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Who's Working On Your Bike?

Know Your Mechanic

We get notes like this often, such is not uncommon - read on:

Dear Sound Rider,

I sent my dealer a scathing e-mail, but they have chosen not to respond. They really did a number on my bike. Looks like they used a hammer and chisel to remove my front tire and a pair of vise-grips to install the new one. The damage didn't end there. They managed to gouge the right trunk panel very nicely, and the left as well. I think they have hired some ex-baggage-handlers to work in their shop. I am really ticked about this. Very, very careless, sloppy work. They didn't even bother to put the valve covers back on.

DC/Auburn

DC's experience is becoming a common one around the Sound. The problem lies in the fact that no dealer can hire a full crew of qualified techs to cover their service needs, because there simply is not enough in the area. The classes at Lake Washington Technical College, where they teach motorcycle maintenance are all full, but I swear they must stick all the graduates on a plane and fly theme out of state the day they get their diplomas. I have never once heard a dealer say to me, "Sorry, I can't meet with you today, I'm going over to LWTC to interview prospective service techs."

The economy has been good, more people are buying bikes, new and used, more people are riding, and there's a tremendous shortage of skilled labor for motorcycles in the region. Hence shop boys who were once picking up trash in the lot last week are getting a crash course in how to change tires, oil, filters and other simple activities. But do they treat your sweet pumpkin with respect? What's that? 

So here's a few tips we have for you the next time you bring your bike in for service:

Learn who the mechanics are that do a good job on your machine and specify that they do the work when you make your appointment. This will greatly improve your chances of having no damage on your bike when it goes in for service. I deal with a shop where everyone on staff knows there are only two people who can even touch my bikes. Hey, at $65 an hour for labor this should be your God given right to specify. This may not always be possible, but if your favorite also happens to be the head mechanic, they probably are keeping an eye on the service being done to your bike that day anyhow.  

It's also your God given right to ask what a service tech's background is before they touch your bike.  You'll be surprised to find that some dealers don't have factory trained techs and wing it with a hobbyist or otherwise. Ask and don't give them your bike until you feel good about it. Ever had major surgery and never meet the surgeon? 

Wash your bike before you bring it in for service.  This will allow you to look over every square inch and make you familiar with scratches and mars that might actually be there before you bring the bike in, possibly eliminating any pointed fingers later.

Should you have a similar experience to DC's consider doing the following: refuse to make payment until you have words with the owner, but not right then. Get a cab or call a friend to pick you up, go home, cool off and call the owner to set up a meeting to discuss the damage, no matter who the dealer is. Dealing with this on the spot often ends in harsh words and nobody wins. Most owners want to make it right for you. Most owners appreciate your business more than the service staff, and a careless job from someone in the shop is not worth losing your business over.

Before I wind this one up, though, let's talk about labor rates.  We get notes all the time from people who want us to recommend a shop to get work done on their bikes because they don't want to pay market labor rates to dealers and qualified indy mechanics. To that I reply, Yyou get what you pay for." Frankly, $65-$70 an hour isn't a lot to pay to have your motorcycle worked on. When you figure the wage a qualified mechanic should be paid, overhead for doing business in Puget Sound and what it costs to maintain a staff of qualified people, it's a fair deal. Anyone who is charging $30 an hour for labor is cutting corners to run their business and they'll be cutting corners to fix your bike as well. The honest truth is, I don't know any mechanics who charge under market rate for labor and I don't plan to have any touch my bikes if I ever meet one.  

PT/Fall 00


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