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The Cost of Electronic Car Diagnostics

Autosphere » Mechanical » Editorial » The Cost of Electronic Car Diagnostics
Electronic diagnostics is a necessary process, and the customer has a better understanding of its importance. Photo Oborne Service 2012

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of electronic diagnostics on their cars, which have become computers on wheels, if we take the time to explain it to them.

This is the view of the e-diagnostics specialists we spoke to in the course of preparing this article.

“What my customers understand when they come to my shop with a problem is that they have to give me time to find the real source of the problem before I carry out the repair,” explains Steve Oborne, of Oborne Service 2012 in Val-Joly, under the Uni-Pro banner. “It’s much easier to explain than in the past. Ten years ago, we were at the beginning of the learning curve. Today, our customers have a better idea of the complexity of systems and understand that there’s no point in replacing parts, sometimes unnecessarily, if we don’t understand the problem at source.”

A learning curve for all

Steve Oborne, electronics diagnostics specialist, explains to his customers the importance of checking electrical circuits and electronic components during diagnostics. Photo Oborne Service 2012

While customers understand the complexity of electronic systems, particularly with the development of driver assistance systems, workshops have also had to keep up with the times. For them, the learning curve has been significant.

“At first, I had a issue with charging for the four hours it took to identify the problem,” says Oborne. “But with experience, training and specialized tools, I have no qualms about charging the customer for the time it now takes to make the right diagnosis. When I take a vehicle in, I want to make sure I understand the repair, and the customer appreciates that.”

Mr. Oborne charges a slightly higher fee for electronic diagnostics, in order to make the most of his expertise and the necessary equipment.

Francis Touchette is manager of the Centre de l’auto Sillery / Saint-Jean-Baptiste, under the colours of AUTOPRO. Here too, he explains, the rate charged for electronic diagnostics is higher than for general mechanics.

A reputation of expertise

“We’ve built our reputation on our diagnostic expertise,” he begins. “The important thing here at the counter is to act as a bridge between the customer and the technician. You have to take the time to explain the process, how we’re going to check the electrical system and extract fault codes from the vehicle’s digital data. This research stage rarely takes more than an hour. If the source of the problem is more difficult to identify, I notify the customer.”

In this workshop too, working on this form of diagnosis required a learning period, and even then, not all research hours are billed to the customer.

“We take on every challenge,” says Mr. Touchette, “because for us it’s important to understand. It’s a continuous learning process.”

Where motorists still have something to learn, according to this expert, is when it comes to reprogramming control modules. It’s difficult for the consumer to grasp that the problem he perceives on his car won’t necessarily require the replacement of a part, but simply the updating of an electronic component. A bit like updating your phone’s applications.

Cost-effective solutions

For Francis Touchette of Centre de l’auto Sillery, it’s very rewarding to solve problems the customer didn’t even know existed. Photo Jean Rodier

Once the vehicle has been plugged in for reprogramming, the counter stops. There’s no question of billing the customer for the time it takes to update without the technician’s intervention. The goal is to offer consumers a solution that complies with the manufacturer’s processes at a lower cost than the same operation at the dealership.

“Because we explain everything to the customer, they understand our approach,” adds Mr. Touchette. “Despite our rigorous diagnostic process, sometimes the initial problem comes back, because the process can be complex. We tell our customers to call us if they do. Having said that, it’s much more common for us to be able to solve a lot of problems that the customer hadn’t seen in our full system diagnostics. And that’s very rewarding.”

In the manager’s view, although electronic vehicle diagnostics still seem to intimidate too many workshops, they are essential today. “It completes our physical inspection of the mechanical components,” he explains. “Connecting the vehicle to the analyzer before work is the only way to understand its needs. And plugging it into the analyzer at the end is the only way to ensure, as professionals, that all systems are operational. These days, the customer and his car need to know what we’ve done.”

The age of electronics

Denis Lacroix of M Mécanique Ste-Foy takes the time to explain to his customers the rigorous diagnostic process, which goes much deeper than a mechanical inspection. Photo M Mécanique 360 Ste-Foy

At M Mécanique 360 in Sainte-Foy, shop manager Denis Lacroix also notes that consumers are more tech-savvy than they were even five years ago. “I think a lot of motorists today have experienced electrical or electronic problems on their vehicles. So when we talk to them about doing an electronic diagnostic on their car, they understand.”

The workshop offers a package for this diagnosis, which will enable the technician to plug in the vehicle and extract all the fault codes. “Normally within an hour, we’re able to talk with the customer, explain the problems identified and the solutions we’re going to provide to address them.”

Lacroix notes that the diagnostic operation has also been simplified over the years, notably by the application of OBD2 technology. However, reprogramming or updating modules, which require additional costs, can sometimes be complicated.

“The constant introduction of new technologies in vehicles multiplies the number of circuits and interactions between systems. Not to mention electric vehicles, which present another level of complexity. We’re still learning.”

 

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