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Choosing the Right Scan Tool

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The foundation of a proper repair is “in the preparation,” says Robbie Berman. An hour of prep time before a job can cut out supplements, eliminate delays in parts ordering, shave cycle time and, ultimately, improve the final product and the customer experience.

This should be obvious to every shop, Berman says, but too often it’s not.

Berman started his career and his shop, Robbie’s Automotive and Collision Specialists in Wharton, N.J., with a focus on mechanical repair. And he says that if there’s one thing the collision industry can learn from mechanical shops, it’s the importance of diagnostics.

“Diagnostics is everything, and it’s only growing.” he says. “Every car coming down the road has more and more technology in it, more and more computer systems. Without the right diagnostic equipment and processes, you’re not going to be able to fix vehicles anymore.”

Diagnostic scan tools are something that his $4 million, 10,000-square-foot collision business has invested in for years, but as an industry, Berman says, it’s something that too many shops are missing out on. 

Bob Keith, shop owner and director of education and training with CARSTAR, agrees.

And, like any equipment or tool purchase a shop can make, investing in diagnostic scan tools is exactly that—an investment, something shops need to research, understand and weigh options on before purchasing.

When it comes to scan tools, there are dozens and dozens of options for collision facilities. Berman and Keith helped FenderBender simplify the purchasing process, offering their tips on matching your business to the right tool.

Understand the Value

Keith likes to keep things lighthearted in his nationwide training courses he runs for CARSTAR, and, in dealing with the topic of tool and equipment purchases, he likes to point to a one-panel comic.

There are a number of versions, but the general picture is this: A group of knights are grabbing their swords and strapping on armor, getting ready for battle. Behind them stands a salesman with a machine gun loaded into a wagon. The caption, coming from the leader of the knights, says, “Can’t they see we don’t have time for this? We have a battle to fight!”

“It cracks me up, because you talk to a lot of shops around the country, and that’s the approach they take to tools and equipment,” he says. “People look at it as a cost. To an extent, it is, but you have to understand the investment and the benefits it can bring. It’s easy to get too caught up in what you’re doing to take a moment and look at the bigger picture of how that investment will affect your business.”

Even basic, aftermarket scan tools come with a five-figure price tag, Berman says, ranging from $10,000–$30,000. Then, there’s annual subscription fees (normally around $1,500) to the vehicle information the devices read.

It’s a substantial investment for a collision shop to make, but without it, well, you’re simply opting to use a sword over a machine gun.

“The benefits of having the right tool, the one that fits into your business, far outwieghs the cost,” Berman says. “You’re investing in your shop’s ability to properly perform work now and in the future.”

There are five critical steps to ensure your shop chooses the correct scan tool.

Step 1: Identify Your Need.

With the increase of in-vehicle technology and computer systems, Berman says every shop needs proper diagnostic equipment regardless of their work mix. However, which tool (or tools) you choose is 100 percent determined by that work mix.

Bottom line: You need to invest in the tools to fix the vehicles you work on the most.

Berman suggests taking a hard look at the vehicles your shop repairs, ranking them from most frequent to least frequent. The top-10 vehicles, he says, are the ones you need to focus your efforts on.

“It would be great to go to 20 makes and models, or 30, but it’s unlikely you’re going to have the funding for that,” he says. “If you focus on the ones you need the most—and that’d be that top 10—you’re going to be able to properly diagnose the vast majority of vehicles that enter your shop.”

Remember, Berman says, that many scan devices work for multiple makes, models and years—meaning that the tool(s) you choose to support those 10 vehicle makes very likely could cover nearly every vehicle you work on.
Which brings us to …

Step 2: Research Tools.

This is where the process may seem daunting, Berman says, but it doesn’t need to. If you have an understanding of what you need the tool(s) to do (e.g., properly diagnose those 10 vehicle lines), then the situation is already simplified.

When looking at scan tools, Berman suggests focusing on these five characteristics of the tool and the company that provides it:

1. Coverage. Depending on the brand, whether it’s an OEM or aftermarket tool, and the various models, each scan tool is going to be able to provide different information to a repairer. They will have different access to manufacturer codes, and they will be able to access different levels of the vehicle’s systems. As Berman points out, your tool needs to cover all aspects of every one of your top-10 vehicles.

2. Training/Ease of Use. Berman says there can be a drastically different learning curve between brands and models of scan tools. In his shop, he has two different aftermarket scan tools—one from Snap-on and another from OTC—and each, he says, are relatively simple to use, and both companies provide ample training.

3. Technical Support. There are still going to be times when a technician is unable to pull a code, or a code may not make sense to the issues the vehicle has. Berman says this is why having strong technical support from the company that provides the tool can help you understand whether there is an issue with the tool itself or simply user error.

4. Upgrades and Updates. The makeup of vehicles changes rapidly, and Berman says to make sure you have a tool that keeps up with the latest needs of repairers—either through subscription updates or upgrades to the tool itself. Some companies provide trade-in offers for upgrades, he says.

5. Cost. This is obviously an important aspect, but both Keith and Berman say to keep it last on this list. Cost is only relative to the effect the tool will have on your business, which can easily be measured in the next step.

Step 3: Analyze the Return on Investment (ROI).

Keith says that, despite what some people assume about ROI, it can actually be properly calculated before a purchase is ever made. Here are his three simple steps to doing that:

1. Study the problem. In the case of a scan tool purchase, Keith says to look at how the current process plays out in your shop without the new tool. Look for the inefficiencies: Are your techs forced to share or search for the current tools? Do they have to outsource the work because you don’t have one at all? What’s the loss in productivity, cycle time, sales, revenue and profit? Add it up, Keith says, and see how much your shop is losing in both efficiency or dollars. Put a number to it.

2. Understand how the new tool makes a difference. Because you have an idea of the tools you’d like to purchase from Step 2, you can analyze how the new tool will affect those efficiency and revenue numbers. How much time does it shave off in production? How much money does it add to your shop’s sales? Again, put a number to it.

3. Compare Savings to Cost. Keith says the final step is to simply compare the potential money saved and the improved efficiency created to the total cost of the tool including subscriptions. That’s your estimated ROI, and it should give you a good sense of how long it will take to achieve that break-even point. Note that this calculation is to help you best determine the quality of your purchase; everyday business situations can cause changes down the road.

Step 4: Implement the Tool

Working through the first three steps should provide you with a tool or list of tools that will improve your business’s efficiency and sales—at least, in theory. The key to making that purchase, or purchases, truly have value in your shop comes from proper implementation, Keith says.

Berman says to create a standard operating procedure in your shop that outlines when the tool should be used and who is assigned to perform the scan.

In Berman’s shop, he has two of his technicians from the mechanical segment perform the scans both during the blueprinting process and after the repair is completed. 

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