How to run a successful CB Repair business
A successful rig doctor needs special qualities and an understanding wife. He needs tact, to deal with the customer. He needs to be reasonably competent in his work. He needs somewhere to lock himself away to concentrate on repairs.
He can't expect huge profits from rig repairs. The average CB radio costs less than `80, new, with some as cheap as `40; second hand rigs can be bought for less than `20. The result is that any repair costing more than, say, `10 simply isn't worth doing. Home-base rigs can cost more to repair because they are more expensive to replace and sods to work on.
It is a good idea to have a shop frontage. A rig doctor will often use his local garage or car accessories shop as a collection point. Surprisingly, perhaps, this can result in more profit than having customers come to his door, since it gives more time for repair work and attracts more customers. The shop will usually expect a small commission on repairs but the rig doctor will absorb this by reducing his prices. If he doesn't, then people will still come to the door, hoping to get discount. The advantages of a shop front are many: the shopkeeper is used to dealing with people politely, but firmly. He will act as a buffer against the occasional hassle from the customer. It's likely that he will pay for the repair the moment the rig is returned to the shop. This means cash immediately, without wasting repair time in chasing bad debts with resultant arguments and bad publicity. People no longer come to the door at strange hours (yes, it can happen) and the neighbours stop complaining about "weirdos with antennas that park outside". There is more time to do repairs without people chatting and looking over your shoulder.
Yes, it's nice to keep the customers a few wavelengths away.
It is odd, what customers complain about. I have never, never had a complaint about the cost of a repair (perhaps because I'm honest and charge fairly) but other complaints are numerous: the most common is that the rig is "off frequency" or "won't get out as far as it should". Inevitably when I collect it and check it again there is nothing wrong at all. People accept reports "on the air" as Gospel truth. If "Transistor Bender" up the road says "two pounds and muffled" then the rig doctor must have Knackered it.
I have to admit that, occasionally, the complaint is justified. Recently, for example, a gentleman, from Liverpool, came up here on holiday. On the way he'd bought an echo chamber kit and wanted it wired for his rig. The "kit" was an assembled circuit board in a box. All I had to do was connect the wires to the correct pins on the plug and socket. Next day I received an urgent call from the shop. The guy had returned, tried the echo chamber in his car and all it did was whistle.
Well, to cut the story short, I took the rig and the chamber back to the workshop and discovered that the echo chamber design was faulty and, although it worked on my rig and on the mike checker instrument, it malfunctioned on the customer's rig. A quick circuit modification and all was well. Let that be a lesson to me: always check mikes and chambers on the customer's own rig.
I can safely say that 80 percent of the faults I find are caused by SOME PERSON'S meddling or abuse of the rig in some way. I can't understand why people have to FIDDLE.
The jobs would often be cheaper if the owner had left well alone and brought the rig to the shop at the first sign of trouble. I NEVER charge for a quick check. Usually it is good for business, since the customer knows he will not be ripped off with an imaginary fault. Sometimes, however, when I return a rig to the shop with the note "No fault found after one hour soak test", the customer curses me to hell. "There must be something wrong", he'll say. "I can't get out" or "I can't pull in" as the actress......
Invariably, the fault lies in the power supply, the supply lead, the patch lead, or the "other" microphone (which he didn't supply with the rig.)
The customer is always right.
My customers are always right. I set up a system of gaining information in the shop. I was sick of getting rigs for repair with no note attached so I printed some cards; hundreds of them. Each card asked for the owner's name and 'phone number so I could contact him if
1) I didn't understand his problem,
2) the cost might be too high or
3) the rig repair was urgent and he wanted to know when it was finished.
There was also space for the owner to write down the nature of the fault or what he wanted me to do.
You wouldn't believe the things that are written! "Rig Faulty" is the favourite. Great. That doesn't tell me much I couldn't have guessed. Oddly, these are usually the rigs with nothing wrong at all.
"Gets pulled down". I dread to think what that means and it's not my fault, anyway.
"Crystal blown". This is an easy one. He's connected it in reverse and the protection diode has gone short circuit. Unfortunately, since he's obviously very knowledgeable, it usually means he's "looked" inside it and twiddled every adjuster in sight. That reminds me of a breaker who brought me a Hy-Gain V the day after he'd purchased it, new. "Erm, I've adjusted it wrong", he said, sheepishly. "What", replied I, "one of the pots? Which one?". "Thirteen", said he. "Ah, RV13" said I, beginning to remove the mangled screws from the cover.
"No", he countered, "ALL thirteen of 'em"
If any of my customers are reading this, I do apologize, by the way. But let me give you some advice:-
Try, TRY to write down what is wrong with your rig. Simple explanations like "Won't transmit" are helpful. Don't try to be clever and put "RF transistor blown". It probably isn't. Set out the circumstances under which it went wrong. When did you notice it? (I don't mean last Tuesday, I mean was the sky filled with lightning and you on top of the hill at the time. Did it go wrong slowly or suddenly.) What was connected to it at the time? Have you tried a different microphone / power supply / supply lead / antenna / patch lead / fuse? Write an essay, if you must but PLEASE give me the facts. It could save my time and your money. If you have a circuit diagram, bring it in but don't bring the blooming mike bracket, slide mount, patch lead, mounting screws, supply lead or even the microphone unless you think it is faulty. If you are not concerned about scratches, don't bring the box and packing, either. These things get lost.
Tape a card with your name and fault report to the rig and, if you want to discuss it or want a quote, write your town and phone number. Don't use terms like "bleedover" which mean different things to different people: write "voices heard from another channel" or whatever you mean. Don't put an unqualified "sounds fuzzy". If it's distorted on receive, say so, otherwise I might think you mean distorted transmission. If you want to switch the Roger Bleep, tell me if I can use the "tone" switch or whatever. otherwise I'll have to fit an extra switch which, after I've bought it and dismantled the rig to drill the necessary holes, wired it up and reassembled everything, could cost you a lot extra! You see how a little thought can save you money.
It is quite important to say what is RIGHT with the rig, as well as what is wrong, otherwise you will be charged for a repair that you didn't want. For instance, if the mike lead is frayed and won't last another year I would repair or replace it. I have a reputation to maintain. So, if you are happy with a frayed lead, say so! If you don't mind a broken or missing knob, or a dud tone switch then say so.
There are, however some things which will be repaired, regardless. Many power supplies ("droppers") were made very badly, with switches in the neutral wire, fuses wrongly connected, earth connection pop-rivetted in place. Some home-base rigs had no earth wire at all! If any rig doctor worth his salt finds a fault which affects the safety of the user he will correct the error. There is NO WAY that I will return a unit, to the customer, without a secure earth. That means a tag crimped or soldered to the ground wire and bolted to the chassis.
While on the subject of mains-operated equipment, I must make one point. It is amazing how many customers CUT OFF the mains plug before sending the unit for repair. Whether they need the plug for Aunt Annie's T.V. or they are afraid that I will steal it, I simply don't know. What I do know is that, before I can test the damn thing, I have to buy and fit a plug. Consequently, I charge for it. If the customer complains that he doesn't need the plug I charge for the removal.
If a plug is fitted, by the way, I will check it and if the cable is not correctly clamped or the plug is defective I will make a repair or replace it. I will NOT return it in an unsafe condition. I do not usually charge for labor in safety-related repairs of this nature.
There are a few things which you, the customer, can do to save money, before taking your rig for repair. If the rig is entirely dead, do check the fuse: if that is intact, try a different supply lead and power supply. If there is no sound from the loudspeaker, try another microphone. The microphone in most rigs provides an earth connection for the speaker. If that fails, connect an extension speaker. The wires on internal speakers have been known to corrode or snap. If there is still no audio but the "S" meter is going up and down (obviously receiving) then the Audio output chip has probably blown.
Nearly all rigs are fitted with a reverse protection diode rated at one Amp. If the rig is connected to the supply in reverse then the 2 Amp fuse will usually blow before the diode. If a higher rated fuse is fitted then the diode will probably melt and go short circuit. The fuse will blow and each successive fuse you try will also blow. I have had rigs with 13, 25 and even 35 Amp fuses ! The rig can burn out completely with a large fuse fitted. It makes sense to fit a 2 Amp fuse.
If the rig transmits a carrier, but no modulation, try another microphone. If there is no sound from the speaker, too, then it is almost certainly the Audio output chip.
If the rig does not transmit and the red TX light fails to come on then the mike could be faulty. otherwise, switch on another rig, nearby, on the same channel, without an antenna. If it picks up a transmission from the faulty rig then the R.F. output transistor has probably blown. You still need the services of a rig doctor, but at least you know that it's not serious.
If the rig appears to be working normally but problems are experienced with transmitting and receiving over more than a mile or two, try the rig on someone else's set up.
This information is given to help you cure the fault if it lies outside the rig. It is not an open invitation to dive inside with a pair of fence-cutters and a poker (I've seen many examples of that).
Watt meters are not very accurate and must be used with a true 50 ohm dummy load (not an antenna or a bulb). Likewise an SWR meter will give the true reading for your antenna, only when it is connected close to the antenna. If there is more than a couple of feet of coax between the SWR meter and the antenna then you will obtain a correct reading only when the SWR is 1 : 1. That is why chopping the coax can alter the readings. Set the antenna with the meter close, THEN move the meter down to the rig end of the coax. Do check the reading once a week but don't leave it connected as it can cause interference.
Note that a power meter measures total power, so if you screw the output filter coils in the rig to let more interference through, you can expect the power reading to go up. This is a dangerous game. The power meter might not tell the difference between power at 27 MHz and interference at 55 or 110 or 220 MHz.
The power meter on your rig can be used only as a guide. Note the normal readings on channels 1, 20 and 40 when the system is transmitting properly. If the readings on transmit ever alter then you've got problems with coax (including patch lead) or antenna. It is NOT, however, essential to have a low SWR reading. Most rigs will tolerate up to 2 : 1 without losing any distance, and up to 3 : 1 is unlikely to cause any damage.
One final point. I mentioned that a rig doctor has to avoid arguments with his customers in order to maintain a good reputation and to avoid losing business. Well, the same applies in reverse. Very few rig doctors depend on repairs for a living wage. Most of us treat it as a pocket-money making hobby (yes, I do declare it for tax) and, therefore, some customers with a reputation for moaning or other annoying habits (like insisting on same-day service) find that, suddenly, repairs are costing more or taking forever. Rig doctors are only human. We make mistakes; we have feelings; we usually do our best; please treat us with respect because we're all you've got.
One last thought: don't expect miracles from your rig doctor: he is not a budding einstein. If he were he would be working for N.A.S.A. not mending your precious rig !