Do you only work on vehicles that you have the OE scan tool for?
If you do, Pete Rudloff salutes you as the next step in the evolution of the auto repair technician.
Rudloff, the owner of a small shop in Newark, Delaware, has earned a reputation in his area for being a true problem solver when it comes to tricky electronic repairs. Speaking at Automotive Service and Repair Week in Orlando Florida last week, he said his success is a direct result of his familiarity with scan-tool technology, and his understanding of the benefits of using OE scan tools.
He started by contrasting the evolutionary fates of two ancient populations: the Cro-Magnons and the Neanderthals. Because the Neanderthals were unable to adapt to a changing world – particularly in its use of new tools to hunt smaller, faster game – they ultimately died out 25,000 years ago. Cro-Magnons, on the other hand, developed new technology like spears and bows to avoid starvation.
Similarly, he said, repair shops that embrace new tools will flourish, and those that do not will disappear.
With permission, here is an excerpt from his presentation “The Evolution of Technology.”
“Through the 1990s, most repair shops were created equal. Generally speaking, cars were very similar from one make to another, and if you had a big box analyzer, you could pretty much handle any make or model.
“Heck, half the time you didn't even need a wiring diagram because most vehicle manufacturers did everything pretty much the same way, or at least close enough so you could guess. If worse came to worst, you could try swapping parts even if you didn't understand how the system worked, and you’d likely end up with a fixed car -- and at a profit to boot.
“By the end of the 1990s, however, things started to change, big time.
“Due to consumer demand and government regulations, there was a large evolution in technology. Automobiles became technology driven. With OBD2 and multiple BUS networked modules, the automobile was becoming more complex than the space shuttle.
“By the year 2000, there was a huge need for scan tools that would allow the independent repair shops to work on modern cars. Simply put, we found ourselves in a day and age where you cannot profitably part-swap your way to a fixed automobile.
“This has created an opportunity for shops to evolve with technology. Embracing factory scan tools and information systems is really no different than the Cro-Magnons’ need to embrace the throwing spear or bow and arrow. Our quarry has changed and our tools and tactics must change as well.
“In skilled hands, OE scan tools will greatly increase your tech’s ability to fix a car correctly the first time and will greatly reduce their time spent doing diagnostics.
“These days, even something as simple as a door-lock switch may involve a module that requires programming once installed. In fact, only last week, I programmed a GM door module for another shop after their third new one failed to make the windows work. They told me they’d lost three days of time in diagnosing and were at their wits’ end when they called me.
“Not only does a door-lock module require programming but the diagnostic time is cut to almost nothing if you’re using a factory scan tool. By looking at scan data inputs, you can easily cut your diagnostic strategy in half without even taking the door apart. All I did to fix this car was program the door lock module.
“The other shop simply did not know what they didn’t know.
“On some model Chryslers, the codes in the BCM must be cleared after replacing a light bulb in order to reactivate the driver that runs the circuit. Not long ago, I met a new customer who spent several hundred dollars in diagnostics at another shop only to be told she needed a body-control module. That shop had recommended she go to the dealer but, through one of my customers, she found me instead. Ten minutes of scan-tool testing and it was obvious the driver needed to be reset by first clearing the codes in the BCM. After a few clicks, circuit operation was restored and the customer was back on the road and happy. Isn’t a happy customer what we are all striving for?
“Other important uses beyond programming and communicating with non-emissions modules are bi-directional controls, air bag occupant classification, programming keys, and steering angle sensor calibration during alignment procedures. Often, the factory tool is the only one able to do these manufacturer-specific procedures.
“When I speak to shop owners about OE scan tools, the number one thing I hear from them is that they are expensive. With the exception of BMW and Porche, I disagree completely. Sure you won't find DRB3s growing on a tree in your back yard but when you look at the cost relative to the other tools or the overhead of an auto repair business, factory scan tools do not hold a candle to employee wages, insurance, rent, utilities, or shop equipment like alignment racks.
“I haven’t calculated it exactly, but I’m certain I have more invested in hand tools and a good tool box than I have in factory tools. Like my 14mm wrench, my OE scan tools are must-haves for fixing modem cars. They are simply the right tool for the job.
“Just 10 years ago, it was quite a challenge to source OE scan tools from the manufacturers and most of us got by with a generic tool and thought it was as good as it could get.
“Today, acquiring factory tools is generally easy and straight forward. Most are available with a few clicks of a mouse or a simple phone call to a specialist who sells and services OE scan tools.
“Keep in mind that having the tools is only one piece of the puzzle. In order to operate at or above the dealer level, a shop needs to add training and service information to match. Only then will you have reached a level of service readiness that equals or exceeds the manufacturer dealer shops.
“Like it or not, dealers set the bar for independent shops to follow. In any dealer shop you will find the correct tooling and information systems for the vehicles they service. When combined with a dealer training program, it gives their techs the best overall resources to fix cars profitably. There is no reason independent shops cannot operate at or exceed this standard set by the dealers.
“Many shops are choosing to get by with just a generic scan tool. If this is the only scan tool in a shop, that’s definitely a liability. A generic scan tool will give techs confidence that they have an ability that they may or may not actually have. Unfortunately for the tool user, you will not know at what point the generic tool will stop being an asset and start being a liability until it has already cost you money.
“That isn't to say that generic tools don't have their place. They do. Ideally you would use the generic tool in conjunction with the OE tool in areas that the gaps in coverage are known. The advantage of the OE tool verses a generic tool is that it was built and designed hand-in-hand with the car you’re working on, so it will perform every function the manufacturer requires for testing and programming. The OE tool in the hands of a trained tech will only be an asset.
“Aftermarket tools have the potential to make you money, but they have the potential to get you in a jam that requires you to tow a customer's vehicle to the dealer, or to a prepared shop like mine. Then you’ll pay us to use our factory tools to fix your customers car. Certainly that is not beneficial to you or to your relationship with your customer. Confidence:
“Once I discovered how efficient I was with factory tools, I switched to only working on makes that I had an OE scan tool for. That was roughly five years ago. The confidence I now enjoy as technician is almost immeasurable.
“There are really only three reasons cars don't get fixed efficiently.
“One: deficiency of tooling.
“Two: deficiency of service information; and
“Three: deficiency of training.
“I now believe there is no tooling or service information deficiency that would cause me to have to punt a job to the dealer. Any problem I have fixing a car now comes down to my own personal training.
“OE tools are not for everyone. There is a training and service information commitment that goes along with the tool if you wish to be efficient.
The return on investment is not going to be immediate. It takes time to get proficient and develop a reputation for being able to work on cars at a high level. Some shops are choosing to simply not do the work that scan tools are required for; they just sublet everything out to dealer or to a better prepared independent shop. Others will bring in a mobile tech and just pay them for their services. Of course, my thinking is if a guy can make a living just using OE tools to fix other shops problems imagine how profitable it must be if you had the ability yourself and did not have to sublet to someone else. It is a choice each of us must make for ourselves and our shops.
“Our trade is evolving very quickly, this evolution is unstoppable.
“Embrace technology or you may find yourself on the endangered species list.
Have something to say about this article? Say it here!
Edited comments may appear in Canadian Technician magazine.