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Editor's Notebook

Rising to the Same Level?

If consumers are paying more for tires and service, are your techs seeing any of the gravy?

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In recent months, online mechanic CarMD noted that the cost to repair one’s personal vehicle was going up. For the first time in six years. Up by 10%, in fact, to an average of $367.84 per job.

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Forced upon by an economy in ill-repair, the auto repair biz had to rein things in, leading to a long period of “relatively stable prices, or even disinflation,” according to a USA Today story on the CarMD story.

Makes sense as the post-2007 crapfest credit market forced people away from new and well into a longer relationship with their (t)rusty four-wheeled steed. But CarMD CEO Leon Chen says they are “seeing an increase in car repair costs that can be attributed to factors such as a market correction and a higher percentage of more expensive repairs related to the aging vehicle population.”

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If the cost to fix a car is going up, does that mean that service tech pay also is heading up? Are tire dealers and other repair shops increasing their labor rates – and passing some of the gain to their skilled staff? The Automotive Repair Professionals group on LinkedIn wanted to know, and posited that question to its members.

“Recently our shop corrected the labor rate up to keep on par with the market we are in. Being surrounded by dealerships and relatively seclud­ed from direct independent competition, we are a little higher than the next closest indie shop…Our techs are paid on the higher end of the scale, but many were seduced from local dealers for their specific skill sets,” offered one shop owner.

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But another service tech countered, “I don’t see pay increasing at all in my area. I think it needs to go up; the cost associated with being a technician in today’s world is going through the roof.”

A manager for a repair business says there is more than just tech pay to consider, such as “the taxes that everyone thinks businesses can just pay magically without raising prices,” as well as increased costs of supplies, delivery, fuel and, of course, wages.

It is a matter of respect to one service tech who isn’t seeing more fruit for his labors. “I think repair prices need to increase across the board so that we technicians that go to training and carry $300 to $400 in monthly tool bills can finally be paid properly…I am tired of being a skilled professional and being at the bottom of the pay scale for skilled workers. I am at the top in my area, yet my friend the electrician makes more than $10 more (an hour) than I do. Another buddy is a plumber and makes nearly double per hour.

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They both work in professions that are proud of what they do and charge properly.

“The majority of our industry seems to be embarrassed about what they do and how to charge for it. Too many owners want to be the customer’s buddy and not a businessman. It also is reflected in how we act toward one another as shops. I know of no other industry that bad-mouths others instead of working as a whole to improve things. We could all make more if we worked together instead of playing cut-throat with the guy down the road,” he finished.

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Another tech sees his situation tied directly to discounting. “I know for a fact that the technician pay has actually gone down in most of the shops that I have been affiliated with. With the structure of the pay scales that the shops use, whether it is flat-rate or hourly with bonus, or even percentage of the ticket, the techs and mechanics, on average, are making less now than they were 10 years ago. It all brings us back to the marketing of the auto repair industry. When shops offer discounts and loss-leaders to get customers in the door, even as the cost of doing business steadily goes up, it is easier to cut payroll than trim down other expenses.”

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“One common excuse for business owners and managers is that ‘the cost of doing business has gone up so I can’t afford to increase my techs’ pay.’ That is total B.S.,” says one business owner. “I would challenge any dealer principal who uses this excuse to show that their personal wealth has not increased in these ‘tough times’ at a much higher percentage than their technicians’…When you increase your labor rate, you (should not) consistently neglect your own employees, whose cost of living has increased as well, by not increasing their pay rates.”

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So, Tire Review readers, what’s your take? Owners/managers: What have you done with tech wages? Have wages changed as your labor rates increase – if they have at all?

And techs: What have you experienced? If the bays are full, has your paycheck also grown?

Share your thoughts and concerns by e-mailing [email protected].  

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