Training technicians effectively on EV servicing requires a number of careful considerations.
Technician training is absolutely critical for keeping up with advancements in-vehicle technology and when it comes to electric vehicles there are some unique aspects to consider.
Yet before investing in EV specific training, a service provider’s ownership/management team need to consider their clientele and the number of electric vehicles they already service and how that number is projected to increase.
“I think many shops need to consider that currently, EVs still represent a very small percentage of the overall vehicle fleet,” says Mark Lemay, President of Auto Aide Technical Services, which provides automotive technician training, including EV and Hybrid specific programs.
Not only that—but choosing how many technicians to allocate to EV-specific training and which ones in your shop to actually train is also key.
Yves Racette, a Quebec-based automotive service consultant certified technical trainer who specializes in EVs and Hybrids says shops should take steps to evaluate the electrical skills of the technicians they have on staff. “According to their level of understanding, they should get ready to build on the actual skills their technicians have,” says Racette. “They should then give these technicians access to the programs needed to eventually provide them with more in-depth information for hybrid and EV training.”
Racette says that the way in which the training is structured is also key to ensure technicians get the information they need and the shop is also able to realize ROI. “There needs to be some flexibility and for EV and Hybrid training, that means part of it is done in a virtual class and part of it is done in the workshop with hands-on exercises,” says Racette. And while the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench in the works with respect to physical hands-on training due to social distancing measures, it’s still an essential part of any effective training program.
At Auto Aide Technical Services, Mark Lemay says that while COVID-19 caused some major disruptions in the training schedule, causing everything to move online in the spring of 2020. Today; with the online programming having stabilized, Auto Aide is working on new hands-on classes and as these words were being typed, was scheduling a three-day EV/Hybrid session for 2021. Like Racette, Lemay says that hands-on training is a critical part to ensure technicians get the experience they need. “Theory is great, but the guys really need to be able to touch and feel the product and they can only do that in person.”
One way that Lemay facilitates the hands-on aspect is by acquiring vehicles specifically for training purposes, like a Ford Escape Hybrid that was recently purchased.
Besides the training, there are also tools to consider. A big myth is that shops need to invest in expensive tools in order to perform Hybrid and EV repairs. That’s not necessarily the case.
While specialty tools are required to work on EVs, such as a good CAT III 1000-volt multimeter, as well as protective clothing such as insulated boots, gloves and eyewear, plus a battery table for removing and installing high voltage battery packs, a total tool and equipment investment should not set you back more than $10,000 (even if you also require scanning equipment and specially insulated tools for high voltage battery servicing).
Mark Lemay notes that when it comes to tools such as an insulation tester, it shouldn’t set you back more than $400, while a good multimeter can run anywhere from $200 to $1000.
Besides the tools and the training, there are also some points to consider for shops looking to make the investment and that is ensuring technicians properly follow the procedures when servicing EVs.
And this isn’t always as simple as it might seem, especially for experienced technicians who are used to servicing internal combustion engine vehicles.
One of the biggest things is being mindful of the high-voltage systems and ensuring that safety precautions are followed. “The technology is fairly easy to understand,” says Mark Lemay, “but you need to be careful at least until the vehicle is powered down.” He notes that sometimes, those with limited experience can be wary of the high voltage systems—but provided OEM service procedures are followed there should not be any issues.
Sometimes if technicians get a little confident, they can become complacent and that’s where accidents happen, which is why it’s so important to power down the vehicle prior to working on any of the high-voltage equipment.
Other issues can revolve around simple maintenance such as brake systems or even changing 12-volt batteries, which is why technicians need to ensure they take the time to read and follow the procedures.
“Many of us as technicians, will change a 12-volt battery by doing it from memory, but on these new cars you can’t just simply pop off and pop on the terminals and connect the battery,” says Lemay. The reason is that often the vehicle and battery have to be registered to each other, so the vehicle can re-learn and adapt its charging process to the new battery.
A similar situation revolves around maintenance such as brakes. “As technicians, we often take many basic service procedures like brake jobs for granted,” says Lemay. “On these new vehicles and EVs, you often have to put them into brake service mode before working on the brake system, otherwise you will break stuff. I know it doesn’t come naturally and it’s hard to tell somebody who has done a thousand brake jobs that they can’t do it that way, but you have to learn the correct procedures.”