Gonzo's Toolbox: Walk A Mile In My Shoes And You'll Know Where I Get My Stories

Gonzo’s Toolbox: Walk A Mile In My Shoes And You’ll Know Where I Get My Stories

I was asked some time ago about why I write these peculiar articles about the vehicle repair business. Well, the only way I can explain it is to put yourself in the position that I'm in on a daily basis. I spend a better part of my day trying to understand what a customer is explaining to me, while using my training, background and basic common sense to come up with a logical answer to their vehicle's problem.

I was asked some time ago about why I write these peculiar articles about the vehicle repair business. Well, the only way I can explain it is to put yourself in the position that I’m in on a daily basis. I spend a better part of my day trying to understand what a customer is explaining to me, while using my training, background and basic common sense to come up with a logical ­answer to their vehicle’s problem.

This is where these true-to-life stories begin. During an average day, a tech might work on vehicles spanning more than 20 different production years. Nothing is ever the same, from year to year, model to model, or manufacturer to manufacturer. These differences can be as varied as the people we meet. Knowing these changes in vehicle systems can be overcome with years of experience, but knowing how to deal with the attitudes and personalities of the consumer can take a lifetime.

The varied ways people will explain their car problems to the tech can be baffling or even misleading. I try to never approach a situation with blinders on so I don’t get lead down the wrong repair path. Sometimes, their explanations leave a lot of doubt as to what they really are trying to say. For some people, explaining things isn’t easy, so their way of getting their point across is to use an extremely long version of the story, or a complete biographical saga from their childhood to the present, just so I don’t miss any details.

It’s hard to remind myself that I’m not going to make a customer out of every person who calls the shop, or patron who comes in the door, but I’m still stubborn enough to try anyway. As one long-time shop owner once told me years ago, “Don’t do business with people you can’t get along with or ones you feel uncomfortable around.” I tend to believe that’s true after seeing the variety of people I’ve encountered over the years.

But, those odd and different personalities and explanations about car problems are the best material for the next new story. You never know, the next one coming through the door might be a real winner.

When it comes to educating the customer about what’s wrong with their vehicle, there’s only so far I can go. I usually try several different angles to bring the technical answer down to a level that is acceptable to the customer, but, sometimes, their comprehension is aided only by me using everything from charts, to graphs, to hand puppets. Sometimes, even explaining things to the customer is a show in itself. It can certainly be just as comical watching me try to explain something, as it is listening to their stories.

After many years of standing behind the counter, I tend to have a “sixth sense” about the upcoming repair, either from the reactions of the customer, or from the condition of the car. I tend to go back through my memory files and find a situation that is comparable to the latest one. After all of these years, there’s no doubt there are some comparisons to a story I’ve already put onto paper. Writing these stories down also makes it easier to think of a better way to handle it in the future, or be aware of the potential outcome.

In some small way, I hope people who read my stories not only see the humor in these situations, but also take away from them a bit of knowledge. I like to think of it as a life lesson that can’t be taught out of the automotive repair manual. But, it’s something everyone has or will experience.

You could call it a “reality check” for the automotive world. I write about the everyday events that occur in an automotive repair shop, not some contrived management-improvement idea that’s going to boost your bottom line. Techs from all over the world e-mail me, and have no trouble relating to my stories, and you can tell they’re smiling while they write those e-mails. It helps everyone realize they are not alone in this incredible and challenging world of automotive repair. And that’s what these stories are really all about.

But, these stories not only apply to just automotive techs; they’re something anyone who deals with the general public will enjoy reading. I know doctors, lawyers, bank executives, roofers and a whole lot of other professionals who read and relate to my stories.

You just never know where the next interesting story will come from. When you take the time to really think about it, somewhere in our family tree we all have that crazy relative who has done something weird, or a co-worker whose elevator has skipped a few floors. It might even be something you’ve noticed on the news or on the drive home.

No matter where we are, something out of the ordinary is going to happen, sooner or later. And, as long as that keeps happening, I’ll keep writing. 

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