Michael Owino.
  • Michael Owino has been a mechanic for over 20 years.
  • He speaks about how Kenyans fall for road side quacks, the mechanic who put salt in a client's engine and why chomelea welders don’t work on Sundays

Most mechanics shamelessly fleece clients, yet they hardly get fabulously wealthy?

Most mechanics lack proper planning for their finances because of the unpredictable nature of their jobs. When they get the money they blow it easily. Secondly, most are form four leavers. Others just want to beat their mentors. If their mentor was a drinker, they will want to outdo him with expensive drinks.

If the mentor was a womanizer, they double the number of women. Then most mechanics, by community, are my brothers from Luo Nyanza, then Western and Central Kenya.  Those from Central are ambitions and end up owning their workshops while those from Nyanza have a different mentality. The want to impress others. Most don’t save.

Mechanics rarely admit their short comings, they just struggle with a car, ruining it in the end…

There are three kinds of people you will meet in a garage: a quack mechanic who went to school, but has never practised so he takes your car and gives it to someone else to repair. Then, there are Jacks of all trade mechanics who say they can repair everything, yet they can’t and then, there is the real mechanic with the knowledge and experience.

For clients not to be ripped off, they need to do their research. Also the new generation of vehicles are different and there are some old mechanics, who have not upgraded their skills and use old ways on new generation cars.

Most mechanics are not formally trained. How can one tell the difference?

A good mechanic will introduce himself, and then do a spot check of the car; he will run a diagnosis or go for a road test to check the car. Then he will repair or do a replacement, the experience will always be straight forward.

Why do most mechanics over charge besides introducing new problems…

New problems arise when the mechanic did not understand the real cause of the first problem. If it was an engine problem and the mechanic deals with other small repairs of the car, the engine problem will still be there, so the client will be paying for other things until when the mechanic realises his mistake.

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How come chomelea gas guys, like cardiologists, don’t work on Sundays?

Most chomelea guys believe that the gas smoke can only be removed with alcohol which they call ‘kutoa vumbi.’ That is why most of them will over drink on Saturday and cannot work on Sundays while others just rest at home.

"When you go to help and drive them home, they extend the invite to their homes, which entails more than what mechanics have bargained for."

Kenyans prefer roadside mechanics to those in car dealerships. Besides costs, what else do Kenyans they fear?

The dealers are expensive especially spare parts and services, so clients prefer to use them during warranty and when done go to jua kali. Most jua kali mechanics meet a lot of challenges everyday both financial and experience wise, so they will fix your car faster and better than those in car dealership. Then some clients just trust the mechanic who has been with them for a long time, so they don’t feel the need to change.

There are not that many women mechanics. Why?

I have met a few women mechanics as most are service crew. Our job has no welcoming environment for women and also being a mechanic takes a lot of time and commitment. But we encourage them to take up the challenge. 

What is the strangest thing a female client ever requested?

These requests mostly come at around 2am or 3am when they have been drinking, so they will say their car has broken down or they can’t drive. When you go to help and drive them home, they extend the invite to their homes, which entails more than what mechanics have bargained for. We have learnt to resist.

What is the worst thing a mechanic ever did to a client’s car?

I have twice witnessed disagreements between a client and a mechanic who put salt in the engine and the client had to buy a new one. Then there was a mzungu who drove from Uganda and the car broke down in the CBD.

It was towed to one of the big car dealerships but he refused to pay when the bill came to Sh56,000. The vehicle was towed back to him, but the dealer had interfered with the car computer and he spent over Sh300,000 repairing it. I would advise customers to think before losing their tempers.

Mechanics mostly don’t own new or automatic cars. Why?

Most of them do not make a lot of money so they can only afford old cars. Manual cars are also fun to drive. The driver commands the car as opposed to automatic cars. Most mechanics love old cars because they have an emotional attachment to it and they have customised most of the things in the car to their liking and taste.

Most mechanics also don’t like a client accompanying them to purchase spare parts. Why?

It is irritating when a client trusts you to do the repairs, yet they want to supervise it. I am a big man, I do not need a chaperone. I would even prefer the client to buy the spares and bring them to me to fix the car.

How come rare or spare parts which are not stocked in shops along Kirinyaga Road are mostly found in Kariobangi…

Because most vehicles involved in accidents are sold to dealers in Kariobangi. It is a culture that has been there and you will find Mercedes, Subaru and VW spares but never Range Rover or BMW.

If a car stalls on a highway, somehow, a mechanic will spring from nowhere…

It is strategic placements. Mechanics do their research well and in areas where there are no parking or stopping spots, they will open a workshop right after those places. Some mechanics are always on the go and move around in different hot spots.

Kenyans prefer dealing with only one mechanic “who understands my car”. Is it advisable? 

It is very important to the client when a mechanic knows your car history and has a record of it. There also many quacks in the industry so trusting one is important.

Your parting shot…

We have a lot of mechanics who are good in the book but cannot handle any car and need a lot of practice. We also need an updated curriculum from analogue to the new generation of cars. Mechanics also need to take classes in finance management.