Fleet, Flat Rate and Hourly, Who Has More Comebacks

Michael Mobile Technician Clinton, Utah Posted   Latest  

Today I was demonstrating a diagnostic tool to a Heavy Duty shop. As I was showing the technicians the tool, I observed workers all around me doing their work. They were all keeping themselves busy, however there was no speed in their step. They were meticulous in their work. The work was getting done but at a slow and steady pace. Earlier in the day I was at a busy automotive shop. The technicians were nearly running from one place to another. When the wheels were mounted, no time for the torque wrench. Maybe just a token click, click, click after running down hard with the gun. It made me wonder if the pressure of flat rate vs, the security of straight time could be measured in diagnostic accuracy, proper assembly and repeat failures?

One shop I visit has an above average amount of returns and labor claims. They tell me that it is because the parts are crap. There is some truth to this but what else could it be?

Example: A Technician is changing a water pump for a leaky seal. He removes the pump and allows coolant to run out into a pan. The technician cleans the surface with a bristle brush, loads the gaskets and zips it back on with his air or electric wrench. He tops off the fluid with 50/50 coolant of the correct type. He checks all the clamps, runs the vehicle to operating temp and makes sure the fans operate properly, the thermostat opens and the heater works. He pulls the vehicle outside to cool to make sure the reservoir remains full. Once the proper level is obtained, he pulls the vehicle around front and hands the keys to the service adviser. He cleans his area and dumps the used antifreeze in the reclaim barrel. This vehicle returns 6 months later with a leaking water pump seal. Is this something the tech has neglected or is it just a bad part? If there is a problem with this process, would an improved process be more likely followed at a fleet (hourly) shop or a flat rate one?

Example: A vehicle comes in for new front brake rotors and pads. The technician racks up the vehicle and pulls the front wheels. He removes and hangs the calipers. The rotors are removed and discarded. The tech uses brake clean to remove oil from working surface. The rotors are mounted. Fluid is removed from the brake reservoir then the caliper pistons are compressed. The new pads are mounted into the calipers. The tech checks to make sure the hoses are hanging correctly and the backing plates are not dragging on the rotors. He takes the vehicle for a test drive and makes light and hard stops to both break in the pads and make sure there are no further issues. This vehicle returns a few weeks later with "warped rotors" and a grinding noise in the rear end. Is it the customer or something the tech neglected to do? If one were getting paid a large hourly wage, would more care be taken when doing a brake service. What additional steps could be taken to prevent the "warped rotors"?

These examples are just arbitrary and could come from any shop. It would be awesome to have some scientific data. My gut feeling is that when we are getting paid by the job our intention is to do good work but short cuts are made to decrease the time required. An hourly employee who cares about his work will take the time needed to make sure all the proper steps are taken. This is assuming that management wants quality work and provides the employee ample time to complete the job.

Our work environment can make a difference. About 10 years ago I was working at a small shop. There were only two lifts. The tire and lube guys took priority for the lifts. Not a big deal most of the time. I was asked to change intake gaskets on a 3100 GM engine. I had to do the work outside. It came apart fine but on the way back together it started snowing hard. I was cold and angry. I got the car assembled, made sure the fluids were good and shipped the car. It came back on the hook. I had left a bolt loose that held a coolant pipe in place. The vehicle was OK but I got chewed for the mistake. Somehow it did not seem fair. The pressure to is like that snow storm. A tech makes a mistake while the management taps their foot. Then the tech is chewed and has to do it over on his own time.

So what do you think? Does the way we get paid make any difference in the quality of our repairs? Are a few comebacks worth the increase in speed promoted by flat rate? What about the examples. Are there areas that need improvement in the technician processes? If so what are they?

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Bryan Owner/Technician
Kent, Washington
Bryan Default
 

I tried paying hourly, the mechanic was a 50 year old ASE certified master tech. He was constantly on the phone, didn’t care that there were 3 cars waiting to be diagnosed. He wanted a raise so I did some math. He was averaging about 17 flat rate hours per week and was getting paid about $82.50 per flat rate hour. That’s how that works.

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Michael Owner/Technician
Montague, New Jersey
Michael Default
 

I know the feeling.

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Ralph Technician
Alpharetta, Georgia
Ralph Default
 

I was on flat rate for twenty plus years now I get paid a weekly guarantee plus a bonus after I make the shop a certain amount of money the one thing I've noticed is in the diagnosis I'm more likely to spend four hours or more to FIX the car knowing I'm getting paid for all my time as before on flat rate I would rush the diag. or repair. I have also taking the time to learn better was to…

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Bill Owner/Technician
Jackson, Michigan
Bill Default
 

the flat system certainly does promote quantity over quality and also pushes some to stay away from the tougher jobs and diag.. as they want/ need something easy to get quick pay ☹️ With that being said some can do excellent work and beat the clock regularly. I still believe that the thought and stress of how much am I getting paid today/this week is always on every flat rate techs mind ( it…

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Rick Technical Support Specialist
Saint Charles, Missouri
Rick Default
 

What a great discussion. Flat rate came from the 60's . Should the industry change? I think so. Hourly plus incentive. The right environment to work in etc. Fix the car right and take the time necessary to do it right. Repair what is really needed. The parts cannon will collect time and revenue for the tech and shop. How much did I learn and understand from that type of repair may be limited and…

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John Manager
Warsaw, Indiana
John Default
 

I think the mindset in a fleet operation is different than that of a repair shop. The units in a fleet are a captive audience and you are with them until trade in time. We pay hourly and the care and diagnoses of each unit must be of the top priority. School buses have a substantially higher liability and breakdowns often occur with students on board. As a result time spent on proper diagnoses…

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Nathan Owner/Technician
Hillsboro, Ohio
Nathan Default
 

Hello, when I started working I worked at a tire shop. The shop paid its mechanics minimum wage along with the weekly commission of individual labor sales. The pay was based on your ASE certification. master tech obviously got paid more. Anyway if you had a bad week you were covered. If you busted your ass you got paid more. I liked it over hourly. I believe a salary/hourly job takes a certain…

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Dave Mobile Technician
Ironton, Ohio
Dave Default
 

There are a lot of variables with the quality of work done and the quality of parts(think Dorman). As long as shops continue to charge on a flat rate basis , paying the same flat rate time to techs seems like the most sensable way to go.

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Michael Mobile Technician
Clinton, Utah
Michael Default
 

Hi Dave, I used to work for Dorman and left on good terms. I have contacts there that would be interested in learning what products you are having trouble with. You can drop me a line @ … and I will get you in touch. The only way we are going to get the manufactures in line is to hold their feet to the fire. -Mike

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Michael Diagnostician
Atlanta, Georgia
Michael Default
 

Mike as far as dorman, if it has wires, it may work out of the box, but not for long, if it works out of the box, as many do not

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Bill Owner/Technician
Jackson, Michigan
Bill Default
 

I completely agree Michael ! it would be very short list of what doramn does well..... This is one of our lowest quality suppliers to the industry - i do not allow dorman parts to be purchased/resold at my facility

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Mike Owner/Technician
West Palm Beach, Florida
Mike Default
 

I'm on the other end of the spectrum. I've had great luck with Dorman. I use their window motor and regulator assemblies all the time and I don't remember a single premature failure. Their upper control arms have also worked out well for the occasional customer with a tight budget. That's mostly what I purchase from Dorman. I try to stay with OE as much as I can for other electrical parts. I…

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Ward Technician
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Ward Default
   

Hello Michael! Here's a list of stuff I have run across: - Fan hub on a Toyota pick up. One of the bolt holes should have been counter bored a bit bigger to locate a hollow dowel. It was not done and the hub would not fit over the dowel. It was in a poor location to see the issue, when I did find it I drilled it out to clear the dowel. - Power window regulator on a Honda Ridgeline. Once in…

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Ed Service Manager
Roswell, New Mexico
Ed Default
 

Do you think that flat rate and working conditions might be a contributing factor in the shortage of automotive technicians that the industry is currently experiencing? According to most information the lack of qualified technicians is affecting dealerships much more then fleets.

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Michael Mobile Technician
Clinton, Utah
Michael Default
 

Hi Ed, You have a point there. Let us expand on that. Many mechanics come from generations of mechanics. Grandpa, Dad, Son. Now parents are telling their children to not go into the business. I think if you were to interview technicians not satisfied with their work, it would not be the work itself but the compensation that is the major reason for dissatisfaction. A tech works 40 to 60 hours a…

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Brad Diagnostician
Pullman, Washington
Brad Default
 

With massive cuts in warranty times GM will and currently is loosing valuable technicians daily. Especially with the latest rounds of cuts. The only ones that are not jumping ship are the ones with guarantees and salaries. Would you put a set of injectors, high pressure pump, remove fuel tank and clean, remove fuel filter housing and clean, blow and clean all lines for 12 flat rate hours? Would…

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Glen Owner/Technician
Arthur, Illinois
Glen Default
 

Mike, Your post has more layers then an onion :) I would like to add my opinion/observations on only a few. OE's and AM warranty company's expect to pay flat rate. Consumer's seem to like menu pricing. I feel that some of the challenges arise because all 3 often underestimate the cost of properly repairing the modern day vehicle. As for flat rate vs hourly it be can seen from below that…

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Michael Mobile Technician
Clinton, Utah
Michael Default
 

Hi Glen, Brake jobs were brought up because most techs see the work as gravy money. The F-450 may not be as sought after due to the sheer mass of the rotors. Do most techs clean the rust off the hub assembly with a conditioning wheel? Do they clean and lube the slides? Are the rotors cleaned with soapy water as advised by the manufactures? Would these items be covered if they were paid hourly?…

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Glen Owner/Technician
Arthur, Illinois
Glen Default
   

Mike, Yeah the 'warped' rotors was supposed to be a joke. As for the weight of the rotors, it's form of survival to get these brakes on SD trucks to last as long as possible.. brake work is can be dirty and I dislike heavy lifting :) This customer does not have the time for the poor value of gravy brake repairs, this truck could be half way across the country with a load of steel.

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Martin Diagnostician
Burleson, Texas
Martin Default
 

I work in a pretty high volume flat rate shop, and there is definitely pressure to get things done. It really depends on the shop environment. If your in a shop that is not very busy and you have techs that are fighting for work, then yeah, I see why shortcuts happen. Gotta get the next ticket before they run out. That being said, there's no excuse for poor work ethic. l am sitting on my butt…

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Gail Technician
Garner, North Carolina
Gail Default
 

PepBoys doesn't use a service manager. So the guy on the front counter that has the phone on his ear talking to a potential customer, which may just be price shopping, lets the waiting customer...wait. If a tech has a question...he waits. Needs a part? Waits. I hate the flat-rate system when only the techs get the down side of it. Guys on the counter won't work a ticket unless they wrote it. So…

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Anthony Technical Support Specialist
Kirkwood, Pennsylvania
Anthony Default
 

Hi Mike: Flatrape lives and dies by the "front end". They control almost all of the variables. I find it to be a lazy way of management but the joke is on them. To make flatrape work, it takes a lot of work with everyone pulling in the same direction, all of the time. Lazy managers can't make it work on a consistent basis. If a perpetual motion machine goes against the laws of physics, how is…

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Walter Manager
Kennewick, Washington
Walter Default
 

I spent 30 years as a flat rate technician and beat flat rate 99 % of the time. I learned very early on that you make no money as a flat rate mechanic if you have comebacks. The discussion seems to be that all flat rate mechanics don't care about quality. The Flat raters that I have worked around have always been about quality first to make sure that they have no comebacks. I have had the…

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Anthony Technical Support Specialist
Kirkwood, Pennsylvania
Anthony Default
   

Hi Walter: Another alternative is to hire someone worth what they are being paid. But nothing (EDIT: corrected typo) you wrote negates what I wrote. Guido

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Brad Diagnostician
Pullman, Washington
Brad Default
 

While I will tend to agree with a lot of this, it is going backwards fast. And the aftermarket unfortunately will feel it soon also. With all the labor times going down the guides will follow. Guys in the dealership who used to roll 130+% in efficiency has drastically went down due to the cuts. Not due to being lazy or ignorant. If one gets behind on hours now it is very hard to make it up. I…

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Scott Owner
Moreno Valley, California
Scott Default
 

Hi Brad, The last part - "I am the firm believer in hiring adults. And paying adult wages." Have you approached management with this? Rhetorical question, but... The dealer principle agrees to get reimbursed by GM for warranty repairs through their franchise agreement with GM. There's nothing in there for how the mechanics get paid, but for all these years the sheeple fall into line for what…

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Brad Diagnostician
Pullman, Washington
Brad Default
 

Man. Where have you been? I used to read you religiously on IATN. You have it stated well. You just described my dealership to a T. My contract is with my principal owner. Not GM. I learned long ago the more you learn and know the more you are punished. Specifically in a smaller dealership as where I work. When I first started my numbers were awesome. Then all my training and learning turned…

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Scott Owner
Moreno Valley, California
Scott Default
 

Hi Brad, My initial thought was good for you - and why can't we just leave it at that? Say good morning Brad, we really appreciate what you do for us and genuinely mean it. Sometimes I, and some others I know, talk about the good ole' days – and they actually were. A 50 - 50 split on the labor, the cars were not all that great as the engines leaked oil from every possible orifice, suspensions…

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LaMont Owner/Technician
Smithville, Ohio
LaMont Default
   

As a shop owner who is also a technician I have to agree. Flat rate can be good for the technician and good for the company if it is done right on both sides. It takes honesty and integrity by both the shop owner and the technician. The tech has to stop and ask for extra time when extenuating circumstances present themselves (broken bolts, rust, sludge, etc.), and management can’t have a problem…

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Brad Diagnostician
Pullman, Washington
Brad Default
 

And there we see a guy that can see both sides of the fense. Being equal with everyone on board will accomplish that. When the burden is played on the few is when it spirals out of control. Good on you for seeing it, and adapting. Don't cut your nose to spite your face.

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Ben Mechanic
Chesnee, South Carolina
Ben Default
 

I'd say there's no scientific answer to that because the question is too broad. Good people working in a good shop are going to have less comebacks. From there you could introduce different variables like pay rates and such but in real life each shop is its own island with a different set of variables. But I'm sure you could say a work environment where people are pushed to do work as fast as…

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Samuel Technician
Somers Point, New Jersey
Samuel Default
   

I want to type my intitial thoughts....1. You are definitely hitting on a HOT industry topic; flate rate vs hourly. 2. No matter what pay scale is used, the responsibility of doing a near perfect and thorough job falls upon the technician regardless of conditions or pay scale. HOWEVER, lets keep this real and understand that over time, conditions (work environment) and pay can change most. Some…

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Michael Owner/Technician
Montague, New Jersey
Michael Default
 

One of these days I have to take a ride down the shore and meet you Sam.

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Tanner Instructor
Wellford, South Carolina
Tanner Default
 

This is a topic of much debate. Personally I feel the pay systems will have to change away from flat rate for the industry to actually start getting young people interested in this field again. The pay system leaves a lot to be desired from a technician perspective, it works well from a management point of view though. I can understand both sides for sure, unfortunately if we don't find a way…

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Dave Mobile Technician
Ironton, Ohio
Dave Default
 

Tanner, I have always said that being a mechanic/tech was the worst job you would every love. I cannot think of another job that you have to invest tens of thousands of dollars in tooling just so somebody can tell you what your time is worth according to some book. The people that have stayed in the business for a long time seem the have that love even though we all gripe about it. Diagnostic…

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Michael Owner/Technician
Montague, New Jersey
Michael Default
 

Flat rate rewards speed and accuracy. It's harder to do in an independent setting where you work on various makes of vehicles. However, you can certainly make money doing it if you know what you're doing and you have management who charges the proper amount on the job. I made great money for years doing it at dealerships. I understand about work environment. The snow storm story is interesting…

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Frank Owner
League City, Texas
Frank Default
 

I have been running a salary shop for over 20 years and it does take a level of discipline to make it work. In addition, it also takes a slightly different management style coupled with the right employees. I am running five techs all running on average 45 hours per five day work week. That's 125% Base Tech Efficiency and a shop aggregate efficiency of over 110%. The rate of return work is less…

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Michael Owner/Technician
Montague, New Jersey
Michael Default
 

It depends. When I worked as dealerships, my average hours per ro rate was 3.3. My comeback rate was under .1%. I ate all my comebacks. I averaged about 50 hours production working 40. In my shop, I have never paid flat rate, I pay salary + incentive which kicks in at 40 hours production. I have never had anyone hit the incentive since I opened and I find I have to step in to this day as not one…

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Mike Owner/Technician
West Palm Beach, Florida
Mike Default
 

And I thought I was the only one with this problem. I consider myself a high paid baby sitter. Obviously, there is a reason we are the bosses and our employees are not. Watch out, though. A lot of people will tell you that you are doing something wrong. I guess expecting a high paid adult to be able to do their job without constant supervision is asking too much. I can't remember what other…

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Michael Owner/Technician
Montague, New Jersey
Michael Default
 

I've already had it happen here on DN where I was "told" I was the problem. It's amazing.

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Dave Mobile Technician
Ironton, Ohio
Dave Default
 

Frank, do you charge by the flat rate manual or by the clock time a tech works on the vehicle?

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Sean Technician
Cincinnati, Ohio
Sean Default
   

I've recently switched to another shop, been at Firestone as a diagnostics tech, lead tech, fix others mistake tech, do this oil change quick tech for 11 years. Front brakes paid .8frh front 1.0 rear no matter what, after a year or so of watching others whip through brake jobs I do an efficent and fast way, and taught that to all the others that just hammer and grind the new pads to fit, clean…

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Dave Mobile Technician
Ironton, Ohio
Dave Default
 

Sean I have a good friend that worked for Firestone and followed all of the correct procedures. He was put on the road by Firestone to train and inspect the way services were performed at different stores. He only settled for topnotch work and tried to pass that on to the techs. I don't know how many techs continued to follow the right procedures when he left , but at least in the area he…

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