Dan Anderson: When Machinery Needs Repair

November 6, 2017 04:29 PM
 
Dan Anderson

Every so often, a customer will comment the bill for a service call was more expensive than they expected. I’ve even had customers keep track of what time I arrive and leave their farm and then are upset when they’re charged for an hour or two longer than they expected. Here are a few behind-the-scenes issues that sometimes “enhance” a customer’s final bill:

  • Even though most dealerships have a basic trip fee anytime a tech leaves the shop on a service call, the customer often pays for the time a mechanic spends driving to and from the job. Even though you can make the trip to the dealership in 20 minutes when you desperately need parts, the dealership will bill you for the 45 minutes it takes the mechanic to get to your place driving the legal speed limit.
  • Depending on the needs of an upcoming service call, techs sometime include “prep time” on their time card. Prep time can be the few minutes it takes to look up and pull any parts that might be needed on the call, or it can be an hour or more of time spent looking through books/computers and printing out schematics or diagnostic information. To be frank, sometimes it’s easier for the mechanic to look up detailed information at the dealership rather than in the field, with a frantic customer pacing in the background.
  • The backside of service calls can also increase a bill. Time spent unloading unused or broken parts or writing up a repair report must be billed “somewhere,” and bosses prefer the customer pay for it.
  • Poor directions are another hidden cost associated with service calls. If a customer says he’ll be “two miles south of town” but ends up moving to a farm four miles north of town before the mechanic gets there, well, there’s a cost associated with the mechanic wandering around the countryside looking for the machine.
  • Here’s a personal favorite: during a rainy spell, a mechanic gets sent out to work on a machine in the middle of a muddy field. There’s no way to get the service truck to the machine, and the farmer doesn’t want his freshly planted field torn up by driving the machine closer to the road. Repairs under those conditions might be a little more expensive, simply because it’s just human nature to walk slower when your boots are carrying 15 lb. of mud.

In the event you do need to bring your equipment to the shop, consider these suggestions to reduce labor bills. These four points might seem simple and obvious, but you’d be surprised how often these “options” add to the cost of a repair job:

  • If it’s a chore tractor, remove the loader before it goes to the shop. Any serious engine or transmission work will require its removal, so you’ll save money if you send a “naked” tractor. The only time that’s not true is if the repairs are related to the way the loader and tractor work together.
  • If it’s a field tractor, remove any extra components associated with the area to be repaired. For example, if the three-point hitch frame, dual wheels or front weights must come off for the necessary repairs, you’ll pay the mechanic for the time he spends removing those items—and for re-installing them when done. If you’re willing to do the heavy lifting it will save you money.
  • The opposite of removing things from equipment to save time during repairs is to be sure the machine has everything it needs for full diagnosis and repairs. Planters and sprayers, in particular, often need their computer display screens handy during repairs. When in doubt about what to take off or leave on a machine, ask the mechanic who will be doing the work.  
  • Clean the machine. I can’t count the hours I’ve spent, or seen other mechanics spend, in our wash bay using a power washer to clean mud, grease, manure or field debris from a machine before we could start repairs. The hour or two spent cleaning the machine at home is an hour or two less labor on the repair bill.
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