The future of car repair.

john_gNovember 17, 2007

You gotta look at this.

I already know the price of the Toyota tool, it's $7995. Look at the BMW tool. $35,000 to $40,000?????

Subaru I had heard about, but haven't seen any numbers on. If they drop in anywhere near industry averages, I would expect $4,000 +/- $1,000.

Customer Q. Can you just look at my car.

Shop Ans. Sure I can see it fine from here.

Customer Q. How much to hook up your computer and check my car

Shop Ans. $100

Customer exclaims "That's outrageous"

Shop replies "Your right it is, it should be about $500"...

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Good news is that cars seem to be more reliable than ever so the vast majority of people won't have a malfunction requiring use of a zillion dollar tool. If a manufacturer produces a product that does break down often requiring use of spendy tools, and hard to find ultra high level techs to repair, it won't be long before nobody buys that car. Or a cost effective aftermarket alternative in the form of diagnostic tool or replacement parts up to and including the entire fuel/ignition system will be produced for that car. Even today, at least with my cars, the look listen and feel method along with playing the odds with what most often goes wrong with a particular vehicle with a particular problem seems to work pretty well.

Side bar gripe...A few months ago the starter in my daughters car failed in another town. I have insurance that would cover towing anywhere within that town, but would cost me to bring it home. I had replaced the starter myself at home several years ago so I know what's involved with that repair. Told the guy to go ahead and tow it to his own shop, one that I know to do quality work, and fix it. I assumed that the cost of the starter and an hours labor tops should cover it. The bill? $325. I know the starter was a NAPA rebuild that would have cost me $120. They charged me $165 for it. The other $160 was labor. $205 strikes me as pretty spendy to loosen and remove 3 bolts and one wire with benefit of a hoist. I'm not calling them crooks. It's a good shop that's been around forever. Wouldn't mind working there myself if I were still into that kind of thing. I know they have overhead like you say, but still.

For that reason, I'll continue to do those so called gravy jobs myself at home except in case of emergency.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2007 at 2:05PM
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Hi Gary,

I tried to make that funny, as well as serious. I'm glad you saw the humor.. :)

The problem with the cars not breaking as often as they used too essentially means a slower, if not a negative return on the investment that a shop or tech makes on his/her tools. The idea that a car that breaks down often will cause people to eventually not buy it is only a small piece of the puzzle. Currently BMW offers extended warranties that make the investment of any money towards being able to service them completely a bad idea. Notice I'm not saying the warranties are bad, but the actual result of their existence is anyone buying one of those cars will ultimately be forced to the dealer if there isn't aftermarket support. Now sure, there will be the basic services and as you say you can do many of those yourself. The WalMarts, and quicklubes of the world can do them too. All of which further erode any reason for a tech like me to go into debt for a tool to work on just BMW, that costs more than I would spend for a car. Putting this into perspective, lets say the tool costs the middle of the range given, $37,500. I'd have to finance that for about five years, so the interest rate would be in the 7% range. That would make the payments be about $785.00 a month. If I used the thing eight times a month, and didn't actually spend any time doing so, the minimum I could charge for doing so would be of course $100. To justify using it for one hour each time that "fee" legitametly moves to over $200. Here is what really gets bad, the shop that does not buy this tool, or go to schools, ect will produce that much gross profit per hour ($200 or more) doing brake and exhaust work, without the expense!

Combine this with all of the other manufactures that we have to deal with, and essentially an industry where we really don't have a choice except to buy O.E. tools if we want to be on par with the dealerships and the collapse of the independent auto repair market is looming ever closer.

As far as what you paid to have a starter replaced, depending on where you live, and prevailing cost of living rates it looks to be right in line. It would actually be a bit high for here, but would have been low for the Baltimore Md. area that I recently taught some classes in.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2007 at 7:09AM
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John_G :

You are well grounded in basic busines economics. Will you be passing that knowledge to your students?

    Bookmark   November 19, 2007 at 3:47AM
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Hi Jem.


I pass on as much as I possibly can. It's difficult to get people to accept things that they don't want to see in the first place.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2007 at 9:22AM
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I can see that the days of working on your own car are rapidly vanishing. I have always worked on mine and I will keep one or two of my older ones around just for that purpose. (a couple of Mustangs and a 69 Pontiac) but for the family car I will probably only keep 3 to 5 years and dump. Maybe buy a 2 year old rental car from Budget and keep two years then dump and buy another from Budget. That way you stand a better chance of not visiting the dealership to often and maintenance will be kept to a minimum. May not even have to buy tires and batteries. The Budget cars will still be under warranty as well. What do you think John g?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2007 at 8:21PM
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Best advice. Buy new. Service it correctly from day #1.

When the payments are all gone, continue making the payment, only to a savings account instead of for a car. You can use the money only for an automobile related major repair, or if a replacement is necessary.

Now drive the thing until your mechanic tells you one day it's time for a new one. Go out and buy whatever you want with cash, and start the routine all over again. Don't be suprised if you have lots. and lots of money left over. Which BTW is yours to do anything you want with.....

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 9:51AM
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John g, I just read your Bio and its very impressive. Your advice on a new car is right on. I usually pay cash and I have a habit of keeping my cars for a very long time, maybe to long. The 69 Pontiac I bought new. My 1998 F150 I also bought new and it has very low mileage (8,000) I have a total of 6 cars and I rotate their use so they hang in there a long time. I try to do most of the maintenance myself and I have the help of a friend who is an excellent mechanic. However, I like to have one car that is fairly new at all times. My question is, what do you think of buying a new car and when the warranty is about to expire trade it in. Also, do all the new cars have a tracking device chip now installed in the computers and can those chips also be activated by remote devices to disable your engine? Thanks for the info.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2007 at 1:39PM
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Thank-you for the compliment. The thing is I'm not alone out here, and I know a lot of guys that are even better techs than I am. Let's say that's one of the reasons that when I see sham stories like Danielle's on TV I simply don't roll over and let her say what she wants without challenging her.

" what do you think of buying a new car and when the warranty is about to expire trade it in"

People that do that enable the dealers to build the castles they sell the cars out of.

One of my customers had a stroke about seven years ago, and has been disabled since then. He had been to the shop only hours before and I had done a pre purchase used car check for him, and at the same time I was fixing a battery cable on his Celebrity to cure a no-start. Of course it turned out that they needed the Celebrity to run, and suddenly they were not in a position to buy another car. Time passed, and while DV is still no longer working, the kids have made it through college and they have moved to a smaller house and are getting by quite nicely. About three years ago the Oldsmobile Aurora that was still a relatively new car for them when DV had his stroke lost the head gaskets. It's a 3.5l DOHC aluminum block known as the mini Northstar, so that means you drop the engine and tranny as an assembly out of the bottom. Every headbolt pulls the threads out with it, and that means I had to buy a special tool kit which rebores those bolt holes, and installs threaded inserts into which the headbolts thread back into. Combine that with some other service issues that were due to be performed and the total bill was close to $3700. This car was worth nothing in a trade since it was over 130K miles. I gave them their options, anmd let them decide what they wanted to do. If you "assume" payments of around $400.00 a month for a new car, then at ten months to a year they are essentially at the break even point. Except for the little detail of depreciation of the new car the moment you drive it off the lot. Every month past that is a bonus.

There is always some risk in any decision. Have an accident with this, and it's gone and you don't see your money for the repairs back. Buy the new car, and while it's not likely that you get a bad one it is possible, and with your current car at least you do know what you have.

Today she still makes the "car payment" to a savings account exactly as I outlined earlier. She of course since she was doing that had the cash available to go ahead and decide to fix the Oldsmobile. If the transmission failed on it today, she could very comfortably choose to fix it or go ahead and buy a new one with cash. When she hit 190K miles, she was in for basic services and asked me how much further will this car go? She still loves the car.

My answer was basically what I said earlier, it can keep going till the day she decides she does not want to go further with it, or until I tell her it's time. Frankly, I don't think it's any time soon. At least not in the next five years anyway.....

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 7:33AM
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Thanks again John. You have given me a lot of good ideas to mull over. On the computer chip question, I understand new cars have a chip that collects information on driver habits such as speeds driven, hard braking, etc. Can these chips also be used for tracking the vehicle and disablement? Just curious as Big brother may have another tool to keep its eye on the populous with.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2007 at 3:46PM
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Almost as fast as we can think about it, someone seems to be creating it. I know of some systems that can do amazing things, but they are not universal in nature. Sitting here right now, On-Star comes to mind as possibly having capabilites that we all may not have yet heard about. There are modules that will store crash data, and special equipment that can be purchased to retrieve that data.

As far as vehicle tracking, once again that question is easily answered by an On-Star commercial. Have an airbag deployment, and they call you and they already know exactly where you are! Does the vehicle report it's location any other time, I don't know. Seriously I can't say that I've thought much about it. If the On-Star system would fail I have the tools, and training to diagnose and repair it. That's about all I am worried about.

Drivers habits, such as acceleration and braking tendencies are learned by the vehicle in order to control thinigs like how the transmission shifts. Should it apply hard to prevent clutch slippage/reduce wear, or soft to make the car more pleasant to drive? I can on many cars access learned data, and tell exactly how an owner treats his/her car. That often helps me decide how testing for a reported problem should be performed.

Big Brother??? Seriously, I'll worry more about the tailgater on my donkey,, or the diver that is rolling through the stop sign in front of me than Big Brother...

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 9:03AM
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John, I never thought about the On-Star. That's right, they do record all that data. Now if they could just record the idiot that is tailgating you and send that to the nearest state highway patrol car hiding behind that billboard sign that would be a plus.
I guess with all the features and technologies a new car has these days its understandable why they cost so much. That goes the same for repairs. The knowledge and the sophisticated equipment needed also comes with a price tag. The old cars are fun, but the new ones are incredible. Thanks........

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 11:54AM
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