Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Back street car mechanics just scraping by as drivers take the high road

As comfortable authorised service centres get the business, traditional repair shops are barely surviving on their loyal, older customers.

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Until recently, traditional, oily rag-type mechanics were the only option most motorists had for a quick repair of their broken-down vehicle or to fix a punctured tyre.

But in these days of computerised engines, authorised service centres have become the go-to option for automobile repair services.

Back street car mechanics have always been some of the hardest working people in the 3D job sector: dirty, dangerous, and difficult. They worked 12-hour days and six or seven-day weeks and made a good living.

These days, however, many often face empty workshops as they rely on an ever-dwindling band of loyal customers.

Ah Tick has been in the business for more than 20 years and tells MalaysiaNow he can barely eke out a living nowadays as his workshop sees fewer and fewer customers each year.

“These days we only make enough to keep the business ticking over. We don’t take a monthly salary, just a day’s pay when we can.”

His workshop services both cars and lorries, but the number of cars he sees has steadily declined.

“We mostly repair lorries now because the owners can’t afford authorised service centres. We don’t get as many cars as before,” he says, adding that as a result income has dropped drastically from previous years.

Ah Tick says that many people, both young and old alike, no longer want to use traditional workshops.

“The educated ones don’t come here because they see our workshops aren’t clean, and there’s no air-con or WiFi.

“They prefer a comfy environment to sit and relax in and play with their phones, so they choose to visit the authorised service centres,” he says with a shrug.

For the time being, Ah Tick says, his business still runs with the help of older, regular customers who have been visiting his shop for years.

Auto mechanic and business owner, David from Shah Alam specialises in servicing street racers.

He tells MalaysiaNow business is quite unpredictable. Sometimes he has plenty of customers and other times the shop’s empty.

Having been in the business for 11 years, David says the real problem for him is not so much to do with customer numbers but rather finding workers who are willing to stay in the job.

“It’s difficult to keep staff who are willing to work hard because many young people nowadays want to work with little physical effort. We can’t criticise them much when they’re working otherwise the next day they won’t come to work,” he says.

He remembers how when he was learning the trade, bosses would throw a spanner if junior mechanics made mistakes while working.

David says car owners no longer visit traditional workshops as much unless they get a recommendation from a friend or a family member.

“Then they come back for regular follow-ups if they are satisfied with the service we offer them,” he says.

Many people tend to think that traditional workshops are chop shops or the mechanics are not so honest, if they’ve had a bad experience with one or heard stories of mechanics charging through the roof.

But David dismisses the claim, saying such incidents largely depend on the person who’s repairing the vehicle and shouldn’t be applied to all mechanics.

“It really depends on the person but definitely not all service centres are like that. We charge our customers reasonably.”

However, he tells MalaysiaNow that people always want the best service for a cheap price, which is not always possible to get.

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