In the real world I see this distrust in customers’ faces all the time, be it a raised eyebrow over the price of a brake job or the quiet phone call to a mechanically inclined friend to see if the parts in question even exist. In short, lots of people just don’t trust their car mechanic.
Some of the blame for this lack of trust can be placed squarely at the steel toed feet of automotive technicians. Often seen as greasy figures who undo some bolts, tighten up some other ones, and hand the customer a bill for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, mechanics need to better communicate and interact with the people they serve. The industry has become impersonal with mechanics communicating to service writers and service writers communicating with customers then hurriedly rushing back to speak with mechanics. It’s no wonder people think their mechanic might be crooked; after all why do technicians need all this secrecy and space between themselves and the customer?
It’s also true that some in the garage industry would seek to take advantage of a customer’s lack of knowledge to hock unnecessary parts and run up invoices and their own paychecks. By and large though, this is not the case. In fact automotive technicians are actually on the low end of the pay scale when it comes to the trades. The 2011 Saskatchewan Wage Survey reveals that,on average, a journeyman automotive service technician made $29.50 an hour. By contrast journeymen carpenters took home an average of $35.46 an hour, journeymen electricians took home an average of $35.00 an hour, and even secondary school teachers, often hailed as underpaid and overworked, took home more cash than mechanics, on average, $38.50 an hour.
Mechanics don’t deserve all the blame for the negative stereotypes around their work either. Customers are also at fault when it comes to this distrust of mechanics. I challenge you, the reader, to name the last person who worked on your car. Gone are the days when street corner garages were staffed by friends or relatives, and people made personal connections with their mechanic. In the same way that people get to know their family doctor, or their hairdresser, people used to get to know their mechanic. In return, mechanics learned to know their customers and the vehicles they owned, often responsible for servicing vehicles throughout their lifespan. A trust was built between mechanics and their customers - continued quality service for continued patronage.
In the age of bargain hunting though, customers are more likely to take their cars to the shop that has the best sale on tires than to the shop they most trust. In return, mechanics learned to disengage themselves from the customer, seeing the task as another invoice to get through instead of another customer to please.
The media hasn’t helped the image of car mechanics either. Current affairs’ shows, like CTV’s W5, demonize the industry almost yearly in undercover, hidden camera sting operations. In grainy black and white spy camera footage these programs show mechanics misdiagnosing simple problems, overcharging for the work they perform, and even failing to perform work billed to customers.
What the cameras rarely show are mechanics that properly diagnose the problems, fix them quickly and charge a reasonable amount. Journalists mention these shops only in passing before they lecture the crooked mechanics garage on capitalizing on customer ignorance to push product or for using fear to convince customers to make unnecessary repairs billed as preventative maintenance.
The media is not completely at fault for this one sided portrayal of the garage industry. Rarely does a job well done make for compelling, newsworthy television that will engage viewers. Still it is ironic that journalists lecture members of the garage industry on using fear to sell product while at the same time seeking to generate ratings with programs designed to make people fear the garage industry. Apparently using fear to sell things is only acceptable if you are in the television business.
I can assure you, personally, that most mechanics didn’t get into the repair business to get rich by ripping people off. Most of them got into the trade because they loved working on cars, figuring out problems and finding solutions. Now all they need is to find a solution to the problem of customer confidence.
Matt Duguid is a fourth year journalism student at the University of Regina and a Canadian Interprovincial Journeyman Automotive Service Technician.