Life in a Lube Shop

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Ah, the lube shop way of life is something we all get used to after a while in the business yet we seem to forget about the details once it becomes a standard operating procedure.

Those who are new to the business typically have not experienced many of the daily situations we all eventually become immune to. Eventually, most of us just accept these things and move on.

The Black Thigh Syndrome

After a long day of putting oily shop towels into our pockets while we work on cars, no matter how often or aggressively we clean our work clothes, there always seems to be dark, oily, stains on the inside of our pant pockets.

Eventually, this leads to the familiar black thigh syndrome. Black thigh syndrome comes from oily stains resting against your skin all day, every day, while you work on cars.

At the end of the day, once home, and stripped out of your work clothes, you notice your skin on the front of your thighs is discolored with dark oil stains, impervious to washing.

Of course, this is the way it is if you keep your shop towels in your front pockets. If you keep shop towels in your back pockets your stained skin will occur in another location. Feel free to name that situation whatever you want.

The Hamburger Identification Program

For years, police departments and other law enforcement agencies throughout the world have used fingerprints to positively identify people. This works because no two people on Earth share the exact same fingerprints. But did you know this technology is included with your lube shop employment at no extra charge?

It is easy to determine which partially eaten hamburger is yours thanks to the marvelous technology of fingerprints. For example, it’s been a busy day, non-stop cars from the opening bell. At the first sign of a break in the flow of customers one employee is elected to quickly drive over to Big Kahuna Burger for tasty burgers and cool and refreshing drinks.

As soon as the employee gets back with several bags of burgers, fries and drinks you — and every other employee — greedily rip into the burgers knowing at any moment another car could arrive. When a car does pull up, you throw the burg’ down on the counter and help the customer. Nobody likes to eat cold Kahuna Burger so you rush over for a quick bite or two in-between customers who have started pouring in again.

Of course, there is no time to properly wash your hands so you grab the burger off the counter and chomp away at another mouthful. You notice the black, oily, gunk on your fingers has left nice, perfectly formed, black fingerprints on the fresh-baked bun of your double pineapple, bacon and cheese, Big Kahuna. You shrug it off and think, “It probably won’t kill me, at least not today.”

The look of shock and incredulity on a new employee’s face when they see the experienced employees eating grease and oil-stained food is common. A quick look at the sandwiches being eaten at any lube shop quickly illustrates who the rookies and veterans are.

The Lunch Equals Another Quick Rush Scenario

This example goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned, Hamburger Identification Program scenario.

It doesn’t make a difference if you are working in a high-volume, million-dollar store or a location that sees plenty of downtime between cars, the situation seems to unfold the same every time.

After not seeing a new customer for some time, everybody decides it’s a perfect time for some lunch.

You’re tired of eating at Big Kahuna Burger so Jimmy is elected to drive to B.B. McGuire’s to grab some Big Texan Burgers and a few chili, cheese and onions Ripper Dogs.

A little while later, Jimmy comes driving back to the shop. Just as he gets back with all those little white cardboard boxes full of the best burgers and fries in the whole world, the cars come rolling in.

Nobody is quite sure how these customers who don’t know each other managed to meet up right around the corner and coordinate to show up at exactly the moment hot food arrives. So, it’s another day with the Hamburger Identification Program.

The Work Habits While Off the Clock Syndrome

If you haven’t yet, one day you’ll be driving along somewhere with your wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend or another person, on your way to someplace that has nothing to do with work, only to pull up behind a car at a traffic light and say, “Brake light out, driver’s side, bay one.” Your passenger will look at you and say, “What are you talking about?” As you silently chuckle to yourself, you realize you have demonstrated you are no more intelligent than Pavlov’s dogs. Your passenger will shake their head in confusion and wonders what the hell is wrong with you. Don’t worry, it happens to the best of us.

The Why Won’t My Hands Stay Clean Conundrum

OK, it’s the end of the day and that means it’s time to clean up and go home. You go into the employee washroom to give your hands and forearms a good scrub. You do this for several reasons, first, you just want clean hands and second, you don’t want to get greasy handprints all over the inside and outside of your car.

You get a good dollop of hand-cleaner and go to work. You scrub as best as you can making sure to get around each finger, down in the grooves, in between and maybe even pick up a scrubbing pad to really give everything a good wash. Next, you grab the fingernail brush and spend a minute, or five, driving those bristles up under each nail to make sure you have removed every bit of gunk and grime. Once you are satisfied you grab a few paper towels and dry your hands. After, you hold them up to the light and examine your handiwork (pun intended).

“Yes,” you say to yourself. “These hands are the hands of a hospital-clean surgeon. No one would ever be able to tell I work on cars for a living.” Then get in your car and drive home to your significant other. You’re sure they will be amazed and impressed at how clean you have gotten your hands today since they gripe at you every day wash them before you come home. Oh well, just another day at the lube shop.

See ya’ next month. Make it happen! 

KIT SULLIVAN is a partner in a multi-unit, Florida-based quick lube company. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Sullivan has more than 28 years experience in sales and management training. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers. He can be reached via email:

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