Smart tire dealers and service shop operators make evaluating new diagnostic equipment a team effort.
Technicians and managers alike help decide what features and capabilities are most important in the new equipment.
Here, I'll continue the discussion of equipment purchases that I began in my last column, “Buying equipment? Pool all resources, set your service shop's main priorities,” in the March 4 issue of Tire Business. Many budgets are tighter and many pieces of equipment are more complex than ever before. Therefore, it's more important than ever to make informed purchases.
There likely isn't one solution for every single service department because the type of work, the flow of the jobs through the bays and technician skill levels differ from one business to the next. However, there are factors every boss should weigh when evaluating new equipment purchases.
First, examine the skill levels of your technicians and the flow of repair/maintenance jobs through your service department. For example, many service managers distribute the incoming jobs as evenly as possible among the staff. The techs tend to be much more “generalists” than specialists in any particular diagnostic area or make and model.
To me, this situation is particularly challenging. The law of averages suggests that several techs will be using the same kinds of test gear to perform the same—or similar—tests at the same time. When this is the case, you have to shop extra-smart for equipment in order to spread as much diagnostic capability as possible across the entire service department.
On the other hand, you may have a scenario where your techs are much more specialized: Some focus on undercar work and others concentrate on driveability, emissions, electrical, etc. And, of course, it's becoming more and more difficult to avoid electronics in every area of auto repair.
Typically, the ones who enjoy in-depth diagnostics overall have more training and experience in that area of the trade. Therefore, they'll both expect and benefit from much more sophisticated test gear than general-repair techs would. So, shop accordingly.
Second, always weigh your options before putting too many diagnostic eggs in one basket. Of course, this issue closely follows the issues I just mentioned. When you buy a substantial tester that performs a wide range of tests, you may find your techs fighting over use of that machine. Perhaps the more-common example of this situation is a scan tool that includes an oscilloscope.
Typically, the tech using the 'scope is the driveability and electrical ace. He may need the tester's oscilloscope functions for a tough underhood diagnosis. Meanwhile, a tech in the next bay may need the tester's scan-tool capabilities for a more routine analysis. The bottom line is that these techs may end up clamoring for the same tester at the same time.
Some service managers avoid these conflicts by investing in stand-alone oscilloscopes. Likewise, many service managers favor small, stand-alone testers for work on, for example, tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS) and anti-lock braking systems (ABS).
Third, consider the risk of breakdowns and accidents. Suppose a substantial, many-featured diagnostic tool breaks down or is accidentally damaged. If so, then the service department simultaneously may lose a valuable scan tool, 'scope, ABS tester, etc. For this reason, some service managers I know always treat the scan tool as a stand-alone piece of equipment.
Fourth, consider the latest breed of diagnostic equipment that's based on a personal computer or laptop. You load the appropriate software into the computer and then connect it to the vehicle with interface cables or wires of some kind. Now operating the tester is as easy as running a familiar laptop or PC.
Furthermore, you can capitalize on the speed and memory capabilities of that computer. Plus, performing updates is a snap because it's a basic laptop or PC. If the computer breaks down, replace it with an affordable unit from a local retailer and reinstall the diagnostic software on it.
What's more, this approach usually gives techs a much bigger screen on which to view data and electrical patterns. It also eases that task of saving and printing valuable test results.
If you choose to build a diagnostic machine on a laptop, you may want to create a roll-around work station for it. This eases the basic but important task of keeping the computer close to the vehicle it's analyzing.