Ask Pete: ‘What is the optimal ratio of bays per tech for a modern diagnostic, drivability shop?’

“Pete, I saw your post on the ASOG Facebook page, and I’d like to submit a question for your article. What is the optimal ratio of bays per tech for a modern diagnostic and drivability shop? – Matt,  Louisiana”

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Hi Matt,

What a great and controversial question! A lot depends on the shop philosophy and how a shop utilizes their team members. Some management gurus will advocate one tech per bay regardless of the team member’s contribution to the shop. I call this a bean counter approach. Or the old way.

Pete Rudloff

It’s commonplace under this system to pay flat rate and, if there are not enough cars to go around, one or more technicians run out of work every day. Mangers think it doesn’t hurt the business because they rationalize they are not paying a tech who isn’t producing.

The intangible negatives center on the damage this does to an employee’s morale and how it indirectly promotes cheating the vehicle owner. A lot of why auto repair shops share a less than ideal public persona is related to outdated practices like this.

A more modern approach values the type of production a tech contributes. It will dictate the ideal amount of space they need to be most efficient based on that production. It’s important to point out that a strict tech per bay philosophy will likely out produce a policy geared towards making each tech the most efficient version of themselves.

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A technician efficiency approach puts less value on the dollars per square foot a shop produces and more value on individual technician efficiency, which is more likely to result in happy employees, happy employers and happy vehicle owners.

Here’s the ideal technician efficiency philosophy: Happy employees make clients happy, happy clients are more important than supreme efficiency. Allocate the amount of space needed to make your team members happily efficient.

It’s important to remember that there are very few drivability only shops, so the modern diagnostics and drivability shop is most likely a regular shop with one or more highly skilled drivability techs — performing a combination of drivability and general service work — accompanied by any number of general service techs and tire lube techs.

A modern diagnostic tech needs three under roof bays to be at optimum efficiency. Two lifts and one flat bay offer a pretty good mix. Having two side-by-side lifts and one flat bay allows a drivability tech to pause on a job and jump right into another without packing up the unfinished diagnosis.

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Performing diagnostic work can be a serious mental workout. It is often most efficiently completed by breaking diagnostic sessions into 15-20 minute intervals. Having spare under roof space for the tech to work allows him or her the freedom to take the needed mental breaks to recharge their brain.

The modern general service tech is most efficient with two under-roof bays. Savvy general service techs are generally on some basis of incentivized pay. Having two bays to work from makes it easier to jump off a big job, like an engine R&R and knock out a three-hour brake job. Plus, they still may have flats directly outside their bay door to let a car run for double checking their work.

One bay per tech is easily sufficient for a lube or tire tech. Don’t skimp and buy short or mid-rise lifts for these bays though. Your lube and tire techs will see the most cars per day and that makes them valuable in doing vehicle inspections.

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To do a thorough inspection you’ll need a full-rise lift and a written process of how to perform the inspection. Some DVIs will help by guiding your tech from item to item for the things they need to check.

None of the above bays should be a heavy truck rack or alignment rack. These two specialized bays should not be assigned to a specific tech (unless you have enough work to keep a fulltime alignment tech busy). These lifts should be used as needed by all team members and based on the work the team member is doing.

The bean counter approach will produce more money per square foot, but only by a small margin, and the damage it will do to team members long term just isn’t worth it for me. It’s terrible for employee retention and morale.

The modern shop of today and the future shop of tomorrow will be most successful when they have their production team members (technicians) put in positions that allow those team members to be efficient. Employees are, and will likely remain, a shop’s greatest expense. They are also a shop’s greatest revenue source. Making sure they have an efficient work environment is in a shop’s best interest.