BEWARE: Kim Waligorski is a veteran of 18 years with her own tractor and reefer, but no illusions.Photo by Harry Rudolfs
BRANCHTON, Ont. – Finding an honest and inexpensive repair shop can be tough. Good mechanics are scarce and no owner wants to be overcharged or taken for a ride.
Cliff Hall of Branchton, Ont. currently has 17 trucks (five company tractors and 12 owner/operators) running heavy equipment around North America on floats and flatbeds.
But in 1997, when he started his business with three tractors, he was faced with the daunting challenge of finding a reputable garage.
“My son’s a diesel mechanic so I have no problem these days. But back then I had to ask and seek,” says Hall.
“I drove past a few places to see whose trucks were on the lot. Then I’d phone those companies and ask about the service.”
Hall is very happy with his present repair shop, an independent garage in Cambridge, Ont., where he gets a remarkably cheap door rate of $65 per hour.
Although he’s given up his AZ licence and moved into the office now, even during his driving days Hall never serviced his own vehicles.
“When you’re driving all week you don’t want to be screwing around with your truck on Sunday,” he says.
“So the hours of operation are important, too. You want to be able to drop off the truck and pick it up when it’s ready.”
Greg Ivey, fleet manager for JTS in Orillia, Ont. goes by first impressions.
He likes a clean, bright shop with up-to-date equipment. “Today’s door rates are anywhere from $70-$95 an hour. I’d be willing to pay 10 or 15 bucks more an hour if I know it’s going to be done right.”
According to Ivey, dealerships are unavoidable for warranty work, especially when it comes to powertrain problems.
“But,” he adds, “downtime is a factor, too. A lot of times I will eat the warranty just to keep the wheels turning.”
As well, Ivey suggests that a large repair facility might give inconsistent results.
“Dealerships seem to lose a personal touch,” he says. “Out of 30 mechanics, they probably have 15 good ones. And it’s pretty tough to know what you’re looking at when they hand you the bill.”
Stuart Mitchell of Chilliwack, B.C. thinks that the small operator with only one or two trucks is more likely to be ignored when getting serviced at a large shop.
“The more trucks you have the more power you have,” he says.
“Some guys with 50 or 90 trucks have people running after them with jackets and mechanics if a pin drops. I jokingly asked for a hat and I was snarled at, after I had spent $3,000 for a problem that was misdiagnosed by them (the dealership) in the first place.”
Mitchell is a fourth-generation dairy farmer who operates a couple of logging trucks.
After some problems with warranty items, he claims to have been marginalized by a franchise dealership because of his complaints.
“With local shops you can check around about their reputation. It’s easier to reference the Tom, Dick and Harry’s than it is a big corporation. How many lawyers are retained by a small shop? None. What we need is a data bank of good repair facilities.”
Rick Glassford has been on both sides of the fence.
For the last three years he was service manager for a major southern Ontario truck dealership.
But three months ago, he made a dramatic career change and opened up his own repair shop in Orangeville, Ont.
“The first thing I have to do is earn the trust of the customer,” says Glassford.
“With four bays and five employees, I can offer a hands-on approach. We’re not as busy as a large dealership so we can under-commit and over-deliver.”
Glassford provides extended hours for operators in his area by keeping the Orangeville Truck Centre open from 7:30 a.m. until midnight weekdays and all day Saturday.
“Drivers tell me that downtime hurts their business so we try to get them in and out as fast as possible,” he says.
“Our door rate is probably a lot cheaper than the big guys, too. The best thing to do is to shop around and get different quotes, and then make sure these people stick to their quotes.”
Kim Waligorski of Kingsville, Ont. is a veteran driver who owns a 1999 International Eagle and her own reefer trailer.
But she sympathizes with rookie owners who are faced with their first costly repair job.
“My top recommendation is to bring someone along who has driven truck for a long time and who has had their truck fixed at a shop for a long time. Because they know people and you don’t,” she says.
“Also, learn about what’s broken down first before you get there so they don’t pull the wool over your eyes.”