If you’re in the automotive field, you know flat-rate. It really can be a love/hate relationship. When you’re busy (and have easy jobs one after another) you love it; but when you get that car that’s kicking your butt or you’re really slow, you hate it. So how exactly does flat-rate work? Every repair on a vehicle has a predetermined amount of time that said repair should take someone to complete. Let’s say you’re replacing a broken engine mount and the flat-rate book time is 2 hours, no matter how long it takes you to replace that engine mount…you’re still getting paid 2 hours of your hourly rate. You can see how this can be a great thing but at the same time be a really bad thing. You could work a 40 hour week but turn 60 flat-rate hours or work a 40 hour week and only turn 30 flat-rate hours.
There is kind of a science to this whole flat-rate thing really. To start with, you have to know what you’re doing and be skilled, which comes with time and training. After that, you have to find the balance between speed and accuracy. You can’t work so fast that you’re screwing up all the time and breaking things but at the same time, you can’t work so slow that you’re not getting any vehicles out the door. One good way to get faster is multitasking. For example, while you have the rotors turning on the brake lathe, go back to the car and get the oil draining and set tire pressures. Just little things like that will save you 5 or 10 minutes here and there but it all adds up over the day. Don’t just stand there and watch the oil drain, that will kill your productivity. Another good way to beat flat-rate time is by not always following exactly how the service manual says to do a repair. I’m not saying to do it wrong or hack it up, it’s just that most of the time you can do things more than one way. For example, the service manual might tell you to completely remove a bumper to change a light bulb, when in reality you can just undo one side enough to squeeze the bulb out and in. Remember to always think outside the box, and always work smarter not harder.
One huge thing you want to avoid with flat-rate work are comebacks. Comebacks are basically a result of getting in a hurry and not doing a good enough job the first time. Whether it be mis-diagnosed or just a lousy repair, you should do everything you can to avoid this. When you get a comeback it makes you look bad, plus it makes you lose money because now you are looking at/fixing that car for free. Comebacks are going to happen in the automotive world, so don’t beat yourself up if you have one every now and then. When you find the sweet spot of speed vs accuracy though, you will find that the comebacks are almost nonexistent.
So is flat-rate worth it? Can I actually make good money? Yes and yes. Flat-rate, when mastered is a great thing. You can work an 8 hour day and get flagged for 20+ if you know what you’re doing. A well experienced and highly trained flat-rate tech can make in the $25-30+ an hour range. So you figure $25-30+ an hour at 60+ flat-rate hours a week, well you do the math. Flat-rate isn’t easy and it’s not for everyone but if you can get the system down and do good consistent work, you can do very well for yourself. So for all the guys just starting out, stick in there and learn learn learn. Hard work and dedication will pay off in time.
That is a quick overview of what flat-rate is and how it works. Hopefully it was helpful for you, and as always if you have any questions feel free to contact me. Keep up the hard work out there!