Importance of Staying Up to Date on Vehicle Repair Procedures

Dec. 1, 2011
Senior Collision Program Manager, ALLDATA

New technologies—like telematics, crash avoidance systems and various sensor systems—are making vehicles safer than ever. That’s a definite plus for drivers, but has posed problems for some shops and technicians. Vehicle advances occur faster than technicians can get trained, and some shops are struggling to stay current with tools and information to properly repair new-model cars, says Dan Espersen, senior collision program manager for ALLDATA.

FenderBender’s Andrew Johnson sat down with Espersen to discuss the latest technologies present on modern vehicles, the issues those technologies create for repairers, and what shops need to do to stay successfully in the know.

What types of vehicle technologies are currently in the pipeline that repairers will start seeing soon?

New technologies are presenting themselves on a yearly, quarterly and even monthly basis. The industry is moving at such a drastic pace to keep up with safety, and auto manufacturers are competing against each other regarding the widgets included in vehicle designs. New technologies are only going to escalate.

The biggest areas of technology advances include collision avoidance systems, tire pressure monitoring systems and airbag procedures. But there are a few other things that repairers need to keep their eyes on, too: driver “eye-based” technologies, internet-based information availabilities, multi-mode radar-based technologies, pedestrian detection systems and drowsy driver detection.

What problems are these technological advances creating for technicians?

It’s very common for technicians to not even know some of these new technologies exist within certain vehicles.

Technicians often don’t find out about new components until they present themselves as a problem, someone points it out to them, or the vehicle has an issue after it leaves the repair facility.

Not knowing about these components—or not finding out about them until the repair process starts—is creating problems that hinder shop efficiencies and cycle time:

• Technicians don’t know how to diagnose problems with the components. They don’t know they’re supposed to perform certain diagnostic procedures prior to working on a vehicle.

• Technicians don’t know the proper procedures required to repair them.

• The shop is not equipped with the latest tools.

• Technicians don’t have time to research and resource new procedures.

• Technicians are not trained on how to operate certain tools.

It sounds like training, as always, is critically important.

People need to be taking advantage of as much training as possible.

The industry’s training institutions, vendors and equipment suppliers are frantically trying to keep pace with these technologies and build new programs around them. A problem with training, however, is that many new technologies become present in vehicles before new training programs can even be developed.

Some manufacturers, like Kia and Hyundai, don’t supply basic repair information in advance. In terms of new technologies, most major manufacturers won’t supply new information prior to the release_notes of a vehicle. Some small auto manufacturers have never supplied information in advance, and possibly never will unless the industry demands it.

When training organizations do create new training opportunities, there is a lack of participation within the programs from shops and technicians. That’s also a problem because shops that don’t regularly send technicians out for continued education will experience a number of issues:

• Outsourcing of repairs will increase.

• Revenue streams will decline for shops and employees.

• Inaccurate repair plans will be created.

• Customer satisfaction will decline due to possible comebacks.

• Vehicle safety will be compromised.

• Vehicle repair integrity could be affected.

• Insurer relations will decline.

Do you think that new technology could be a catalyst that causes shops to close?

There were 70,000 collision repair shops in the U.S. in 1990. Today, there are roughly 35,000 to 40,000. Many of those shops closed because the owners didn’t invest in tools, equipment and training for their facility.

That trend will likely continue. We’re going to see an increasing number of shops either get on board with training or close for business within a span of three to five years. Ultimately, the cream of the crop will rise to the top, and shops that elect not to train are not going to be in business.

How do shops even know whether they need additional training if they don’t have any idea what new things are currently present on vehicles?

Shop training processes should not be looked at as an option or enhancement to learn about new technologies. It should be part of the shop’s culture. If training cultures were proactively developed within the business, the issues that shops face with new technologies and repair techniques would be less of an issue.

Shops need to place an emphasis on training programs for their teams that correlate with what is actually needed to properly repair today’s vehicles. I have seen too many people place emphasis on points and certifications that are necessary to comply with DRPs or corporate requirements. This scenario creates an environment within a business that focuses too much on basic repair practices rather than current vehicle needs.

Vehicle manufacturers have already produced technologies for their 2012 platforms. They are now looking at technology that will be incorporated into 2013, 2014 and 2015 model vehicles. Shops are going to be playing catch up if they aren’t prepared somewhat in advance to tackle these new components.

How are shops currently dealing with these new components if so many technicians don’t know the information?

Many shops do a lot of subletting or outsourcing for those types of repairs. I’ve seen many shops that don’t want to take time to learn new information simply increase the amount of work they sublet.

I also see some collision shops making the move to hire full-time mechanical technicians to compensate for the lack of mechanical knowledge within their facility. I can’t say exactly how many shops are doing that, but I definitely see a trend developing in that direction. It is a lot more efficient and profitable for shops to have a mechanical technician on hand. That’s because shops sacrifice profit and cycle time every time that work is sublet.

What can shops and technicians do to stay abreast of new information, in addition to enrolling in training courses?

It’s critically important for shops to understand what systems are on vehicles prior to actually doing the repair—not when technicians are faced with a problem.

There are a number of ways technicians can acquire that information, in addition to typical training sessions: keep current with automotive technology and current events through industry publications, have access to technical service bulletins, and participate in industry-related meetings, forums, social media and events.

It’s also important for shops to have access to the latest OEM repair procedures and information. There are organizations that provide comprehensive databases of all mechanical, diagnostic and collision repair procedures for vehicles.

What organizations offer diagnostic and repair procedure information?

ALLDATA developed a comprehensive program for the automotive industry that allows users to access OEM repair information. The ALLDATA collision program launched more than three years ago. Now, estimating companies are beginning to offer similar services.

Vehicle manufactures also have fee-based services where repairers can access information. Some OEMs offer free information, but the amount of content can be limited. Shops can access OEM information directly from OEM websites, or by using That’s a website that offers links to every OEM’s website.

How does ALLDATA stay ahead of the technology curve?

ALLDATA has established professional relationships and agreements with auto manufacturers that allow the company to gather information as the OEMs produce it. We get a lot of that information even before it’s released to dealerships, and before those cars are seen on the road. We have teams built into the company whose sole responsibility is to gather OEM information, and we build it into our products.

We also have a professional relationship with NUGEN IT, which works with ALLDATA on the company’s Collision Estimate Integration product. That program integrates with the three major estimating systems to provide users with repair information. That allows shops to not have to wonder if certain repair procedures exist. They just have to select which repair information topics they need to source for a particular line item on an estimate so they don’t have to spend time looking it up.

What tools do shops need to get informed about and trained on in order to diagnose repairs on new components?

The scan tool is becoming a critical part of what the collision repair industry will need to properly repair today’s complex vehicles. Shops need to understand the important role the tool will play in their operations. Scan tools will be one of the best investments and among the most important pieces of equipment that a shop will purchase.

There are different types of scan tools that shops need to properly diagnose vehicles. Just pulling a code out of a car with a basic scan tool isn’t necessarily going to give shops the information they need to properly fix certain components. Shops have to invest in the upgraded versions of scan tools. That’s probably the biggest area where shops need to invest regarding vehicle technologies.

What innovations regarding scan tools do repairers need to know for the future?

Interaction between new tools and scan tools appears to be the direction that companies are moving in. Smart phone and iPad-type technologies will be a large part of this. Some manufacturers are trying to get away from requiring shops to have many different tools to diagnose vehicle repairs.

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