If I were a mechanic, this is what would make me crazy

I’m not a real mechanic. Just a Saturday home garage mechanic. I admire real mechanics. Especially the most experienced ones, who can pretty much work on cars in their sleep. And real mechanics are super-knowledgeable and can reduce their knowledge to practice in a logical step by step way. Real mechanics never get stuck and give up. When they run into a difficulty, they just re-group, maybe ask another mechanic who has solved the problem before, and then go back after the problem. And real mechanics work really fast. They can usually do a job that would take me 8 hours in an hour or two max.

I only know how to work on my own cars, and have little idea what to do when somebody comes down the sidewalk, sees me under my car changing the oil, and asks “What do you think is causing this knocking sound in 2nd gear of my Accura Integra”? I really don’t have the foggiest, and I don’t have any idea how to figure it out for them. Sometimes this seems to annoy the person that I don’t know, but what am I supposed to say? I have studied the shop manuals for my cars, but haven’t even seen shop manuals or any other manuals for any Acuras. One neighbor of mine has a 1980-something Ford with an early fuel injection system of theirs, and he is always asking me for guidance when his car doesn’t run smoothly. Time and time again I have to tell him I don’t know. And it isn’t that I’m shining him on. I really just don’t know. And I don’t know what to do to find out.

I was thinking though: "What if I were a real mechanic? What if I was someone who worked on whatever make and model car was brought to me. What would annoy me most about that job?

I decided it would be when I didn’t know exactly what to do. The only thing to do in that case – at least from my Saturday Mechanic pin-head view – is to run a set of experiments to figure out what is wrong. Change this part out. Adjust that. This process always works for me, but it almost always involves doing tasks that in retrospect didn’t need to be done. I’d have to charge for my time to do those things. I have to charge for my time as I need to make a living. But those unneeded items which I charged for didn’t really produce any direct benefit for the customer. I imagine the customer would always be complaining I’m charging him for unnecessary work. That seems very frustrating to me. Maybe I wouldn’t make a good mechanic.

If you are a real working mechanic, do you have this problem? Abd what is the most annoying thing about being a real mechanic?

I was a shop owner and mechanic for many years and was somewhat successful with what seems to have been a good reputation but occasionally ran into tough problems and “installed a known good part and tested” as the books say. But without a working knowledge of the automobile being worked on, shop manuals, tools and test equipment the trial and error method is not cost effective. Should a customer pay for a fuel pump, distributor and timing chain plus all the labor involved when an ASD relay was all that was needed? I was lucky and learned the basics when cars were basic and all the technology was tacked on piece by piece and I kept up with the technology. You should not learn at the expense of your customers. Go to school and get a basic education and then work for a good shop long enough to get well grounded and then go out on your own if it still seems like a good profession. And take a few classes on book keeping and business management.

All real working mechanics run into problems that may require an educated guess, or even a wild one at times.
That’s not the preferred situation but sometimes it does boil down to replace and hope.
There are even factory service manuals (I’ve seen this in Ford and VW to cite an example) in which the maker of the car states that if tests show things are fine then back up and change some parts.

A problem I have with some mechanics is that many of them may use a shotgun for a diagnosis and the shell is not going anywhere near a correct diagnosis. Spend a little time, even for free, thinking something out before replacing a part or performing a repair procedure.

The flip side of that, especially with complexity, is that a mechanic may be handed a car that will require a dozen tests, to try to get to the bottom of a problem. This puts the mechanic in the position of telling the customer he will owe a fortune in diagnostic to even get started, lead to a shotgun approach, or the mechanic will eat a lot of the time for free. None of those options are perfect.

What’s annoying about being a mechanic?
The assumption by many that mechanics are getting rich working on cars.
Working for little or nothing doing warranty repairs at car dealers.
Dealing with clueless service managers and service writers.
Being handed someone’s 100k miles plus beater that has been neglected since Day One and then being expected to bring it up to new on the cheap or fix a very obvious problem and then get blamed for every hiccup that ever surfaces on that car. (Replace water pump, right rear elec. window doesn’t work for an actual example.)

That’s just a few of the annoyances. Some years back there was a letter to the editor in the Sunday Oklahoman newspaper in which someone stated that “all mechanics are idiots. You don’t even have to know anything now. They just let the computer tell them what part to replace”. Too bad it’s not that easy.

I think it’s pretty much the same for anyone in a problem-solving profession. Someone asks you (the presumed expert) to fix something that they perceive as broken, and you have to figure out from some quick questions what is actually happening, then start to find the cause. Electrician, dentist, computer repair, network administrator, lawyer; it’s all the same deal. And it seems like a big percentage of people resent that you figured it out. If you did it quickly, then your work is clearly poor and unworthy of the bill. If you take a while to do a job, you are a dumb jerk who doesn’t know his trade. And if, 2 months later, the customer has a hangnail, that’s your fault.

So, why do we do it? I guess you got to make a living somehow.

“Some years back there was a letter to the editor in the Sunday Oklahoman newspaper in which someone stated that “all mechanics are idiots. You don’t even have to know anything now. They just let the computer tell them what part to replace”. Too bad it’s not that easy.”

Wow! Is that annoying. Which party, exactly, is the idiot? Apparently it would be the one who believes that computers can diagnose car problems. That, of course, would include those mechanics who follow that logic. But I imagine that just happens from some combination of poor training, poor mentorship, and/or laziness.

I would have been tempted to write a letter back in response.

25 years ago, I worked my way through college turning a wrench. My big frustrations with the profession were:

  1. The perception held by many of my clients that all mechanics are incompetent crooks. This makes it difficult to have a mutually respectful relationship with your clients. This perception is difficult to overcome, however, because frankly, most service writers I knew were incompetent crooks, and many of my fellow mechanics, while not intending to be crooks, found it necessary to say and do a lot of unethical things to get clients to pay for their mistakes so that they could continue to earn a living.

  2. The requirement in California that the mechanic provide an estimate of repairs before doing any work, and the expectation by customers that once you have touched their car, nothing in any way remotely related to what you repaired will fail within at least a year. These two factors force the mechanic to generate huge cost estimates to cover his liability. The result is repair bills that can exceed the value of an older car that could have been kept on the road for relatively little money if only there were a more trusting and respectful relationship between mechanic and client.

  3. For reasons I will never understand, service writers never write on the order the things that the client tells them (e.g., “This problem started when I washed my engine in the car wash”).

  4. A couple of responses mentioned the importance of taking the time to think and diagnose before starting to bolt on new parts. Mechanics don’t get paid to think or to diagnose. They get paid for bolting on new parts. There is no line item on your bill that says “$95 for 1 hour to figure out what the problem was”. The closest thing to that is what they can charge you for the time your car spent connected to their $30,000 diagnostic computer system.

  5. Service manuals often contain lengthy diagnostic procedures that methodically track down electrical faults. These were written by the people who design the systems, not people who repair them. 90% of the steps are checking components that are highly unlikely to ever fail, before they finally get to the sensor that is exposed to heat and moisture and is likely to fail. Any mechanic who ever spent his day following those diagnostic procedures is now doing something else for a living.

A mechanic who does not think, or wants to think, has no business in the profession because I see no way a person can be a decent mechanic without using their brain.
The mental stress and strain is much more difficult to deal with compared to the physical side of that equation and I would take a sore shoulder any day of the week over a splitting headache and foul attitude.

Years ago a van belonging to a local appliance repair service sat in front of my shop. A car owner with a problem approached me and before mentioning his car’s ailments he proceeded to tell me what crooks the appliance company was. The man’s freezer quit operating and was full of food so he called this particular company and pleaded for help. A service man drove 15 miles and his first test was for current at the wall outlet and there was none. The fuse panel was checked and WOW! a fuse was blown. When the fuse was replaced the freezer worked fine. The freezer owner was handed a bill for the basic service call fee plus a couple of dollars for the fuse. The freezer owner thought that was highway robbery. This unhappy freezer owner represents a great many people who over value their own time and money and under value everyone else’s. I gave the man an outrageously high estimate to repair his car without even looking at it and he moved on down the road looking for a bargain.


The one thing you need to remember is that just about every car works the same way, overall.
They go about doing things slightly differently, but at the end of the day, you need the same exact things to make a car go forward, turn left and right, go backwards when wanted, and come to a safe stop.

Once you realize that, then you can start thinking about how systems work together to make things happen.

Lets say the complaint is a noise heard while the car is driving.
Not very descriptive, but all you have to go on.

You get to ask the client if the noise changes with vehicle speed, or stays constant.
Follow that up if the noise happens when you turn left or right, or when going straight.
Follow that up if the noise is worse when braking or coasting.

Getting those 3 questions answered can tell you if you need to look at brakes, wheel bearings, or the fan belt, or maybe the rear axle or front half shafts.

Its just a matter of knowing what questions to ask, and how to translate the answers into something useful to your knowledge base. And then, if you can get a chance to go on a test drive with the customer, have them drive the car with you listening as they put the car through the same conditions as the customer hears the noise, then you can go further.

Its just a matter of practice for most issues, and stuff like this isn’t any different between a $40k Acura, and a $3500 Honda.


JMHO, but many automotive arguments are due to the mechanic and the car owner not being on the same page. This may be due to the insertion of a service writer between the two, the already formulated opinon that they’re going to be ripped off no matter what, some erroneous internet claim or comment from a neighbor, or the sheer inability of the car owner to comprehend mechanical principles or explanations.

The following may (?) be a bit extreme but could illustrate how an explanation may come across to a customer. :wink: