Trade Secrets

       I’m often asked by a customer or another
mechanic if I have some sort of trade secret for
finding a short in a car.  The answer is No, I really
don’t have a trade secret or some trick to finding
them faster than most.  In fact, I can only explain
it in one simple word, “Practice”. Years of practice.

      The automotive trade is unlike most other
forms of labor intensive jobs. You can’t use the
same methods of repair from year to year.  No offense to the other professional “blue-collar-trades” trades such as brick layers, plumbers, heavy equipment operators, steel workers, etc.  I know full well these trades go through many changes from year to year, but in the auto industry change is a constant thing, and there is no “one” method I know of to learn how to do it all.  Technicians have to continually update their education to be able to keep up with the constant change. This can be from the good old school of hard knocks to advanced classes.

             If you’re a dealer technician chances are you’ll learn the new systems for that particular manufacturer, and learn certain tricks of the trade or methods that will aide in diagnosing problems on that brand.  But, if you’re an independent shop that works on several different models you’ll have to learn the differences between each of them in order to be able to repair them properly without the aid of the manufacturer. 

            For instance, back in the 70’s and 80’s I could tell you flat out why the headlights would blink on a Ford or Chevy.  It was nothing to trip the voltage regulator to full field on the old internal regulated Chevy through the little hole in the back of the alternator.  If I needed to bleed the air out of a power steering system I had a little trick for that too.  All of which was learned from sharing tricks of the trade from one tech to another.

            Each vehicle had its quirks, and for each there was a trick or a short cut to solve the problem quicker and faster.  None of which is very useful today.  Those systems have changed so much that the knowledge and tricks of those days are all but useless. 

      Calling them “tricks” is probably the incorrect way of describing them. They are part of the daily diagnostics that technicians develop by studying those systems.  Today is no different, we still have to find time to study and find those tricks just as we did back then.  

       Some people want to know the “secret” to fixing the problem on their car.  Why? What secret?  I think they just want bragging rights around the office cooler, so they can show off to the office crew they know how to fix their own car.  If it’s a paying customer… I’ll be glad to explain the test procedures.   But, just try to walk into my shop and ask me how to repair your car or point you in the right direction on how to fix your car with no intention of paying me for my time… Oh, I’ll point alright… right in the direction of the front door.

             I’ve spent a better part of my life just trying to keep up with the changes, learning the tricks of the trade, and being able to provide a service that is worthy enough to earn me a living.  I can’t imagine why I would want to freely give out my “tricks of the trade” (if I even had any) to people who are only going to use the information for their own good and not support my shop or techs.

            So, are there tricks of the trade that we conveniently keep to ourselves as technicians?  Sure, not like they are only mentioned after the secret handshake and the correct password is given, no, not hardly. They are shared in different groups across the internet as well as between techs at conferences, meetings and social events.  But, there are still a few things a tech might want to keep to himself.  (Even the manufacturer has a few trade secrets they don’t like to share.)

            Think about it for a second.  Why do you pay a professional?  Knowledge, skill, and background are what you’re paying for.  I call it “Time and Talent”.  It’s the same in any profession.

       Just the other day a guy dropped a car off that had a problem with the door locks.  I diagnosed it, had the repair authorized, and had it done that same day.  Later that afternoon I called the owner and told him it was done, and he said he would be over before I closed to pick it up. When he got to the shop he told me he called another place, and they told him they could have done the same job for half as much. 

             So I asked him, “Why didn’t you have them do it in the first place?”   

             He said, “Because they already looked at it last week, but didn’t know how to figure it out.  But I won’t be bringing any work here again… you’re too expensive.”

       Even though I had a method of finding out what was wrong with the door locks, and spent the time to confirm the diagnosis, and had the repair price authorized by the customer before I started the work and made the repair, I still had to deal with an upset customer in the end, because somebody else told him they could do it cheaper. (Gee, and only after they knew what was wrong with it.)  That’s a poor trick of the trade, and it's no trade secret how some shop operators influence customers.  Quite honestly, that’s not even professional. 

       When it comes to automotive repair, find a good shop.  I’m sure they’ll have a few tricks they can use to solve your car problems.  A good independent shop with the right tools and the right attitude is not going to be the cheapest shop in town. I’ll guarantee you that.  But I’ll bet they’re pretty darn good at what they do.  It's no magic act, it's training and talent, and that’s "NO" trade secret!