A database designed specifically for automotive test results may boost technician productivity as well as overall professionalism. Here's why. I made a case for detailed note-keeping several months ago (refer to page 9, June 24 issue of Tire Business). Making time to log pertinent details from difficult diagnoses is part of the overall learning process in automotive service. What's more, nothing's more powerful in diagnosis than valid, firsthand information—especially information generated in-house while solving difficult problems. Some technicians and managers have asked me about record-keeping formats and software. Perhaps the simplest end of the spectrum is the popular Word document. You can build quite a database of test info—with explicit, easy-to-understand file names—on any computer with Word. However, some savvy service shop owners and managers prefer a separate information storage system that's dedicated to storing data from testers such as digital oscilloscopes and scan tools. To grossly simplify, these testers create digital images of test results, and one image is often worth a thousand words to a technician. This is particularly valuable where the images describe known-good as well as known-bad test results. In countless instances, this in-house database contains data that simply isn't readily available anywhere else. Possibly the most popular database program of this kind is The Wave, created by Automotive Electronics Services in Fresno, Calif. (www.aeswave.com). Certainly I'm partial to this program because I've been using it since the late 1990s. I have nearly 4,000 data entries in it and rely on it a great deal. Like me, you may find The Wave to be very user-friendly for a variety of reasons. First, the program doesn't devour gobs of memory. Therefore, it even runs well on older computers and it's easy to back up. Second, the program is fairly easy to operate. Typically, scan tools and oscilloscopes have data output ports or printer ports. All you have to do is "cable" this port to a USB port on the recipient computer. Usually, a print command sends the data image from the scan tool or oscilloscope to The Wave program in your PC or laptop. Third, the program is fairly flexible. The user only has to fill in several fields in order to make a data entry. Beyond completing these fields, the technician can enter plenty of details or just a few. For example, the user has to enter the year, make, model and engine type. But then the tech can place a brief description of the vehicle's symptom(s) under the SYMPTOM heading. Examples of "symptom" entries would be cold stalling, rough idle, intermittent misfire, etc. Next, the program allows you to identify the test you performed under the heading TEST NAME. Throughout my database, I see items such as injector, throttle sensor, ignition coil, air flow sensor, idle solenoid, etc. in this category. TEST CONDITION, the next category in the program, enables a technician to briefly but clearly specify how this particular data was captured. Within my database, this category contains phrases such as cold start, hot start, cold idle, hot idle, heavy acceleration, etc. Therefore, one glance at The Wave's table of categories yields a wealth of vital details about the vehicle, operating conditions and the data captured. But on top of that, the user has the option of typing other details into a text box that accompanies each test record. So instead of storing a variety of case-history details in a separate document or program, the tech can bundle them neatly along with the related data screen or oscilloscope pattern. Search fields at the top of the screen also enhance this program's flexibility. Suppose, for instance, I recall that the key to fixing certain Honda cars was a fuel injector test. I can enter "Honda fuel injector" in the search field, thereby requesting a list of all those tests that I've logged into the database. This lets me scroll through, perhaps, several hundred test results instead of several thousand—enormous time saver. A practical and attractive program such as The Wave may boost your business' professionalism immensely. This occurs because you can print out test results in color. The printed test result, akin to a doctor's printout of a medical test, adds validity and credibility to you and your methods. For some skeptical motorists, it reinforces that your techs actually tested something rather than just guessed at a fix. The printed results of any test are no guarantee of credibility. However, experience shows that many car owners are impressed when service personnel liken the test results to an automotive version of an EKG. They further boost their credibility by showing customers printouts contrasting known-good vs. known-bad test results on various components and systems. Attractive printouts from a program such as The Wave are yet another way to enhance your business' image as well as boost its reputation in automotive diagnosis.
Database boosts efficiency, professionalism of technicians
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