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The mechanic whisperer

March 26, 2014
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

In the film "The Horse Whisperer," Robert Redford explained that his function was not to fix a horse that people had a problem with, but rather to take care of a horse that had a people problem. The whispering part was because he didn't want people overhear him when he told the horse that it wasn't its fault, it was the screwed-up people at fault. At least that's the way I remember it. If I'm wrong, that may be the reason I'm not a movie reviewer. But if I'm right, the concept might have broader coverage.

For instance, many of us, (including me) have had problems with mechanics. What if, (just guessing here), the root of the problem was with the people, (other people of course, not you) rather than exclusively with the mechanics? Crazy, I know, but relax a minute and stay with me.

A major complaint in the car repair field is that the repair took too long. Some people would like for the mechanic to start on their car and stay exclusively on it until it's finished. They stand and stare at the mechanic while he works. They get hot if they see their mechanic working on a different car while theirs' sits.

Here's some food for thought: Suppose mechanics set up iron-clad appointment times, the way these people think it should be done.

- 1. What if the customer missed the appointment? If the mechanic was expected to work exclusively on their car, he would have to twiddle his thumbs until the next appointment. Would they pay for a missed appointment? Of course not, don't be silly. It's only a $90 per hour mechanic, after all.

- 2. What if their car needs a part that will require a delivery time span? What should the mechanic do while he waits? He wouldn't dare work on another car. By the way, it is impossible to always know in advance all the necessary parts to complete a repair. Many faults are hidden by other faults that have to be dealt with first.

- 3. What if the customer asks for additional work "while you've got it there?" If he spends more than the allotted time on the car, what about the next scheduled car? If that next guy is like the first guy, he will raise a stink about the delay. "I had an appointment!"

- 4. What if something is so rusted that it breaks upon disassembly. It happens everyday, and cannot be forecast. Extra time and material is required, running into the next appointment. This next guy could be impatient also. "I had an appointment!"

Are these people who have mechanic problems, or (possibly) mechanics with people problems? I'd have to whisper my opinion to the mechanics. You might guess what it is. Because of these, and many other complications, shops cannot stick to a rigid schedule. They try to take in enough hours of work to fill the day, which can only be estimated. Too much and some jobs run late. Too little and time is wasted. The mechanics start each job until they reach a snag, and then start another while they wait for something on the first job, and often have several jobs, or more, going simultaneously. It may look hap-hazard to outsiders, but it is the most efficient use of labor, and therefore the least expensive way to repair cars.

People who insist on an exact time in and an exact time out are kidding themselves. Relax; adopt some of the "island" attitude. In the Caribbean Islands, they have a saying: "Hey Mon, you want a beer? No problem, relax, we have same day service!"



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