Limited access to vehicle com-ponents often increases the test time needed to diagnose customers' problems.
Recognizing and coping with this dilemma is vital to long-term profitability in the service department.
Tire dealers and service shop operators can cope effectively with modern vehicles by embracing equally modern management techniques.
To me, charging intelligently for diagnostic time is the backbone of contemporary service philosophy. Simply stated, that philosophy is to test instead of guess. Then charge accordingly.
Many owners and managers I encounter in my travels aren't old enough to have fixed cars in the 1960s. But they behave as if they're products of the repair mar-ket of that era. Back then, the engine compartments on many popular cars were so large that you could nearly host a picnic in onewhile you were repairing the vehicle.
For example, I recall replacing a variety of starters, alternators and generators just by leaning over the front fender. There was no need to raise the vehicle on a lift.
If you misdiagnosed the job, the time penalty may have been 25 minutes, possibly less.
By contrast, countless vehicles today have starters and alternators hidden so well that you can't see the slightest bit of the component until you raise the vehicle on a hoist. Now a misdiagnosis may cost you one to two hours of laborpossibly more.
Sometimes the starter is up top instead of below, but it's literally buried beneath the intake manifold.
Today's vehicles have a variety of onboard computers known by names such as nodes, modules, controllers, etc. Also, relatively basic cars and trucks are laden with electrical accessories (power windows, door locks, etc.) that used to be the realm of luxury models alone.
Accessing these components often means removing interior panels, seats, carpeting, and/or parts of the dashboard.
Mind you, some technicians and their bosses gamble by replacing partsincluding electrical componentsand get away with it. However, they don't always succeed by shotgunning parts every time.
What's more, it doesn't take many of these mistakes to cost the business a pile of unpaid labor time per week. Before long these misdiagnoses are eating into the service department's productivity and profitability.
So, the sheer volume of additional electrical components and the fact that they're often buried in awkward places has changedor should have changedthe way bosses look at the labor time committed to a repair job. To me, the labor cost of a bungled (read: shotgunned) repair job is prohibitively expensive today.
Let's stick with the electrical examples for a moment longer. In my Tire Business column published June 9, I described basic but essential voltage checks technicians should perform before condemning electrical components. On the one hand, the more limited the access, the longer it takes to perform these checks.
On the other hand, the checks always cost you less time than a misdiagnosis does.
Also, remember the impact of any and all misdiagnoses on the service department's productivity. Suppose the service department's operating 50 hours per week. If so, then each tech should deliver 50 hours of paid labor per week. Bungling a diagnosis means doing the job again for free. (Not only did you earn nothing for the do-over, but you should have been selling that labor time for profit, so you lost twice.)
I urge owners and managers to establish minimum diagnostic fees that reflect the skill and equipment needed to diagnose modern vehicles. What's more, the diagnostic fees should be commensurate with the time required to access systems on today's vehicles.
It's not your fault that access to many systems and components today is downright miserable. But it is very much your fault when you don't commit the time to diagnosing something correctly the first time.
Fixed right the first time, by the way, is the foundation of meeting or exceeding customers' expectations.