I remember it like it was yesterday. I had landed my dream job at a small independent repair shop that specialized in exotic sports cars. Everyday I was surrounded by vintage and new model Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, Lamborghini’s, Austin Healey’s, you name it my shop fixed it. I was in car porn heaven! I was proud of myself for landing this job but I learned many valuable lessons while working there.
I was working on an old Ferrari 308 that came in for a rough idle problem. My boss, a 40 year veteran in the business and former service director for Ferrari North America was working with me to resolve the issue. At the time I had a small roll around tool box with three drawers and tools stacked on top of tools to fit everything. He went looking for a wrench in my box and after 20 seconds of searching and finding it buried under other tools he stopped, looked at me and said “Son, come with me.” We went into his office along with the top mechanic in the shop and he proceeded to teach me one of the greatest lessons I would ever learn in the business. He started to tell me that the reason his top guy was so good was not just because of 20 years of experience, but because of his technique and organization!
If you want to get better (I.E completing repairs quicker) you need to have good technique. But on top of good technique, you need to ORGANIZED!! This was a European style shop that I was working at, which meant that everyone had a smaller roll around tool box and a service cart with them at all times. If you want to be effective at repairing automobiles then follow this advice.
First off get yourself a toolbox that allows for all of your tools to fit properly and be organized. In fact, get one a bit bigger because as your experience grows, so will your tool collection. Have one drawer for sockets, ratchets and extensions and keep them well organized. Put the sockets on a rail in numerical order and keep the sets you use most often towards the front of that drawer. If you have several loose sockets that serve one specific purpose find a magnetic socket holder and keep them on that. Next find a drawer for wrenches and set them up in numerical order. You can get a wrench holder that fits a whole set or lay them out. Just make sure your tool box drawer liners allow minimal to no sliding around. Next you’ll need a drawer for pliers, one for air tools etc… In other words find a drawer for each type of tool, keep them in that drawer and know which drawer they go in. Oh yeah, and on top of all that, always, always keep you tools clean. Grab a clean rag or two at the end of the day, spray the rag with brake cleaner and wipe down all the tools you used that day before putting them back in their proper place. Clean tools are effective tools.
Next, if your shop does not supply them, spend the money and purchase a service cart like this. You can find them cheaper but one like this is perfect. Over time you will memorize what tools you will need for certain jobs, having a service cart will allow you to have everything you need right next to you, no more putting tools on the floor and risk kicking them by accident or placing them on the lift arms or under the hood where they can easily fall to the floor. Everything you need is right there. Use a tool to loosen a bolt or nut and put it back on the service cart, later on its right there when you need to refasten. No misplacing or searching for tools, its all right there organized and ready to go.
Another great technique I learned was one I call the cupcake trick. Go to the local grocery store and purchase a few cupcake baking trays, get a few different sized ones. If this is a job you are not familiar with or just a big job in general, as you take things apart put each set of nuts and bolts in one of the batter spaces and move onto the next part that needs to be removed. Put those nuts and bolts in the next space and so on and so forth. When you are ready to put the car back together, just go in reverse. Not only will you put it back together properly but you have no left over nuts and bolts, a sign of a true craftsmen!
Following this advice will not only allow you to work more diligently but you will not waste as much time during the day. As a mechanic you want to use every possible minute of your work day as effectively as possible no matter if you are paid hourly, salary, commission or flat rate. Even if you were to save 5 minutes for every hour worked in a day using these technique, that’s an extra 40 minutes! As an organized mechanic with superior technique, there’s a lot you can accomplish in 40 minutes. That could be two or three extra oil changes or even a brake job. Better time management means more hours!