On the flight back from Las Vegas after attending SEMA and AAPEX in October of 2018, I had the great fortune of meeting a young man who is incredibly bright and has a really interesting perspective on our industry. I asked Nicholas Wiltse to write a guest blog for us and am really excited to publish his first work.

 Nicholas Wiltse is a freshman at Idaho State University, studying Automotive Technology and Business Management. Nicholas graduated from Rolling Meadows High School (located in the Northwest Suburbs of Chicago), where he took two years of vocational automotive classes.  In high school, Nicholas contributed to the conversion of a 1999 Mazda Miata into a turbocharged drift car that acquired sponsorship and won awards at car shows the vehicle has been featured. Nicholas chose the program at Idaho State because it was the best fit for him when considering the school location, size, and programs offered. He chose to study business along with automotive technology because his goal is to own and operate a custom 4×4 build shop. 

Check out his article and let us know what you think!

While a person’s reputation has always been among their most valuable assets, in today’s world of Google® searches, Yelp® reviews, and Twitter® rants, a person’s reputation is so easily obtainable that only the ethical person will succeed for long. Behaving in an ethical manner in the automotive industry goes far beyond just being a hard worker, doing a good job, and being polite to customers. With all the ins and outs of the automotive industry, it is very easy to make a few slip ups and get away with it. It is very simple to overcharge an unwitting customer, to damage a vehicle or tool without owning up to the mistake, or to take something that nobody will notice. Conduct of the types described above may lead to short term gain, but at the end of the day, integrity and respect for the customer and your coworkers results in long-term success.

A problem that has plagued the automotive industry for years is the upselling of work; upselling work means to sell work that isn’t necessary. There is a fine line between doing maintenance and repairs before it is too late and there is catastrophic damage, and selling repairs and especially maintenance, so far in advance that it is a waste of the customer’s money. While it is more time and cost effective for the customer to do many services at once since the technician already has the car in the shop and parts pulled off, it is not cost effective to the customer when the technician sells work that isn’t needed. The former is done in the best interest of the customer. The later is done in the interest of the shop or technician to make more money.  The ethical technician presents the customer with their findings of what work should be done immediately, what work can be put off to a later day, and what relevant risks might be so the customer can make informed decisions.

WrenchWay: A Better Way to Hire Technicians

Even worse than upselling, some shops blatantly scam people by charging the customer for work that the shop didn’t complete. For example, my high school automotive teacher just had a hose clamp loose causing his truck to leak coolant. He was wary of a shop scamming him; he put a little sticker with his initials on it on the water pump. When the shop told him that they replaced his water pump, a $300 repair, he walked out and pulled the sticker off and showed the manager that his technicians were trying to outright steal $300 just to tighten a clamp. This type of behavior is not just unethical, it is criminal, and has no place in the automotive industry.

Another source of potential unethical behavior in the automotive industry is the way technicians and shops are paid.  The automotive industry operates on a flat-rate system, where the technician is paid per job, not per hour. Every manufacturer has their book of labor times. If the book says it takes 7.2 hours to replace a transmission and the technician completes the job in 5 hours, he still gets paid 7.2 hours. The flat rate system also works the other way, if the technician breaks a bolt or forgets to put a part inside and it ends up taking the technician 9 hours, he still gets paid 7.2 hours. Sadly, it is common for the shop to make the customer pay for the technician’s mistake by padding times to make up for time lost to a broken bolt or having to do the job over again. Behaving ethically in the automotive industry means to be honest with the customer and owning up to mistakes and fixing them on your dime, not the customer’s.

Finally, some shops will damage a customer’s car and will leave the customer on the hook for the bill. As technicians, we do our best to return the customer’s car in better condition than when we got it. It can be easy to forget a floor mat and leave boot prints on the floor mat, forget to take off your gloves to do something quick inside the car and leave fingerprints in the car, or forget to take your light out of your pocket and put a little scratch on the fender. Nobody is perfect, but the right thing to do is to inform the customer that you damaged something and offer to fix it, clean it, or replace it, that is, to admit your fault and make it right, no matter how small the scratch, chip, smudge, or tear on their vehicle. Fixing damage to a customer’s vehicle all comes down to respecting them and their property by owning up to any mistakes made.

Respect in the automotive industry goes beyond respecting the customer, it also means respecting your coworkers, tools, and the shop. Tools are expensive and not every technician can afford every tool for every job, which makes borrowing tools a very common practice around a shop. It should be common practice to borrow a tool and return it in a timely manner and in better condition than it was received in. If a tool is handed to you covered in oil, you should clean it before returning it. If a borrowed tool is broken while it is in your possession, you fix it or replace it; nothing is worse than broken tools, especially if it was lent out and returned broken. The same can be said about shared shop equipment. For example, if a tire machine is broken the shop will not expect one person to replace a whole $20,000 machine. The damage needs to be reported to someone in charge who is capable of deciding how to fix or replace the damaged machine. It is easy to break a shop machine and walk away and leave it for the next guy. While it does not feel good to walk into your boss’s office and say “I broke the shop’s …” because you know your boss will be upset with you, workflow will be interrupted, and you may be on the hook for replacing it, but owning up to your mistake is the right thing to do.

For some, being a good person in an industry that is typically regarded as an untrustworthy and filled with scammers is hard. It may be easy to oversell and charge the price of a big job when it’s a quick fix, or to make the customer pay for your mistakes. It may be easy to be unethical and cheat the system, at least in the short term. But in the long term, and extending beyond the automotive industry, even if you have nothing, all you have is your word and your integrity. Billing honestly, respecting customers, respecting coworkers and respecting the shop are all examples of how a technician can behave in an ethical manner in the workplace. In my mind, it all comes down to being a good person, and if you are a good person in life, keep your word, and have respect and integrity, all of that will carry over into the workplace. Finally, as my Mom told me time and time again, “Someone is always watching; the truth will come out.”