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Published on September 25, 2006

Prepare for complex electronics



AKRON (Sept. 25, 2006) — Your fax machine is sputtering, the office computer just crashed…again…and all of a sudden the alignment machine out in the service bay seems to have a mind of its own.

You think you've got electronic problems now? Based on the new electronics systems coming on vehicles, it's only going to get more complex for tire dealers in the automotive service business.

Dealers should keep this in mind as they begin preparing their budgets for 2007. Some of those funds should be allocated to educate and prepare technicians to better understand the relationship these more complex electronic components will have on basic undercar service.

A story in this issue underscores the types of technology planned for vehicles over the next few years and how they might impact dealers. To say it will be a challenge is an understatement.

The system that has garnered the most attention is electronic stability control (ESC), which could become standard on all new vehicles by 2011, if approved by the federal government.

An extension of anti-lock braking system (ABS) technology, ESC is designed to reduce rollovers and crashes that can occur when a driver loses control of a vehicle in a skid and over-compensates the steering.

Through the use of sensors, ESC systems can detect loss of traction during high-speed maneuvers or on slippery surfaces and then, working with the ABS, help a vehicle stay on its intended path.

Because ESC is touted as the best automotive safety feature on vehicles since seat belts, it would not be surprising to see its widespread use even earlier than the proposed mandate. Some auto makers have, in fact, vowed to make these systems standard equipment before the government's suggested deadline.

This means dealers could see more of these systems in their bays sooner rather than later.

Already ESC comes standard on 40 percent of 2006 passenger cars, mostly high-end models. It's optional on another 15 percent.

Experts are mixed on how much impact ESC will have on vehicle service, but clearly technicians will need to know which vehicles have the systems and how to recalibrate the components, if needed, when doing such routine work as adjusting alignments.

Technicians and tire service personnel also will need to understand how plus-sizing impacts vehicles with ESC. According to some experts, if a radical change in tire/wheel dimensions occurs due to plus-sizing, the ESC will not work properly.

The best way to avoid a lot of headaches is by planning now—and keeping track of OEM technical service bulletins—to bring everyone up to speed on all these new electronics. And don't forget the tire pressure monitoring systems now required as standard equipment on passenger vehicles.

Alas, vehicle repair is not going to get any easier. Don't be caught unaware.


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