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Old 03-18-2005, 12:11 PM   #1
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Unhappy Now I think I understand ...

why so many of us have a hard time getting competent work done on our units.

I was talking with a fellow who has worked as tech in the RV industry for many years. Much of that time for an Oregon dealer who claims to be the largest RV dealer in the US. He tells me that RV service work is done on a flat-rate (piece work) basis. The technician gets paid the same amount for the job, regardless of how long it takes. The shop collects the shop labor rate times the flat rate hours from the customer and the technician gets his hourly rate times the flat rate hours. So, the shop wants the cheapest (presumably least skilled/experienced) tech to do the work. There does not seem to be any incentive to do careful work. According to this fellow, many of the techs just do the job the quickest way possible regardless of how it should be done. Of course if they find something else that needs to be done they can go back to the service writer who then goes back to the customer to get approval. Usually if it is something small, they don't bother.

This would seem to explain so much about my experience with RV service (and actually auto service as well).

Does anyone know if this is the usual situation with service facilities? If it is, I don't see how to go about getting good service. I would be willing to pay more to get a quality job done, but how can I communicate this without putting a 'screw me' sign on my back?
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Old 03-18-2005, 01:12 PM   #2
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I would agree with you, at least most of the time.

Flat rate shops are designed to control labor costs. However, in spite of that, most shops lose money for the owners. They figure that the loss becomes minimal, when they run a flat rate shop.

Our service society today, is far removed from what it was 30 or 40 years ago. Pride in workmanship was the motto for most American workers, regardless of the job, back then.

Today, it has become almost a rat race. Generally speaking, our labor force leaves considerable room for improvement.

In some states, such as California, we have taught our young generation, to sue and live off of society, lie and cheat on job app's, steal from others as well as your employer, use drugs so that you can put up with your employer and society in general.

We did away with a flat rate labor force, some 16 years ago, and refuse to go back.

Some shops, such as ours, tries very hard to have top notch mechanics, that are also honest and not afraid of work, and that do not require minut to minute QC of their work.

As a result of that, we have a limited shop staff, that is professionsl, reliable and dependable. Their motto is the same as mine, namely, get it right the first time.

On the other hand, perhaps because of having a bad experience at someone's shop, you have the customer, that can never be pleased, under any circumstances. Could it be that they, themselves, also contribute to the labor problem? Some think so.

As a suggestion, when you take your Airstream to a shop, ask them for an estimate, if possible, for not only material, but labor as well.

A good shop, can usually do that. Some types of repair, however, cannot be estimated. As an example, how much to correct an electrical short. Finding that problem, can take considerable time, yet once found, it usually only takes minutes to repair.

If a shop cannot give you a reasonable estimate, then set a dollar "not to exceed" amount.

Andy
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Old 03-18-2005, 02:32 PM   #3
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Automotive shops want the best trained people that they can get and spend millions every year to train their techs on increasingly complex mechanical electrical and computer systems. The quality of the work depends on the person that owns the dealership and the service manager. Shoddy work means come-backs and that costs money. There is just no incentive to not doing the job right the first time. As for Airstream, do they even have a training program for their service techs?
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Old 03-18-2005, 02:45 PM   #4
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You got it right. It is to bad their are not more Airstream dealers in the Northwest. I went last year to a large RV dealer in Ridgefield, Wa to have a propane check ordered by my wife. I arrived at the dealer in the wrong driveway. Had to back out and find the proper driveway. Then check in with the service writer. The check was free but it took 2 hours to complete. I had to check out with the service dept before I could leave.
The next repair I did was all new sewer valves and lines. This forum was the most useful place to get info. I went to an independent RV repair place to buy the parts. They were very helpful.
I have bought some parts from Inland RV with good results.
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Old 03-18-2005, 03:27 PM   #5
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Chuck, who's the RV dealer in Ridgefield? I've been going to RV Pro in Hazel Dell (Vancouver, WA). They're a small family owned business, so you can talk to the owner if you need to. They're not cheap, but they've done good work, and been up front with me about how much stuff would cost. I definitly recommend them.
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Old 03-18-2005, 04:10 PM   #6
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RV pro helped me with sewer parts. A good place. The Ridgefield dealer is Poulsbo RV. They are OK. They have a very sharp Female Parts person.
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Old 03-18-2005, 04:41 PM   #7
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Flat or book rates for mechanical repairs are common in aircraft and car shops, as well as some RV shops... Practice often promoted or initiated by manufacturers and their warranty programs, as they will often only agree to reimburse repairing dealers for the "book rate" amount of labor on a pre-defined warranty job..

If mis-managed, it does lead to abuses, rip-offs and shoddy work, but if managed well it can work.. Rule of thumb here is to ask going in "Do you quote and charge book rates or actuals?" and see if there are exceptions.. I've succeeded in agreeing to pay actuals v. book rate, subject to a cap, when I really wanted something troubleshot correctly... Unfortunately, actual labor is at least as bad if mechanic tech is lazy or incompetent, and you'll just pay even mroe for bad work...

Best advice is to find honest and competent shop, and keep going back and telling your friends when you find one.. Never go back, and complain to owners, manufacturers and friends when you find a bad one... Remeber, they're doing it to make a living, not as a hobby, and deserve a chance to make a profit if work done right as planned.

John McG

>> and Andy, it's worrisome to see how low your opinion of younger Californians has sunk.. Hopefully that's just a local and temporary problem..
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Old 03-18-2005, 05:14 PM   #8
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It is not just my opinion, but most of the businesses that belong to the Chamber of Commerce.

The labor force is not all bad, it's just that it has become very difficult to find either qualified people, or someone who is interested in learning.

It's almost like they don't want to use their brains that they were born with.

How sad. Yet many of them want to make big bucks.

I was taught that if you want to make big bucks, don't be good at what you do, but strive to be tops at it.

Has worked for me for 60 years.

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Old 03-18-2005, 05:37 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Inland RV Center, In
...or someone who is interested in learning...
I'll side with Andy on this one.

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Old 03-18-2005, 07:36 PM   #10
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The younger generation looking for the big bucks reminds me of a cartoon I saw a while back that seems to fit here...

A young man was sitting across the desk from a manager that was interviewing him for a prospective job opening. The conversation between them goes something like this:

Manager: "For someone with very little experience you are asking for a pretty high hourly rate."

Young Man: "Yes, but without much experience the job is a lot harder to do."

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Old 03-18-2005, 08:41 PM   #11
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I am inclined to agree with Andy on this one. I live in NC and work all over. We are a National, Commercial Roofing Contractor. We have a pre-employment drug screen, about 40 % of applicants can't make it past that. Of the remaining 60% nearly half can't pass a basic background/immigration check. I have actually interviewed a 20 year old that wanted $18 per hour and claimed 7 years experience In architectural metal work. Yeah right! We have an awesome core crew but it is a slow process to add to them. But we have found that the people that are willing to step up to the plate and meet the company standards will be around for a long time. Our average employee has been with the company 9 years or more, which is unusual in our industry. BTW our company is almost 60 years old. I have considered early retirement, then open a RV repair shop, but I am not sure I want the headaches involved with running my own business again. Maybe I need to do it on a when I want to basis like a lot of artisans that I know. "If I like you and feel, like it...."

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Old 03-18-2005, 09:56 PM   #12
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I ran a computer services company for 15 years and have a lot of experience with recruiting so I understand what it takes to find good people. I also understand how even good employees can have pretty unrealistic expectations. I also know how customers expectations can be way out of line with what is physically possible.

Neither employees nor customers spend much time thinking about what is required for the business to be profitable.

One of my favorite customer types were the people who would take up hours, sometimes days, having us educate them and, once educated, use the knowledge we gave them to define and negotiate with a low cost provider. Often enough, they would call us to fix the mess.

Of course I had lots of great employees and very loyal customers.

In my dealing with vendors I always try to see both sides of the transaction. I don't expect something for nothing and I hope to have a long standing relationship with vendors. Nor do I expect perfection, just honest effort and fairness.

Even with these relatively modest and realistic expectations, I have yet to find an RV vendor who even seems to try to provide quality service and fair value.

Someday I'll recount my experiences at Jackson Center.
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Old 03-19-2005, 05:47 AM   #13
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Seems like the Rv shops are light years away from the manufactures automotive shops. Flat rate only leads to abuse if a shop actually doesn't do the work. Manufactures flat rate times are so short that you have to be very good at finding and fixing he problem. as Andy said if it's electrical the shop could very easily lose mony on flat rate. They can be very difficult proplems to diaginose and repair.
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Old 03-19-2005, 08:08 AM   #14
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There are many facets to this problem, but two stand out:

1. An RV repairman is expected to be knowlegeable and competent to repair computerized controls, mechanical controls, electrical systems, plumbing, fresh and contaminated water systems, carpet and all other types of flooring, refrigeration, lp gas systems, hvac systems, audio (and now video) systems and associated electronics, 12 volt battery and charging circuits, all types of riveted construction, all types of bonded materials, fiberglass construction and repairs, small engine repairs and service (generators), and upholstery. This knowledge would need to extend to all such sytems ever made.

The above is only for tow behinds. For motorhomes, add in the knowledge that every truck dealer mechanic must know, but for all drivetrain brands.

It would be helpful if he could also raise the dead, work weekends and nights, and not demand more than $12 an hour.

2. Far too little attention is paid by any rv-related manufacturer to the problems of repair. This is a design issue, and it costs money. To date, there is no percieved demand for rv appliances, or rvs themselves for that matter, that can be relatively easily and inexpensively repaired.

The use of electronics to control virtually any and every thing has led to some very sloppy design work since, whatever might be a potential problem, "the computer will take care of that". So, something as simple as a lp refrigerator (which need have NO moving parts!) will just shut down if any one of a score or more of interrelated electronic pieces malfunctions in any way.

I recently saw a report that quoted a Mercedes Benz engineer as saying that 70% of their warrenty work was electrical in nature. This will come as no surprise to anyone who has owned one these last 10 years or so. He further stated that MB would be removing hundreds (!) of electronic functions.

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Old 03-19-2005, 10:22 AM   #15
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I read with interest, all the coments on this thread. Having been a Master ASE certified tech many years past, it still sounds the same as years ago. Everyone complains about flat rate sys. This also includes the techs. We all want champagne and cavair on a beer and beer stick budget. I am happy I don't pull wrenches any more for a living . Friends I have that are still in the trade , 15yrs later , make no more today than did then. Futher ,the benifits have decreased and or cost more. Customers whine and complain about cost and quality , refuse to pay for repairs or even a fair amount of time for the tech. So often a tech does not get the actual time payed to them that is into the repair. It is two sided. I've been on both sides of the counter , consumer and service provider. If you want excellant service , expect to pay and treat them that way too! Too many want their half million dollar houses and to live at the top of the foods chain and not have to pay for it. Think of the other guy and the fact that they have needs and families too.
Time to set my soap box on fire.
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Old 03-24-2005, 01:19 PM   #16
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Not disagreeing... Just worrrying..

Wanted to clarify for all that I wasn't "disagreeing" with Andy.. (That's generally a way to get on wrong side of the facts..)

I just expressed personal concern that it was "worrisome" and hoped it wasn't general and prevalent trend.. Further posts and his response just make me worry more...

I too have experienced hiring challenges, even at high end of educated professional work force, though I believe Aaron's 20 year old with 7 years' experience deserves some kind of prize... Sorting through 100 resumes to find 3 to interview, after dumping spelling errors and fibs and experience totally unrelated to requirement seems about par for course...

We're finding retention of good employees trumps recruiting process for new ones every time... Keep the faith, and let's hope these future workers figure it out in time to fund next generation of Social Security...
(and NO, that is not invite to debate private accounts!! )

John McG
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Old 03-24-2005, 01:57 PM   #17
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<<They have a very sharp Female Parts person.>>
Chuck


Hmm, was this some kind of Freudian slip?? Thanks for a very big laugh
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Old 03-24-2005, 08:02 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by guy99
This would seem to explain so much about my experience with RV service (and actually auto service as well).

Does anyone know if this is the usual situation with service facilities? If it is, I don't see how to go about getting good service.
In a word, yes.
We get paid a flat rate per hour, times the number of billable hours. Our company tries to match a tech's abilities with the work, but that is not as common with shops as I would like to see. I get paid a premium to keep an eye on the less experienced techs, called "mentoring", but again that is rare these days.
I also agree with Andy, I sometimes have trouble getting these guys to empty the trash cans, but they want top money.
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Old 03-25-2005, 09:49 AM   #19
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Flat rate system

This same system is used in the:

Automotive mechanical repair field
Automotive body repair field
Heavy equippment repair field
Marine repair field
Medical field
Legal field
Dental field

And I would guess other areas too.

I don't believe there is a one "best" system. And flat rate works for a tech that knows what he or she is doing and cares about what he or she is doing. It keeps prices down and contained for the consumer. It allows the tech with experience to have an incentive. And it takes a good shop foreman to be a ref between shoddy work (comebacks) and quality work. I would assume the industries with limited repeat work it may be difficult to hit the flat rate times. A tech doesn't see the same job time and time again to get good at it.

If there is no QC in place the flat rate system falls apart. No correction to get quality work. With out the flat rate system there is little incentive to get the job done swiftly. Especially when times are slow.

Like - I want it done. I want it done cheap. And I want it done now! Pick two.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>Action
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Old 03-25-2005, 07:59 PM   #20
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There are few self employed dinosaurs left that realize performing the job correctly the first time, saves you money in the long run by not having to do warranty repairs and having happy customers that spread the word doing free advertising for you. Some of the younger generation (not all) do not take pride in doing their work. It is just a job. Some experience RV technicians as employees do shoddy work because Ďitís just a jobí. No amount of money will get you quality service if the workers donít take pride in their work. When you find a good shop count your lucky stars.
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