When it comes to "best practices" at your dealership or automotive service shop, encourage technicians to create and maintain their own original files of repair information. Ultimately, doing this will reap big dividends in increased efficiency and customer satisfaction. Here's why. Experience has taught several tough lessons about diagnosing and repairing today's complicated vehicles. First, there's nearly no such thing as having too much practical service information.
Some of it may come from repair manuals, technical bulletins or Internet-based sources of one kind or another. Other vital information comes from training seminars and/or fellow technicians.
Each day may bring a new learning experience. There are so many makes, models and systems coming into the bays that techs may have to tackle troubleshooting strange, new symptoms. "Thomas," a grizzled old diagnostician I work with, has a wise crack that sums up today's information challenges. "This vehicle's problems are identical to all of those I'm finding on the Internet—except for the parts that are totally different," he said.
It's very challenging—downright difficult—to remember all the tricks and solutions we learn firsthand out in the bays. Meanwhile, solutions aren't solutions unless they arrive at the same time that the problem does. Experience has convinced me that valid repair solutions are invaluable because they save so much time. And time, after all, is money.
So it's nearly impossible to put a dollar value on having the right information at the right time. Mind you, recording repair notes and solutions is nothing new. More than 30 years ago, some of the smartest and most successful people I met in this business were keeping voluminous notes on various diagnostic jobs.
In fact, some working managers and savvy technicians showed me entire drawers in their toolboxes that were full of marble-cover notebooks. Typically, these fellows just logged their findings in chronological order and each notebook was labeled accordingly. On the one hand, these techs might invest 30 minutes logging important details about a particular diagnosis and repair.
Months later, they might spend another 10 minutes leafing through that marble notebook to locate those notes. But those notes, in turn, might save hours of wasted time and untold dollars in wasted parts. Eventually these notes contributed to more vehicles being repaired correctly the first time.
That translates into better tech efficiency and greater customer satisfaction. As far as I'm concerned, we have even fewer excuses for this kind of record keeping today.
The cost of equipment such as personal computers and notebook computers is ridiculously low—there's probably enough memory in these inexpensive computers to operate an airliner. It's extremely easy to create a new file for each vehicle of interest. For example, if the headache job involved a 2006 Nissan Altima owned by "Bernice Murphy," today's computer technology allows you to create file names as detailed as "Bernice Murphy 2006 Altima." A detailed file name makes it a snap to search for those notes later on.
Another factor in favor of this approach is that younger techs have grown up with these relatively basic computer skills. Therefore, they're able to create and manage these files better than old guys (like me) can do it. Naturally, there's no need to compile diagnostic and repair notes on every single job.
But I recommend authorizing your techs to invest the time in note-keeping on those nasty jobs. Even if the tech is a two-fingered typist, I doubt that the record keeping will take very long. Doctors and medical professionals of all kinds take tons of notes on each patient and the follow up on the treatment they've recommended—and many if not most of them are now doing it on a laptop computer or tablet they're lugging around.
They're making a lot more money than a typical automotive technician. Maybe there's a lesson there.