Everyone has stories about how they got ripped off by a mechanic. My story is about the process by which mechanics justify their business methods. The other day I went to Mercer Automotive in Park City for a safety inspection. I decided to wait in the office while it was being completed, and was rewarded with the opportunity to witness a fascinating exchange between a mechanic and a customer who was getting ripped off.
Shortly after I arrived, the mechanic called the customer (who he knew previously) to tell him that the bill for replacing his brakes was going to be around $400 instead of the previously quoted $200. The stated reason was that in order to resurface the rotors they would have to take apart the 4-wheel drive on the vehicle. The customer was understandably upset, and decided to get a quote from another shop. The competing quote came back at $180 (still a lot in my book).
A series of conversations ensued between the mechanic, a colleague, and the customer (over the phone) about the cause of the discrepancy. The mechanic felt a bit guilty about charging so much, and explained to the customer that the competition was not going to resurface the rotors. The customer asked the mechanic to use his best personal judgement to determine whether the resurface was necessary (my opinion is that it usually is not, as explained here). The mechanic, with the added pressure of feeling his personal reputation on the line, admitted that in this case it was not a safety issue but that the brakes might make some noise initially if not resurfaced. He also made a number of awkward comments about how his main concern was that he didn't want to be "too overpriced."
After the phone conversation with the customer concluded, the mechanic turned to his colleague at the desk and asked his opinion. The colleague said that his policy was to always "do a job the right way." The mechanic then insisted that that had always been his policy as well, and that he didn't feel comfortable doing a brake job without resurfacing the rotor.
My interpretation of this conversation is that mechanics have a strong incentive to interpret a situation in a way that justifies the largest amount of labor. When dealing with friends, or customers who call them out (or in this case, both) they may feel a little bit of guilt about their diagnosis. The mantra of always doing a job right is a way to mollify their conscience by introducing a principle under which their actions can be more easily justified. The question is no longer whether they are giving customers a good value, but whether they are doing the job "the way it is supposed to be done."
At this point my safety inspection came back. (It was completed by a different mechanic). I failed. Two of the stated reasons were that my rotors needed resurfacing, and that I had a crack that extended 10 inches into my windshield, whereas only 6 inches is allowed. Since I had witnessed the previous conversation, the mechanic at the desk felt a bit sheepish about recommending to me that my rotors needed resurfacing. But instead of changing my fail to a pass, he came up with the ad hoc solution of declaring that my brake master cylinder was leaking (I have no symptoms of this). I also happen to know that the crack in my windshield extends about 7 inches into the windshield and that the inspection standard is that a crack should not extend more than one inch into a visibility zone that ends 6 inches from the boundary. Thus, my crack was on the very margin of acceptability.
Just for fun I asked the mechanic to come out and measure the crack with me. He accepted the challenge. My car had been parked in a different location, and the mechanic took a route through the shop to get there. By the time I reached him he had already done the measuring and stated that it was "more like 7 3/4 inch". I figured I wasn't going to convince him that I should pass, so I let it slide and went home. As I drove away, I wondered whether the mechanic was doing any interesting mental gymnastics to justify the practically fraudulent result of my safety inspection.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
This explanation of the housing crash does not bode well: TheMoneyIllusion » A demographic depression. The idea is that we are not in a housing slump because we built an unusually high number of houses and now we have too many. We are in a housing slump because we are in a household slump. That is, people aren't getting married, having kids and then buying houses in which to raise their family. There are probably two main factors that cause this trend: reduced immigration and unemployment (demographic aging may be a third). Immigration levels depends on unemployment, but they also depend on how the country treats immigrants (including illegals).
This does not mean that immigration crackdowns are preventing an economic recovery, but they do their part. The biggest problem is unemployment, and a large part of that is in the construction industry. So, people aren't getting jobs because there are no houses to build and there are no houses to build because people aren't starting families, and people aren't starting families because there are no jobs. We need to do everything we can reasonably do to stop this vicious cycle. Allowing more immigrants would be a good first step (and not persecuting illegals would help, too).