People say that a picture's worth a thousand words. Ultimately, it could be worth a thousand dollars to a prudent service manager or technician. That's why an instant camera may be one of the best shop investments a tire dealer ever makes.
More and more dealers are growing their businesses by expanding into automotive repairs. The farther they travel into this area, the more they realize how uncharted its waters really are. Many times, detailed information they think is readily available simply isn't.
For example, service and repair information from all sources, including factory shop manuals, doesn't have as many pictures and illustrations as service personnel assume they have. The situation is particularly tough on workers who are relatively new at auto repair and lack the hands-on experience their competitors have already accrued.
However, the need for detailed pictures isn't limited to green techs.
Any tech with his ego in check will admit there are times when a picture of an unfamiliar system or component will save countless minutes during reassembly or reinstallation. When you consider that $50-per-hour labor rates are commonplace today, those wasted minutes add up to big dollars in a hurry!
Speaking as a former "wrench," I can vouch for the fact that many techs dive into tasks too quickly and too confidently. They assume that they'll remember exactly how every part was arranged and oriented—such as the precise routing of all wires, vacuum hoses, linkages and cables. (Just ask them, they'll tell you so!)
But come reassembly time, the job is delayed because a hapless tech is struggling to get the emergency brake hardware reinstalled correctly on an unfamiliar set of rear drum brakes.
Or he finds a wiring harness under the hood or inside a door is only long enough to go back one way—exactly the way the manufacturer installed it. But there seem to be several ways it could be routed!
Replacing a broken clutch cable is a common service on manual transmission-equipped vehicles. Now, did that darn cable snake over the steering shaft or under it? You don't want to have to wrestle that thing out of the vehicle a second time.
Or how about the tech who quickly diagnoses and replaces a bad power door lock motor inside the driver's door. But after reconnecting the door lock linkage, he finds that the new motor only moves the linkage part of its normal travel before the linkage binds up and prevents the door from locking. Rats!
There's only one way that linkage can be routed—or is there?
These real-world scenarios have prompted some of the sharpest service managers I know to invest in instant cameras.
Of course, the name Polaroid is synonymous with instant cameras. When I telephoned a popular camera retailer recently, a salesperson explained that modern Polaroid cameras range in price from about $30 to $80. Film costs anywhere from $11 to $14 for 10 exposures. So figure about $1.10 to $1.40 for each picture taken.
Let's assume your tech can't find detailed artwork of the system or component he's working on. Instead of relying on memory or painstaking notepad sketches, hand him the service department's Polaroid camera. Even if he blows 14 bucks' worth of film capturing the details, what's that cost vs. the time he'd waste guessing how to reassemble everything?
What's a lousy 14 bucks vs. the true cost of an unhappy customer who comes back because a misrouted wire became pinched or chafed, shorting a circuit and blowing a fuse? What if a misrouted vacuum hose collapses or cracks, upsetting engine performance?
Some service personnel use a Polaroid to document existing problems on an unfamiliar vehicle such as cracked windows, dented fenders, torn upholstery, etc. Others use it to document the before and after of a given repair job.
For example, they show the broken or chafed wire inside the door that disabled the power windows. Then they show how they lengthened the wire somewhat and refastened it so a repeat failure won't occur. Or the picture documents additional insulation the tech taped to the wire to prevent it from chafing a second time.
Once you have an instant camera handy in the service department, I think you'll find endless practical uses for it. Try it and see.