Autotechnician discusses the pros and cons of mobile servicing and repairs, and the technicians who are literally going the extra mile to assist customers with vehicle problems on the road, and look at the new Castrol Mobile Mechanic initiative, which aims to help mobile businesses stand out from the crowd.
There are two types of mobile technicians – those that work mainly for the general public, travelling to people’s homes or workplaces and carry out servicing and repairs on site, and those who focus on problem-solving or offering additional services predominantly to the trade. They tend to be brand or diagnostic specialists who bring expert knowledge and dealer level equipment to independent garages, allowing them to complete work which they otherwise would have turned away.
It is a cost-effective way for many technicians to strike out on their own and become business owners, offering flexibility, a larger customer pool and greatly reduced overheads. The advantages for customers are considerable, with the obvious one being the convenience of not having to leave your car at a workshop. The flipside is having to work outside in all weathers, keeping tools & equipment secure and limited access to resources and larger equipment. We speak to three mobile technicians and ask – is it worth it?
We caught up with Kim Doerr who has been a mobile technician for many years, having worked for a Triumph dealer and the Vauxhall main dealer in Luton. He stablished KD Auto Services in Bedfordshire in 1988.
“I remember my first day at the Vauxhall dealership, an old mechanic said to me “Don’t worry, nobody knows it all and nobody ever will”. I doubt he knew how true that comment really was, I reckon I would be totally bored if all I had to do was learn a trade then just do it for my whole working life. This is a job that changes year on year because of the manufacturers’ constant evolution of the motor car.”
“I must say, being mobile and on my own did take some getting used to as I missed being part of a team. Also, those were the days before the internet, so I never had good old Google or Forums to call on for advice.
“On the whole, I have enjoyed being self-employed. I have many regular customers, so I know their cars well. Being mobile and performing most repairs on someone’s drive does mean you have to be always incredibly careful with safety and cleanliness. You need to make sure you don’t leave oil on the drive and be very careful about the surface stability when using a trolley jack and axle stands – I use plywood boards to spread the loads.
“The Covid pandemic has caused some difficulties and changes in the way I work – I put covers on touch points and remove these after the work is done, I also use antibacterial wipes on surfaces as well. The upside to being mobile is that I’m not mixing with people and being outside in the open must be a safer way to work.
Equipment on the road…
“Over the years, I have spent many thousands of pounds on tools and equipment to do my job. Many years back I had Sun tuners, my last tuning machine was a Crypton Cudos with a four-gas analyser. The Crypton Cudos was a big machine and filled the back end of my Bedford Midi van and then in my brand-new VW Transporter. One time I had the tailgate open and had two speakers in there with music playing. Two young lads came past on their push bikes and one said, “Hey John, did you see that stereo system in the back of that van!”
“Over the years tools have changed and now I have six laptops, dealer tools, various generic scan tools, meters, test lamps, a Smoke Pro, and many different hand tools, not to mention all the manufacturer/model specific special tools, the list is enormous. For technical information, I find E3 Technical and Autodata very useful and on occasion use Google, but I do hate customers quoting Google to me!
“I also do AC diagnostics and can do this work mobile using separate bits of equipment – I don’t like the idea of putting a heavy fully automatic machine in the back of a van. AC is becoming an essential part of the modern vehicle and as such, our customers will not have the option of saying, I’ll open a window.
“The van I have now is ideal for my job, it’s a LWB transit that is kitted out really well and I can stand up inside. It has a rain cover that hinges out from the rear like a tailgate, this is one of those things to help cope with working outside in bad weather. “The tool I have had for many years now and really couldn’t be without is my Pico Scope, I started with the first two-channel serial port version and now a four-channel scope and FirstLook sensor. I would like the latest PicoScope kit, but you can’t have everything – the WPS500 and NVH kit would also be on my wish list.
“Over all my years I have never had any problems with the scum that break into vans, mainly because I’m always nearby and at home it’s locked behind gates. I used to have a lovely German Shepherd dog to help keep them away.
“Last year I was at a friend’s garage and while I was working in and out of the side loading door someone walked up the offside and stole my Autel 908s from the cab. This is one of the down sides of being mobile but as I have said, it is rare if you are cautious. I must admit if there is any noise outside at night I’m up like a shot and I’ve even had dreams about my van being stolen.”
Driving business to mobile mechanics…
Castrol has an established network of branded independent workshops in the UK and has now introduced a mobile mechanic offer to help elevate the public’s perception of mobile technicians, providing business support such as help with customer communications, marketing campaigns, Castrol branding and an online listing to drive potential customers to them.
Mobile technicians who agree to use 95% Castrol Lubricants purchased by The Race Group distributor and enter a three- year solus lubricant supply agreement, and same term branding agreement with Castrol, in return receive a £2,500 investment into their mobile business. This includes exclusive branding in the form of vehicle decals, workwear and roadside branding, an online training plan, 20L product stand, marketing campaign support and a business listing on Castrol.com.
Daniel Akhurst of DJ Motors in Ashford is an IMI member who covers most of the Kent area and has recently engaged with the Castrol Mobile Mechanic programme. He provides car and van servicing and repairs on all makes and models. Autotechnician asked him about the pros and cons of being mobile and what he expects to gain from his new relationship with Castrol.
“I have enjoyed fixing things and learning how things work from a young age. After working on my own cars, as well as family and friend’s vehicles, it was suggested I should start my own business in repairing cars. I have always enjoyed being out on the road and to keep costs down, it was best to be mobile as the cost of getting a suitable premises in Kent is very high. I set up my mobile business in 2012.
“I am trained as a Level 3 Light Vehicle Technician and a proud member of IMI. In the last year I have expanded into fleet repairs. My ultimate goal is to have a fleet of vans so we can offer the customer everything that requires repairing on a car or van, so that they don’t have to worry about going to different garages for their repairs.
“The main challenges of mobile working have been bad weather, accessing the car at various locations and having to adapt certain jobs as the way they are done in a workshop is not possible at a customer’s address. “The advantages have been cost savings for the business, so I can pass some of these onto the customer. There are, of course, a number of advantages for the customer, including not having to take the car to a garage and having to find a way back home, not having their car off the road for a day as a service can be done in a hour or two, plus the customer is able to see what work has been done and I can show them in advance if anything needs doing.
“I take on most of the normal jobs a garage can do but as I am currently on my own, I don’t take on the larger, more time-consuming jobs currently, such as clutches. I don’t really specialise in any particular area, but I cover most jobs that can be done at the customer address or roadside. I’m always expanding my tool range as always seeing new ways to complete tasks, especially as technology is always changing.
“I had been looking at different programmes for a little while as I really wanted to find a programme that would help me further the business. I have always used Castrol oil so when I saw an advert for the Castrol Service Plus network, run in partnership with The Race Group, I contacted them as I liked what they were offering to garages.
“I hope that the Castrol programme helps grow the business even further over the coming years as a number of different companies are getting in on the idea of offering a mobile service.”
Busy times ahead for the Summers Shop…
Dan Curtin established the Summers Shop mobile vehicle repair service, based in St Ives, Cornwall, 18 months ago and carries out general maintenance, servicing, brake, suspension, and general repairs. He also takes on a fair bit of diagnostic work. Most of his work comes from fleet/independent owner drivers of delivery vehicles and maintains many taxis. His customers find the mobile service is ideal for them, Dan explains: “The advantages for a lot of my customers has been the ability to not lose down time delivering vehicles to workshops for maintenance and repair. A lot of my customers work till late and have penalties for not being on the road.”
Dan’s most used tools is a cordless impact gun and smoke leak detector and the majority of his tooling has to be completely standalone as power isn’t always available. He is a keen promoter of his service on social media, updating his profile every few days, but other than that, all work is driven by word of mouth.
He has recently become a Castrol Mobile Mechanic, to benefit from the alignment with the well-known brand, he explains: “I was previously employed by a workshop that was part of the Castrol Service programme, so had a good understanding of how the team worked. I viewed it as a way to make my business look that bit more presentable, as well as being one of the first two in the country to be part of the scheme.”
If you would like to know more about the Castrol Mobile Mechanic network, complete the online form at http://bit.ly/CastrolMobile.