Auto Service World
Feature   February 4, 2014   by CARS Magazine

It’s Your Turn

Ottawa shop owner Matt Martel on honouring the value of a technician's work.

There’s a big difference between the highly-trained licensed technicians that work at full-service repair facilities, and the unlicensed and untrained employees at quick-lube shops.

You and I know it. But does the consumer?

The fact is, it costs a lot of time and money to train an automotive repair technician. And the costs continue, even after they are licensed, in the form of ongoing training And those costs factor into the pricing structure of every full-service automotive repair and service shop.

Quick-lube places do not face these costs because they’re not required to staff licensed techs. Yet many consumers think lube shops offer the same level of service that full-service shops offer.

Frankly, the fact that they are our competition in the first place is mind-boggling to me. But that’s the reality. To many consumers, we’re all the same.

The full service industry needs to band together to combat this misconception. I think we’d all benefit from an ad campaign to promote the advantages of qualified automotive service… as well as the disadvantages of unqualified service.

We should let consumers know that qualified automotive technicians can identify safety issues – including those that have the potential to cause fatal accidents – that would not be spotted by untrained eyes at quick-lube shops.

We should point out that a vehicle inspection at a full-service facility is far more comprehensive than what happens in a lube shop. We don’t merely check fluid levels.

We should stress that even new vehicles need to be properly inspected. Whether a car has 100,000 kilometers on it or 10,000, components can fail. Qualified technicians can identify unusual wear patterns and faulty parts before they cause unsafe driving situations.

We should let consumers know that “no appointment necessary” is not a great reason to choose a service shop. It may be convenient but a bigger consideration is how qualified are the people who do the work.

At lube shops, the “tech” is not trained in vehicle mechanics. Fluid changes are all they’re trained to do.

I think it should be mandatory for quick-lube places to be more honest about the way they operate, and the limitations of their staff.

Accepting lube shops as equivalent to full-service shops devalues what we do for a living the same way backyarders do.

Unfortunately some licensed techs do side work in their own driveways to supplement their income. They are giving consumers a low-cost alternative to the kind of proper job a full-service shop offers. Like lube shops, they create demand for inferior services.

I believe that if consumers understood the true value of competent work, many would choose full-service shops over lower-cost alternatives. This would help our industry as a whole.

And if the technicians who routinely do side work, can convince their clients to take their cars to the shop for the full-service job, they’d be proving their value as employees. They might even be able to use their clients as a bargaining chip for higher wages or a better bonus.

I’m sure this last suggestion will get the blood of some readers boiling, but I believe it is important to bring consumers back into the fold of full and competent service.

We would all benefit – and our roads would be safer – if more consumers serviced their vehicles through the proper channels. And they’ll only do that if they truly understand the great divide that exists between full-service shops and cheaper alternatives.


Matt Martel is owner of Lebrun Service Center in Ottawa, Ont. He is also a member of the Canadian Technician Advisory Panel.

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