Given how quickly vehicle technology is advancing, staying up-to-date on repair procedures is critical.
In terms of technology, the automotive industry is, without doubt, one of the most progressive. In the last half-century, cars have morphed from purely mechanical machines to essentially computers on wheels.
Much of this advancement has been driven by legislation, from fuel economy to emissions and safety requirements.
More advanced than a jet fighter
Today, electronics make up around 40 percent of new vehicle components and many vehicles rolling off the assembly lines boast more lines of code than a jet fighter or airliner.
From making adjustments to suspension tuning, traction, braking, engine performance, transmission shifting, stability control, not to mention blind spot and collision avoidance, plus infotainment and onboard Internet connectivity, almost every aspect of vehicle function is controlled by microprocessors working at speeds of 300 megabytes a second or more.
But what happens when something goes wrong and needs to be repaired. Is your shop and are your technicians able to solve the problem and earn the consumer’s business?
At Repairify, the parent company of asTech, Chief Development Officer Don Mikrut believes one of the biggest issues facing aftermarket repair shops right now is being able to service and repair late-model vehicles that are coming off warranty and now entering aftermarket service bays in significant numbers.
Being able to fix them requires a multi-pronged approach, including access to repair information, covered elsewhere in this issue, and also having the right equipment and staff training.
Equipment procurement is in many ways, becoming an increasingly contentious issue for many aftermarket shops, due to rapidly advancing vehicle technology.
“The question many shops have to ask today, is are they really spending time looking at the modern vehicle?” says Mikrut.
“I say that because, for example, let’s say I’m looking to purchase a new alignment rack for my shop. I want to be able to perform four-wheel alignments, but because the vehicles our techs are increasingly working on also have ADAS features, I need to ensure that equipment has the ability to do calibrations on advanced driver assist systems.”
Mikrut says that from an equipment procurement perspective, shops need to consider not only the types of servicing they are performing now but what they will be likely doing for the next decade.
“Modern alignment racks with calibrations can cost you $100,000 or more, so it’s a substantial investment,” he says, plus in order to see any type of ROI, the shop will need to be using it for 5-10 years.
Then there’s the training aspect. Working with vendors that are able to provide solid training and technical support long after the actual equipment is purchased is essential.
And shops need to do their part by taking advantage of every training opportunity that’s available. Often, this boils down to mindset.
More training options
At Auto Aide Technical Services in Barrie, Ontario, President Mark Lemay says that there are simply too few shops and technicians that are actively focused on regular training and skill development.
In the past, shop owners/managers might have balked at the cost and technicians might have had to do it on their own time, due to managers fearing loss of productivity during business hours.
Today, such arguments simply don’t hold up. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a whole slew of affordable online and virtual training options and savvy shop owners have recognized the value of sending their staff away to be trained during business hours.
Lemay says one of the biggest challenges is simply exposing technicians to training. Once they are, it can prove game-changing for both them as individuals and the shops in which they work.
“Let’s say they sign up for a pressure transducer class. They attend, they see what they can do and then they realize I can do this, I can use the tool.”
Then, the technician is able to go back to the shop, apply what they’ve learned and develop new skills.
“Everything comes back to training,” says Lemay, “because not only does it teach them the technical aspects of the vehicle, but it exposes them to new diagnostic techniques and diagnostic tools that if they didn’t attend the training, they simply wouldn’t know about.”
Sample Knowledge: Ignition Systems
Drivability issues can be an ongoing source of frustration for both consumers and service shops, especially if technicians aren’t able to effectively diagnose and repair the problem.
Yet sometimes the solution can be simple, which is why training and education are so important.
Take the case of spark plugs or oxygen sensors, two common components that are often misdiagnosed.
According to Matthew Otten, Product Marketing Manager at NGK Spark Plugs Canada, both spark plugs and oxygen sensors are common wear and failure items, due to the intense heat and stress conditions under which they have to perform.
Yet often, there are situations where an O2 sensor might be replaced when it actually isn’t at the end of its life and often the reason is due to a lack of vehicle information available, inadequate scan tool coverage and training, resulting in misdiagnosis and added cost and frustration both for the customer and the shop.
Sparkplugs are also a key consideration, both Otten and Jeffery Boehler, Chief Engineer at Autolite, note that the advent of stricter fuel economy and emissions standards, which has led to a plethora of forced induction (turbocharged) and direct injection engines over the last 15 years, has also changed diagnosis and maintenance requirements around spark plugs including replacement and gapping.
“Not all plugs come pre-gapped,” says Otten, “and not all shops are gapping plugs correctly.”
Jeffery Boehler also notes that today’s engine technology has also shortened sparkplug life, meaning they might only last 40,000 miles (64,000 km), instead of 100,000 miles (160,000 km) and when replacement time comes, besides gap, the correct size and type of plug is essential.
No longer can technicians or shops replace an iridium plug with a platinum plug since doing so will negatively impact engine performance, fuel economy and drivability.
That’s why, says Boehler, even when it comes to something perceived as simple as sparkplugs, proper education and training are essential.