Eddie spent 35 years in the automotive business with Honda. He is an ASE Certified Master Technician and has bruised knuckles to prove it.
You're a mechanic. You have been working on cars and trucks for a few years and you just don't seem to be making any more money than last year. You ask yourself, "How can I earn a higher salary?" Let's take a closer look at some facts.
Statistics show that in 2016, the average automotive technician earned an annual salary between $23,000–$61,000. I was shocked to see such low numbers, and I couldn't help but wonder if someone had made a mistake.
I know that an aggressive automotive technician buys tools on a weekly basis, spending anywhere from $5,000–$10,000 a year just on those, not including the boots, gloves, laundry detergent . . . you get what I'm saying. If they're only making $23k, that doesn't leave much for groceries and rent.
How to Earn More as an Auto Tech
I can teach you the principles of being the best auto tech, and also teach you how to earn the highest salary as an automotive technician, but that doesn't mean you will.
To earn more than you ever did before, you need to become someone you never were before. I'm going to quote some of my mentors in this article because these are people who have embedded in me the philosophies and core values you need to have deep inside of you to be a better you.
Did you ever notice some tech's get all the good work and you struggle to make ends meet? Did you ever stop to think how they get all that work?
Some will say they're cherry pickers, or they're the gravy master, or maybe they're just upselling unnecessary work. That last statement might be true, but the fact of the matter is you can make just as much money as them, if not extremely better, without stealing or being dishonest.
In fact, it's just the opposite. If you become totally honest and transparent when working on your customers' cars, you can make a killing.
Step 1: Build Relationships
Build relationships with as many customers as you can, and get business cards! Every car you work on, every car you touch, even if you're just in the parking lot and a customer asks you a question, take the time to answer it and show them you care.
Before you walk away, ask if there is anything else you can do for them, but be genuine. If you're not genuine, the customer will see right through you. If you have a business card, hand them one and tell them to ask for you if they have any more questions.
If you don't have business cards, I recommend getting some so you can start building your relationships. If you just help a customer with one little question, and spend just 5 or 10 minutes with them, you will have a return customer asking for you by name.
Each time you work on a customer's car, place a business card on the dash where they can see it and be sure the card says, "I appreciate your business." It takes guts to use business cards because you're basically telling the customer to ask for you next visit, if they like your work.
Step 2: Get to Work on Time
Show up for work every day on-time. A valuable employee is one who is on time and ready for work. Eat breakfast before you go to work, not when you get there.
Most shops have customers waiting for the doors to open in the morning so they can get to work on time themselves. If you're still drinking your coffee and eating your breakfast sandwich or doughnut, you're not going to be very productive and your boss will notice.
When the doors open, be ready to start working, not sipping and munching. Your boss will also notice who is hustling and who is dragging.
Note: Hustlers make money; draggers whine and complain they're not making any money. Just thought I would mention that.
Step 3: Mind Your Own Business
Mind your own business! Too many employees are worried about what everyone else is doing, or how much money the other guy is making. Forget it! It really doesn't affect you, except for the fact that you're wasting your own time trying to figure it all out.
Time is money, and if you're standing around the bubbler whining and complaining to the other technicians about how one or two other guys are making all the money, stop yourself for just one moment and take a close look at where those money-making technicians are. They're probably under the hood or dash of a car working and hustling, making cash!
It's very easy to sabotage your workday: all you have to do is get together with the whiners and complainers, then make a breakfast run, followed up with a nice extended lunch, and then a run for coffee at about 2pm, if it's a hot day maybe shoot the breeze some more at the ice cream truck . . . I could go on and on.
Avoid these people like the plague, they really are toxic and it will rub off on you quickly. You'll walk around with the same bad attitude that no boss likes to have in their shop. Keep your distance from toxic people if you want to make more cash.
Step 4: Brand Yourself
Brand yourself. What I mean is if you're going to start building relationships with your customers, you really need to stay put for a while. Find an automotive brand you like to work on and stick with it.
Working at a dealer vs. working for an independent is like night and day. I'm not saying that working for an independent is bad, but in my opinion, there are more benefits to working for a dealership. Just for starters, they have more money to advertise which in itself, generates more customers.
If you stick with one brand of vehicles, you become familiar with the problems that brand has, and the repairs are repetitive. You keep doing the same job over and over again, you get faster at the repair and more efficient, which in turn makes you more cash. Cash is good.
Even the large jobs, like transmission removal and cylinder head jobs start to get familiar. You will continue to be more efficient, you will start to recognize the tools for each job and have them ready before you bring your car into the bay.
Imagine putting a puzzle together 50 times, the first time you put the puzzle together it might take you 40 hours, but if you put it together 50 times, you would be very efficient and could probably cut your time in half.
In retrospect, you would be making twice as much money per hour. I like the sound of that. More cash!
Step 5: Stoke the Stove
Stoke the stove and add wood for heat. You wouldn't sit in front of your wood stove, and say to it, "Give me heat and then I will give you wood." You would be considered insane. So you can't expect to make a lot of cash (heat) without working (adding wood).
The more wood you add, the more heat you generate. So here's my point: Go find wood to put on the fire. If you're standing around waiting for a part to show up, go find another job to do while you're waiting.
If you don't have an extra lift to work on, find a job that doesn't need a lift, or take a car that needs a road test for diagnosis. At least you can get started on it while you wait for your part, and you're not wasting your time, remember . . . time is cash!
The worst thing you could do when waiting for your parts is to go talk to the tech's that are whiners and complainers. If those tech's look over at you while you're working on two cars at the same time, you're going to be one of the people they talk about. You have now officially become a gravy master or a cherry picker, so be prepared for the fit to hit the shan, get my drift?
Step 6: Notice Everything
Two of the most useful tools you have are not in your toolbox. The two most useful tools are your eyes and your pen. If you bring a car in your bay for a simple oil change and you don't even look over the safety items on the car, you're leaving cash on the table.
When a car comes into your bay for any reason, take five minutes to look over the car. At least check the safety items like tires, brakes, exhaust, and suspension parts for worn or damaged parts. Consider it a courtesy on your part. It's a chance for you to make extra cash and be a hero if you happen to spot a dangerous problem.
Automotive technicians seem to overlook the importance of even tire wear. Up-selling a 4-wheel alignment or balancing 4 tires is a pretty easy up sell if you have uneven wear on the tires. Just be sure to ask the customer if they have had any work done on the car recently or check the customer's history in the shop's computer if they are a regular customer.
Checking the customer's history is a another opportunity to up sell periodic maintenance services. If a car has 75k miles on it and it never had a major service done like a 30k or 60k mile service, check the car over for the items listed on those services. If it needs service, up sell it.
Some service advisors are nervous to up sell work to a customer because they feel they are taking advantage of the customer or ripping them off. If the car needs work, present it to the customer in order of priority and let them make the decision whether or not they want to do the work or hold off, but lay the card out on the table for the customer to decide.
The only way to get the sale is to ask. Once I had to skip over the service advisor because he refused to up sell to a customer. I went straight to the customer who was in the waiting area and come to find out, the customer was taking a long trip in a few weeks and was very happy I found these problems before she left the state.
Could you imagine how upset the customer would have been if she broke down once she started her trip, knowing that she had just brought her car in for service? We would have looked like we didn't know what we're doing. I was a hero that day, and I made cash the honest way.
- Build relationships with your customers by showing them you care and you want to help them. Be genuine and give them your undivided attention.
- Have business cards made up. Ask your boss if he will buy them for you or at least pay for half, since you are advertising for him.
- Be a valuable employee. Show up every day on time and be ready to work. No boss likes to see his workers show up late, dragging and unorganized.
- Put on your blinders. Mind your own business and avoid the toxic people near the bubbler who are whining and crying about how much money they're not making.
- Brand yourself. Grow deep roots at your shop. Get to know your cars and customers. You should be able to breeze through jobs like you're on auto pilot.
- Look for work when you're at a standstill. If you have to be at work, you might as well work. If you're waiting for parts, start something else. Don't go get coffee. That will cost you cash.
- Use the tools that make you the most money: your eyes and your pen. Don't overlook potential up sells, especially safety items. When writing out your estimates for parts and labor, be sure to add the smallest details like o-rings and gaskets. All those small parts can add up, and if they're not in stock it could cost you time (cash) plus you will seem incompetent to the customer.
- Ask for the sale. You will never sell anything if you don't ask for the sale. Sometimes you have to make a judgment call and go over the advisor's head and straight to the boss: the customer. You don't know what their plans are for future car trips. It's possible you could be saving them some time and money because you were proactive.
- Making the transformation could take years, but if you love what you do and you plan to make a career out of it, learn all you can about your brand. Become an ASE Certified Master Technician, and stay on top of current service bulletins and service news for your brand. When you're a master technician, other techs respect you and come to you for help. Just having those certifications makes it possible for you to become the most respected automotive technician in your shop with the highest salary.
- Start building solid relationships with your customers and they will come back to you for years. The days when work is slow and there is not much work coming through the shop, one of your customers will show up and ask for you to work on their car. This is where the magic is, and the cash.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can a Chrysler dealership change what you earn for Flat rate hours to less hours?
Answer: Any dealership can change the flat rate hours to anything they want, it's their dealership. Most companies need to be competitive and sometimes need to adjust there rates to stay in the game. The best practice would be to follow a Motors Manual flat guide or similar, it's the industry standard and is pretty fair to the customer and tech.
© 2011 Eddie Carrara