Road testing is an essential and unavoidable element of professional automotive diagnosis. Tire dealers who perform auto repair should establish a set road-test course to improve technician efficiency and enhance worker safety. Here's why. Regular Tire Business readers know that in previous columns I have cajoled and castigated them for not road testing more often than they do.
Too often I encounter repair jobs that were bungled because the initial diagnosis didn't include a thorough road test. Experience shows that until you road test—preferably with the customer/driver on board—you really don't know what condition your technicians are supposed to fix.
What's more, you don't know what else ails the vehicle until you drive it. Pursuing an aggressive road test program will increase legitimate service sales simply because it uncovers more trouble, especially problems the driver overlooked due to ignorance. Remember: The driver is not a professional technician!
We're all victims of geography to some extent or another. But ideally, your planned road test route should include some level highway on which the tech can easily drive at legal cruising speeds. It should have at least one substantial hill, some sharp curves and a railroad crossing.
Search for a very smooth, very flat (uncrowned) roadway because this is the best surface for determining if the vehicle tracks straight. Typically, these conditions are adequate for recreating the vast majority of problems customers bring you.
Well known path vital
Using the same test route also creates a common yardstick for diagnostic purposes. For example, a careless tech road tests a vehicle with a tracking or pulling problem on a badly troughed road. Because he didn't road test on a ``known-good'' road, he's needlessly complicating the diagnosis.
Once you sketch a route with as many of the desirable characteristics as possible, factor traffic flow into your equation. In some areas, outrageous traffic volume renders a nearly ideal road-test route unusable five hours out of every workday! Where necessary, do what some service managers do by devising a separate rush-hour road-test route as an alternative.
Next, recognize that many techs don't live anywhere near your store or service shop, and may never own up to NOT knowing their way around the city or town surrounding the store. A tech who gets lost could easily cost the shop an hour or more of valuable time.
Some bosses overcome this by printing up road-test route maps and putting several copies in each tech's toolbox.
For that matter, you could make inexpensive double-sided copies with the routine road test on one side and the alternative route on the opposite side and laminate it so it survives the rigors of shop life. This may seem extreme, but it's really another example of setting important things down in writing: ``This is the route you're supposed to follow and no other!''
Staying in touch
First of all, the service manager should know approximately how long it takes to traverse both routes. This makes salaried workers more responsible for their time.
Let's assume there are no major traffic snarls occurring that day. If a tech disappears during a road test, the boss knows he's goofing off, the vehicle broke down or there's been an accident of some kind.
Second, following a predetermined route eases the task of finding a stranded tech. True, the overwhelming majority of road tests occur uneventfully. That said, an experienced service manager will confirm that there's no shortage of breakdowns waiting to happen.
For example, the gas gauge is broken and the tank's nearly on fumes. The driver conveniently forgot to mention this to the service writer.
In other instances, the tech overlooks a weak hose that's buried deep inside the engine bay. You guessed it—the hose fails minutes into the road test.
Considering what a tech's time and well-being are worth, some shops keep cellular ``shop phones'' on hand.
Each tech testing a vehicle takes a cell phone with him or her on road tests so they're always in touch with the shop. Obviously, the portable phone makes them better prepared for mechanical or medical emergencies.