence, and don’t assist technicians in any effort to get higher pay rates.

Fortunately, I personally don’t have this problem. My service provider is Modern Tire in Agassiz B.C. and they are great, just as was mentioned in one of your previous years articles. However, even among the best I still have some concerns. When I take my Cadillac in for servicing I want the best technician working on it. The electronics are complicated, and sometimes quite specific to that one vehicle so I am willing to pay extra to have someone with the requisite specialized knowledge do the repairs. However, when my daughter takes her 1984 Toyota Tercel in to have her exhaust, brakes, or carb repaired, then exactly why should she be paying premium prices for work that a competent backyarder could do? In this case, I don’t care about training and upgrades, we could have a technician who stopped learning in 1985 and still be assured a proper repair on the Toyota. Now, I can understand it from the shop owners perspective, whether your tech is working on my Cadillac or my daughter’s Tercel, he is costing you the same amount of money but frankly, that is your issue not mine as a consumer. Perhaps the solution is to have shops that are increasingly more specialized, just like doctors.

I can go to the General Practitioner/corner garage for a general diagnoses and routine maintenance or repairs, with the expectation that if needed I will be referred to the proper place for more specialized service and the more costly technicians. Just some thoughts.

Dave Hunt, by Internet

Rick Gurton , co-owner of D&R Automotive Service in Waterloo, Ontario, feels that some industry advocates are deceiving young people about income expectations on entering the trade.

Dear Jim:

Over the past several months, I have read several articles about attracting young people to the automotive trade. Beverlie cook wrote in the September issue of CASP magazine, I quote “in fact a career as an automotive or collision repair technician offers work that is satisfying, well paying, secure and rewarding”. Don McLaughlin says in the CARS Insider section of the October issue of SSGM magazine. “A good registered service technician can make $65-100,000 per year, and doesn’t start out with a huge student loan debt and is unlikely to be out of work anytime soon”. The Canadian Automotive and Trucking Institute recently ran a radio ad which stated that if you want to make a 6 figure yearly income, then you should consider a career in the automotive trade. (this was eventually changed to read “if you would like to earn $25.00 or more per hour then consider a career in the automotive trade”. Much closer to reality but still exaggerated. I have been employed as an automotive technician since 1982. I have an interprovincial seal, diesel endorsement, ASE master certification, and have held several propane-related licenses as well as ozone depletion certificates. I am presently the co owner of D&R Automotive Service in Waterloo, Ontario. considering the fragile nature of the average person’s view of the automotive business, do we really want to trick them into having their children commit to an automotive career under false pretences? Let’s look at the facts. According to Statistics Canada, in 1995 a licensed automotive technician made an average of $34,570 per year. In 1995 the average for all occupations was $40,281. In 2001 it rose to $35,004 for an automotive technician. While in 2004 an auto body technician averaged $31,485. Automotive installers averaged $24,711. Automotive assemblers averaged $41,239. For comparison sake a licensed electrician averaged $42,000 plumber, $39,000 millwright, $52,000, fire fighter, $56,000 and police officer, $58,000. The vast majority of these other occupations include full benefits and full pension plans. While benefits in the automotive field are hit and miss, pensions are almost unheard of. While an apprentice may not accumulate a student loan debt, $20-30,000 investment in tools by the time they are licensed is not far fetched. Let’s not bring up the tool tax debate; this argument has been going on since I started my apprenticeship. The latest allowance for apprentices was immediately offset by the cost to attend trade school. I sell customers work on a daily basis, some of which is very expensive. I do not want them thinking that we as technicians earn 2 to 3 times as much as we really do. In 1983 I attended the late Mike Austin’s master mechanic’s school while I was a first year apprentice. Mike stated that in 5 years technicians would be making 30.00 per hour, because of the incoming fuel injection and electronics. Wages have definitely increased since then but have fallen very short of expectations. Some people today will claim the same type of huge increases. “Technicians will be earning what they deserve”. You can understand my skepticism. People also say that the diagnostic specialists make the highest pay rates, while most people know that the highest paid technicians are the “front end and brake specialists”. Several years ago I read that more than half of the licensed technicians in Ontario were not employed as technicians, but were working in other trades. Can you blame them? Three automotive technicians that I grew up with are now firefighters, with one working as a millwright. Read higher pay, full benefits, and full pensions. The CARS Tool Kit states that an automotive technician earns an average of $35,000 per year, a shop foreman, $65,000 per year and a shop owner $52,000 per year. While I agree that there is a shortage of skilled automotive technicians, there is no shortage of places to get an automobile repaired. I think that a shortage of places to get a car repaired is what is needed to increase wages to where they should be. Maybe then we can attract skilled people into the automotive trade!

Rick Gurton

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