My first job in the diesel industry was at a small service shop along the Allegheny River just north of Pittsburgh. At the time I had around 18 credits of undergraduate legal and business classes under my belt so I knew some of the basics as to how…on paper…a business should be run. This service shop didn’t have a ton of policies and forms for customers to sign. Work orders were mostly informal and uncomplicated and sometimes not even signed. The owner operator would communicate directly with a technician and at first, I thought this practice was naive and reckless but when I saw it in action, I saw the beauty in it. A technician and an owner operator would go over the truck and the symptoms of the problem. Sometimes the truck’s owner would drive his truck during a road test while the tech would diagnose the problem. Often times the owner would want other problems explored and other services added in the middle of the job and if the schedule allowed it and before the bill was worked up the technician would update the work order. This simple and informal system worked great as long as everyone stayed honest and the tech was able to put enough hours on a job to provide enough time for both sides to understand what needed fixed and to understand each other.
The biggest disadvantage to this system is the additional cost in labor. The tech has to put time on the job regardless if he’s turning a wrench, asking and answering questions, or researching an answer to a question. Furthermore, the amount of communication needed to keep both sides in the loop can vary greatly depending on the job and the people. So, all that needs to be figured into the total cost of the job and given the time it takes to do that is highly variable that means the estimates are also highly variable. Nobody whose asking for an estimate wants to hear the estimate is highly variable. What they want to hear is a low price and to get a low price without sacrificing the quality of the work the tech has to spend the least amount of time communicating as possible. This can create some problems before, during, and after a job. The responsibly and obligations of both the shop and the owner operator need to be defined. This is especially critical for businesses that are only servicing the engine or part of the engine. The shops warranty policy and follow up tech support and associated fees are a big part of this. Before calling up a shop to…let’s say look at your ECM. Look up the warranty and other policies on that shop’s website and if you don’t like what you see don’t do business with them. Keep in mind they are trying to create a rule book to cover every possible scenario. Here is a good example. Yesterday a DDEC that I changed an internal battery on back in 2016 for $300 was sent back to me. The owner says I didn’t do a good job sealing up the box and water got into the ECM and destroyed it. The ash and melted plastic you see in the photo are what’s left of the traces and circuit board around the unswitched ground supply traces. Each ground trace is good for at least 20 amps, so he had to have his arc welder set to at least 75 amps to cause these ground traces to ignite the plastic circuit board. Touching the starter cable against the aluminum case of the ECM will do this too but the only way water could cause this kind of damage is if water was on the outside of the ECM and then was struck by lightning. It could happen…so I’m not calling him a liar but I’m also not going to be buying him a new box.
Written by Fernando DeMoura, Diesel Control Service. Phone 412-327-9400 Website: www.dieselcontrolservice.com.