Auto Service World
Feature   May 1, 2005   by CARS Magazine

Perspectives on “Backyarders”

While the technician wage issue continues to simmer across the country, another contentious practice is lighting up SSGM readers, "backyarding". Working on the side competes with a technician's employer. Technicians who do it claim the need to supplement their income. Here are a couple of perspectives from readers. -- Jim Anderton, Editor.

Hi Jim:

This letter is in response to Robert Summers’ letter in the March 2005 SSGM. First of all, what makes shop owners think that they have exclusive rights to all repairs? We have the skills, we own the tools; we should have the right to use them where and how we choose. The fact that you lease a building and throw in a hoist or two does not give you the right to charge $80 to $100 per hour and only pay us $20 for our abilities, our tools and our sweat.

“Backyarding” is sometimes the only way to make ends meet; what makes you think that if one of your techs does work on the side he’s stealing your customers? Most of the time techs are approached and asked to do side jobs by the customer, friends or family. I agree that unskilled people should not be sold parts, especially safety related items. However, a licensed tech should have the right to purchase parts and make a living any way he can.

If you want loyalty, then get a dog! If you want techs to stop doing side jobs then pay them! What other job requires the type of cash outlay for tools and training that this one does? What other profession requires its practitioners to seek training on their own time and at their own expense? What makes you think that you have the right to make a 100 percent profit on parts just for picking up the phone and then charge $80 an hour for our skills and only pay us $20 an hour??? You want loyalty? Give us 50 percent of the labour rate and 20 percent of the parts profit. I guarantee I’ll never do a side job again! The thing that owners just don’t get is this: We are not general labourers, we are highly skilled people. Without us you have no business. Without us there is no business! You can’t find techs because we’ve all had enough! We are leaving! We are discouraging young people from making the same mistake we did! This industry is dying because we are sick and tired of having nothing, going nowhere and being treated like dirt. You know I used to care about this job; I used to take pride in being up to date and well trained. I used to think that the better I got the more I would be worth. Unfortunately I was sadly mistaken; I’m no better off now than I was 15 years ago.

Have a nice day!

Another Fed Up Tech

Dear Jim:

I agree with Robert Summers’ feelings that the backyard work of techs is a problem. In my company it is not tolerated and the tech will go work somewhere else as he loses his job with me. I also report them to the GST people and the regulatory body here in Alberta so they are investigated under the Fair Trade Act. This is ruthless and can be taken as such but if they want extra money they can always go to work at a convenience store. If all employers did this and paid techs what they are really worth and obeyed the employment standards regarding overtime there would not be “backyarding” techs. Thanks for letting me voice my opinion.

Darryl Hladky

Clutch and Grab Transmission

Edmonton, Alberta

Editor Jim Anderton comments:

No one should have to “backyard” to make ends meet. If highly skilled techs is being grossly underpaid relative to the market, then there are serious problems with the business and it’s probably time to look elsewhere. Bob Greenwood warns of this as one sign of a business on the way out. If the current market wages are universally low, however, that’s an industry problem, not an issue with a specific shop. For example, the fed up tech that hasn’t moved ahead in 15 years isn’t alone in that Canadians in general are suffering from declining standards of living in many sectors. This is a problem for society as a whole, and it feeds on itself as customers have less money to spend on repairs. If a tech wants to work on the side, the ethical thing to do is to not compete in the local market of his or her employer and certainly not to solicit jobs during regular working hours. The best solution might be to open a shop and run it as owner/operator. The hardest part there is making our notorious banks see that this is a business worth loaning money to. Techs can also form partnerships to spread the risk and reward. Add a building and some equipment to a tech’s skills, tools and license and you have a business. Just be sure to take management training too!

Matt Matlock in Sherwood Park Alberta read my comment in the January issue of SSGM about the practice of renting cars with all-season radials in snowy Canadian cities:


I read with interest your article in the January edition of SSGM. I too have experienced the problem of all season tires on National Rental in Newfoundland. I have been there on business four times this winter and every rental I have made, the car came with all-season tires and on two occasions the tread remaining was very little. Needless to say, Newfoundland gets a lot of snow and I need to drive across the island which is about an 8 hour drive and I am scared to do so with the tires supplied on the rental cars. With our dealer in St. John’s I made a call on the firm that has the National franchise and talked to the fleet maintenance manager. His response was that they were not going to the expense of installing winter tires as the vehicles are taken out of service with 20-40K. I asked him if his company vehicle had winter tires and he assured me they were. As you know the term all-season was marketed wrongly from the get go and Customers have a hard time relating to the new line ups of winter tires and ice radials from the different manufacturers. I have got to the point that when I go back the next time to Newfoundland that I will reserve a 4 wheel drive vehicle. At least I will have a bit more control.

Matt Matlock

Tirecraft Auto Centers

Dealer Development Manager

Sherwood Park, Alberta

Corporate Office

Matt’s experience occurred at a National office, but it’s important to note that the issue is universal in the auto rental industry. Would you pay, say, five bucks a day more for good ice radials in the winter? I would. Might be an opportunity for someone out there! – Jim Anderton

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