As a Shop Owner or Manager, a “come back” can be the worst part of your day. I remember a time when my new tech left the dipstick on the bench. Delivered the car and the customer was really upset. I was as well, but I needed to make it right for the customer and also make plan to keep those types of mistakes from hurting our reputation. We told everyone we “Fix it the First Time”, but we didn’t. How do you handle this with your employees, all of them, not just the tech?
After some thought back in 1984 (the shop was opened in 1977), I came up with this idea. Before the tech closes the hood for the last time, they must ask for a “Hood Check”. In my shop it was simple. A tech just yelled out “Hood Check,” and someone – could be most any employee – came over. What were they looking at the hood? Anything that looked off. This process, that took all of two minutes, was to ensure that everything was OK under the hood. The tech handed the “hood checker” the vehicle’s work order. Was the dipstick all the way in … oil cap tight … any rags, pens or loose nuts under there? After you open the hood, you own everything under it for many years to come, right? Even if the tech never touched the battery cables, twist the cables with both hands, one on each post. Are they tight? Many will not be. Why did the techs at Van Batenburg’s Garage have to submit themselves to this? Simple: If it was right on, they got a pat on the back. If not, they learned a lesson. The end result was no more foolish comebacks that could have been avoided. Even the boss had to yell out “Hood Check.” Did I ever get caught? Yes, but that was a lesson I didn’t quickly forget. Would you believe our comeback rate was less than two a year? It’s a great way to break in a new recruit, even if he or she has been a tech for decades. It is the culture in your shop that reduces comebacks more than anything else. Think about this the next time you slam down the hood at the end of the job.
What about a clutch or CV joint job? Is it worth putting it back on the lift when the road testing is done? Sure, if you removed or replaced an engine, transmission or axle. Less stress equals less comebacks.
What does it take to write a college text book and why did Craig (and many others helping) do it? It is the single largest project I can remember in recent history and is still on going as it is not finished. The book will be published and sent to schools the August.
Let’s start with why? There are two well-known college text books on the market that were written by two well respected automotive authors, both of them are full time writers, Jim Haldeman and Jack Erjavic. I know the well and have helped both in their hybrid writings. I was paid to work with Jim years ago and Jack and I had a deal that well through. Their books are as good. So why reinvent the wheel? I was asked by many college and high school instructors to do this project. They wanted a textbook with the continuity of my on-line webinars and live classes. They wanted cut-away parts that matched the lessons. They wanted work / task sheets written for real work problem. They wanted a complete package. So the reason why is the same as to my existence in the automotive repair field. That is why I opened a Honda only repair shop in 1977. Why I opened ACDC in 1999. The industry needs help.
So what has it taken so far? I have hired other industry professionals to help. Al Playter, an Auto Teacher in Canada, Cyriel Kootstra from Holland to write the light duty diesel/hybrid chapter, Jeff Gouviea from Up Your Voltage fame to write they Heavy Duty (Class 4 to 8) HEV /EV chapter. All experienced in that field. Hany Shaker from Cairo, Egypt is doing the task sheets and I still need more help. I have hired shop owners to proof read and make suggestions, like Eugene Victorivitch Tomachinkski (my favorite Russian) and many others. Carlos Vargas, one of the smartest seniors at the local technical High School, is working at the ACDC training center after school and this summer. I have hired Dustin Hopkins to take over some work from DJ Goins who has been with ACDC since he graduated from High School few years back so DJ can scan more EMVs and help get scope data. The editor Darcy Adshead (she has done the last two ACDC books) and Damian Adshead is here to make my photos more presentable and do the graphics. It is a large team effort that started last October when Darcy and I met for a morning to map out the plan. I like the work but not the hours. We are self-publishing. That means we are not printing 5,000 copies overseas to save money and make more profit. All of our books are printed in Tennessee. They are all full color and spiral bound so they lay flat on your workbench. The support materials most likely will still be developed and posted on line after the books is done.
A few last thoughts. I am in a hurry to get this done because if you are waiting to learn this new and exciting technology, every year you wait, it gets to be a steeper climb. This book will help. You can pre order.
If you first learned about cars with a 12 volt system that ran on gasoline or diesel you were, without knowing it, developing what I call a “12 volt brain”. When you were a small child and stood by the family car (or a friend’s car) you did not have to be told what a car sounded like when it was cranking, especially if it would not start. After repeatedly hearing that familiar “rur…rur… rur and maybe then click … click … click and nothing. It became a part of what a car does. The 12 volt brain was learning even before you knew you wanted to fix these things. Your automotive classes in college are now in conflict with some of that intrinsic knowledge and you must relearn what a high voltage system can do, that was not possible with a mere twelve volts. Time to develop a high voltage brain. This will be exciting and challenging as well. It will lead to a revolution in transportation that was last seen between 1890 and 1910. Those two decades set the stage for an affordable gasoline powered world. The future is electric and it is time to learn the how and why. We are here to help.
February 8th, 2008. 2:12pm in room 676 at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania; Stan Stephenson, his son Peter, Linda (a very close friend of Peter’s), and myself were together holding hands, holding each other and saying goodbye to a Father, friend, and one powerful man. Stan, like so many men his age kept his problems to himself. He took care of business, made sure those he loved were doing well and stepped in when they were not. His list of admirers was long and over the two days he was in the hospital for the last time many of his followers came by to wish him well. Young and old, relatives and business related friendships. Stories were told in the waiting room and next to Stan as he lay in bed listening but unable to say much. Just 11 months earlier many of us saw Stan at his wife’s Adel’s funeral. That was when I met Peter for the fist time. Peter is an only child and lives in New Mexico. “Like Father, Like Son” the saying goes and it is true. Peter is also a lot like his Mother. So not even a year after Peter lost his Mom, there he is holding and kissing his Father as they say goodbye. The way many of us knew Stan was through Motor Age magazine and for the older friends Chilton and other auto related endeavors that Stan loved so much. But Stan was a Father and Husband. He knew his responsibilities in those roles and did his job. He also adopted, in a way, many interns that were lucky enough to pass the test of being worthy of Stan’s attention. One such lucky lady was Shahla. Shahla came to visit Stan the day before he passed on and she was very sad. Shahla and I knew each other so we spent hours visiting. We spoke about her relationship to Stanly, as some people called him, and it became clear to us that Shahla was the daughter Stan never had. Two other men, Tony Molla and Bill Canon, had also visited Stan over those last two days and they too knew that Stan has guided and shaped their lives in ways that a father would guide his son, the way Stan was with Peter. This surreal time was a moment for me to once again take stock of why we are here, the finality of death and how one can live his life. Stan Stephenson knew how to live, and how to inspire those that cared enough to be real. He hated anything phony, was never impressed with flash and glitz. What mattered to Stan was speaking up, truth telling, and keeping an open mind in the process. You always knew where you stood with Stan and how he stood on subjects that really mattered to him.
Stan was powerful. I have wondered what makes some men powerful and others not. A few years back I discovered that generosity and a deep understanding of responsibility made men powerful. Stan was all that. His giving of himself, his time, advice, getting his interns connected to their passion and to people that made jobs happen for them. Stan was smart and wise. He wrote about things that came true years later. Stan was leading the way for so many ideas whose time had not yet come but Stan knew it needed to happen and soon. Stan was a talent scout; he knew what people often didn’t know about themselves. He saw the good in you and if you were willing to hear it (not everyone was) he would point out the way to success. Stan left this world a much more honest place. He did his job well so Peter now can go forward with a gift of Stan’s making. Peter knows what is important. Peter had a Dad that knew stuff.
Deb and I took to the rails at the end of December and boarded an Amtrak train in Rhode Island and headed to Atlanta, Georgia. We arrived on January first and picked up our mobile office- classroom (a 2007 Toyota Highlander Hybrid) and drove to Memphis, Tennessee to visit our friend, Jason, of some 30 years. Jason is a pilot that flies a commercial twin prop with things like human organs and such that need to get to hospitals fast. He wasn’t always a commercial pilot. When I meet Jason he was 29 and I was 37. We volunteered together in Boston to help fix up an old building that housed a not-for-profit woman’s organization. That was 1987. We had a few things in common. We were both short (although that is relative), had drive, ambition and a big heart. When Jason’s roommate moved out Jason moved into my place (this was before I met the lovely Deborah who later became my wife). Jason was working for a big computer company and that looked like lifetime job. It wasn’t. Then he left Worcester for a job in Albuquerque, NM. He had been a Civil Air Patrol Pilot in Worcester and loved to fly so he volunteered with the New Mexico Civil Air Patrol and continued to help people. Getting a commercial pilot license is difficult and without military service or lots of money almost impossible. Jason had neither one. But he continued on and after many jobs that were not great but paid the bills his dream was still alive. Ten years went by and we stayed in touch but still no commercial pilot license. Then twenty years and he was still doing telemarketing. More years passed and then so did his parents. They were not rich but the inheritance helped pay for more training and after 28 years of sticking with it, Jason passed every test and celebrated by calling me with the good news…but no job flying. Applications went out but now he is in his mid-50’s. Then it happened! 11 months ago Jason moved to Memphis and now every night he arrives at the airport around midnight and takes off about 1am for a round trip to Birmingham, Alabama. I have made a lot of friends, in and out of the automotive business, but few have stayed with it this long for their dream job. We can all learn from my old roommate Jason. You are never too old to chase your dreams.
FAAT CATS helps Foster Teenagers find homes and a life
If you have run a shop for any amount of time, finding and keeping good help is always near the top of the list. At ever class I taught in 2017 I included a slide that spoke to the plight of American foster children. First the chilling numbers. Over ½ million American kids have been removed from their homes for their own safety. 130,000 have had gone through, or are in the process, of legally being freed to adopt. In other words they need a new forever family. 29,000 of these kids will never get adopted and will age out of the foster care system at eighteen to twenty one without being attached to a family of their own. 29,000 American kids (per year) will not have a family to spend vacations, holidays or their birthdays with. Those are the facts, as sad as they are. Each year it gets worse. You can help.
When Deb and I found out in 1992 that we could not conceive our own children, we were sad, mad, frustrated and lost. After some real soul searching and an education in all types of adoption, it was clear to us there were kids in our area that really needed parents, a home, love, family, discipline, and a future. We didn’t need to go outside the USA to help a child find a home, there were plenty right here.
At the same time Deb and I were building the Massachusetts ASA chapter, we were also preparing a home for what would be two foster-adoptions. Mike was first at age 5. We took him in as our own, adopted Mike and started our family. Will was next at age 15. Now the boys are 26 and 32. They are doing well after some very rough times. It was more than worth it. We didn’t need baby pictures; we just wanted to be parents. Deb and I knew we could do a good job.
At Van Batenburg’s Garage, Mike and Will helped with trash, clean up, worked on company vehicles, and did some computer work. Mike and I started work on an old Honda Accord that will be his later on. Working with my sons added more than just a cleaner shop. It helped them learn, helped them develop skills they will need to succeed in the real world, a not so nice place at times. Both of my sons know how tough the world can be and learned at much too young of an age. What they need now is to learn survival and success skills. Fixing cars can do that.
If you have been employing young people, you have been dealing with some bad behaviors. You already know what to do keep young people in line. I have an idea! Why not learn more about the foster teenagers that live in your home town, visit with them and offer them a job, a future and maybe even a home. There is more to life than work. Why not make your career a place for foster kids too?
Craig Van Batenburg
P.S. Why do we work with boys 10 to 17. At that age almost all of these boys will never get adopted. Girls gets adopted at any age.
I talked to Marc Pons, a shop owner we work with in North Carolina, about this subject recently. If you read the Wall Street Journal or Automotive News out of Detroit, both well respected news outlets, you will see a theme. EV’s are on their way and there is no stopping it. You can slow it down with news stories bought and paid for by any large corporation that would not benefit, but electric drive is the future. You may choose not to believe it. Volvo and Tesla are believers. Many more OEM’s are making future plans that see the future as I do. But what about independent auto repair shops? Where do you fit? How will this change your business?If you have 3 techs and they work 49 weeks a year and your customers are loyal you need about 1,000 cars per tech, if your customer has one car each. Many customers are not loyal so 2,000 cars per tech is more like it. ACDC owns 2 pure EVs, a 2011 Nissan Leaf and a 2017 Chevy Bolt. If these cars were the only ones on the road and you only serviced them you would need about 10,000 loyal customers per tech if everything else was equal. That means you will have 90% less work. If I am off by 20% and pure EVs need more work than that, you will need 7,000 cars per tech. That changes your business model and the shop must change too. Can you still make it? Sure if we lose 70% to 90% of our service bays and techs? Will that happen? It is happening now. Which side do you want to be on?
In the fall of 2012 a referendum in my home state passed with a large margin to make Massachusetts the only state (still is) where an independent shop can sue the manufacturer of a motor vehicle (gas or electric) if the OEM did not keep the playing field level in terms of service information, replacement parts, tools, equipment, software updates, scan tools and training information. It is NASTF (National Automotive Service Task Force) with teeth. The law has never been tested but it is clear to me that Tesla is in violation. If your Tesla failed our annual strict safety test you must have it fixed at the repair shop that did the test or tow it to the shop of your choice. Every car in my state gets tested every year. Obviously our emissions test does not apply to pure electric cars. Most car owners bring their vehicles to the shop they like and if something is wrong it gets fixed. Most owners will drive to another shop if it failed safety not knowing it is illegal. Those are the facts. Expect things to change soon as Tesla delivers more Model 3 cars. Currently if a Tesla Roadster, Model S or X failed for a safety defect (like a loose ball joint) you must have it fixed by Tesla, even out of warranty cars. That is not allowed in Massachusetts the way I read it as any shop should be able to make the car safe again.
I sent a request to Identifix for some technical information about the new 2017 Chevy Bolt ACDC has just acquired. Well guess what? I received some great info about the Volt. Then an ACDC shop called about the faster charger on the Bolt and I explained that the Volt does not have fast charging. This was all in the span of 3 days so here I am with a communication problem that makes it hard to talk about two great GM cars, the Volt and Bolt. Then I remembered a trip to Berlin last year and a strange little car called the “Trabant” and I knew I had the answer to my problem. Now at all my spoken classes we have a Volt and Tlob. Yes, that is Bolt spelled backwards and it works. Easy to say “Till-ob”, just smoosh it all together and presto, no more problem. Everyone in the class knows what car I am referring to and now learning can happen. Welcome to my world of “Tlob”. 238 miles to a charge, fast, fun, affordable and no more gasoline. I may even call it a “Tlobant” . It has a nice ring to it.
To learn more about the Chevy “Tlob” watch for an Email inviting you a Free (sort of) one hour live Webinar soon to help raise needed funds for some special boys.
When a monthly bog is done over two months, it means one thing, ACDC is busy. But writing this helps keep me sane. Some would say it is not working.
A Great Book
I fixed cars and motorcycles for a living from 1967 to 1977 for someone else and ran my own shop from 1977 to 2004. As a veteran of the motor vehicle industry I am sometimes amazed at the talent a technician must have to tackle a tough problem with confidence and determination. The sheer amount on knowledge is mind boggling. Will Electric Cars make that job harder? That topic was discussed at a class I taught in New Hampshire recently.
Here are the questions to consider;
1. How many ways can a gas (or diesel) motor vehicle fail that causes a check engine light or drive ability concern vs. a battery only car (EV)?
2. How many sensors and systems does each car have compared to each other?
3. Can carbon build up cause issues with EVs?
4. Understanding the “wheel to grave” issues, are any cars carbon free?
5. Knowing that CO, HC, NOx and CO2 are created just to travel on wheels (not included are foot powered types) what is your best choice?
6. What type of electrical generation is used in the driving of EVs in your area?
These and many more valid questions we raised and answers given. There were no “climate change deniers” so no fights broke out. As the industry moves forward cars will change even more. Some of you may move with the changes. Trends will come and go (like fins on Cadillacs). Knowing the answers to questions is what technicians get paid to do. Installing the parts in secondary.
Lastly, if you are looking for a good book to read get a copy of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. I read it when it came out in 1974. The author, Robert Pirsig, died recently so I ordered another copy. It has a way of lifting up those that can fix things.