Taking Your Shop to the Next Level with Remote Diagnostics

April 6, 2023
Working with a remote provider means everyone can play to their strengths.

The Backstory 

Modern technology has changed the way cars operate in almost every way possible, ways auto experts even 30 years ago could never have imagined. And while these modern engineering feats provide us with capabilities beyond our wildest dreams, breakdowns in the technology systems of today’s cars mean a lot of work—and a lot of expertise—is needed to diagnose and fix them. That’s where remote diagnostics comes into play. 

The Problem 

Modern vehicles present unique challenges to a collision shop that their predecessors never did, mostly due to their ADAS and electronic components. Manufacturers now install upwards of 150 million lines of code in a car’s software—and that code requires high-level scanning equipment and expert diagnosticians to troubleshoot.  

“Historically when a car’s been in an accident and is brought to the collision shop, you could see what's broken, see what's damaged,” says Chuck Olsen, senior VP of automotive technology solutions for AirPro Diagnostics in Jacksonville, Florida. “You see it and you fix it. But now, with electronics, there could be so many things wrong with the vehicle that you can’t necessarily see without a diagnostics scan.” 

The tools needed to perform such a scan—and then reprogram and calibrate the car—are incredibly expensive, however, and many shops don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to carry them out in-house. It’s not lack of skill, Olsen points out, but rather the specialized nature of technical repair that makes it impossible for any one employee to master the full spectrum of diagnostic assessments. With over 60 automotive brands and countless models on the road today, it’s no longer practical to apply a “one size fits all” approach to diagnostics. 

“If you don’t specialize in just one or two car brands, the problem multiplies from there,” he says. 

And, for many shops, employing a diagnostic technician full-time just isn’t feasible in the first place. 

“Depending on the size of the shop, you may not have enough work to gainfully employ a high-level diagnostic technician for a full 40 hours a week … you may only need that person 15 hours a week, for example,” he adds. “And, normally, technicians in that category, you're not going to find them in a paint booth or fixing body issues, because that's just not their skill set.”  

That’s where remote diagnostics comes in, Olsen says. Rather than having an employee distracted by doing something outside their normal duties, utilizing remote technicians allows everyone to do what they do best. 

“Collision repair, getting a vehicle straight, painting…that's an art in and of itself,” Olsen says. “Being an electronics guy, a diagnostics guy, I would never, ever attempt to do that side of the repair. I would make a mess. Those guys are true artists in their own right, so there are different skill sets that need to be there, and you need both equally these days.” 

The Solution 

When shops partner with a remote diagnostics company, they benefit from access to the collective diagnostic power of a team of specialized experts.  

We don't expect our technicians to be able to run diagnostics on every make and model of vehicle,” says Olsen. “That’s unrealistic. Instead, they're specialized by brand or manufacturer with maybe one, two, or three skill sets. 

“Our process is very straightforward; however, each step is not always easily achieved. Damaged vehicles can induce faults in areas not normally encountered by routine maintenance or component failures. This means the technician’s thorough understanding of what was damaged and repaired from a collision is critical in diagnosing and repairing faults. Access to high-level vehicle scan tools and service information is a must too to look in the right areas.”  

The “process” begins with a thorough visual inspection of the vehicle, followed by a pre-repair scan to “either verify the proper operation of the vehicle’s embedded systems or reveal fault codes to give us clues for where to look further,” says Olsen. Then, depending on what issues are found, the remote diagnostician works with the shop’s team to guide proper repairs, including re-programming and ADAS calibrations. Once the work is complete, a post-scan verifies that the problems have been successfully fixed and the car is operating as designed. 

“People sometimes want to jump straight to calibrations without a diagnostic scan, but that’s always a mistake,” says Olsen. “You can’t get the calibrations right without running a diagnostic scan first.” 

“If a shop has a skilled technician that knows how to read the data and go into different areas that might not set trouble codes and look for those issues, that's great. But if all they're doing is reading trouble codes, clearing trouble codes, and then subletting to the dealer or another shop when things don't go right, they're not really accomplishing anything. The information needs to be applied to the repair plan.” 

The Aftermath 

Allowing diagnostics to guide your vehicle repair not only reduces cycle time (nearly 20% for AirPro clients, reports Olsen), it increases customer satisfaction, reduces return visits (down to near zero for many shops), and ultimately lowers operating costs. 

Not only that, but working with a remote diagnostics operator provides training by default for a shop’s employees as well—one of the biggest benefits Olsen has heard that his clients appreciate. 

“Let's say we have a shop, they work on a lot of Honda, and they've used us for diagnostic assistance and solving problems on park assist or bumper replacement,” says Olsen. “After they've seen us work through this problem three or four times, now when they go through the repair process, they say, ‘I remember I had to take that bumper off last time. I'm going to make sure I don't have to take it off again.’ As a result, the process goes quicker for them and quicker for us the next time they encounter that problem. Over time, those benefits really start to come to the surface. They're actually getting trained in the process of inspections and their skill level starts to rise as they're working with a remote diagnostic technician. They learn by actively helping to solve the problem.”  

Another perk is the ability to spot what Olsen calls “pre-existing conditions” in a vehicle, that, if left unnoticed, could result in the car needing to return to the shop for a reason completely unrelated to the original repair. Dying batteries are a classic example, he says. When you can spot something like that proactively it earns your shop more money and saves the customer time and frustration, resulting in better customer service and satisfaction. When vehicles can be repaired quickly it means less downtime for the shop and less rental time for the customer—a win-win! 

The Takeaway 

Each shop has its own personality, says Olsen, and a remote diagnostics provider can collaborate with them accordingly. If a client has a technician in-house with a particular skill set or certification, then they may only use remote diagnostics for brands of vehicles that fall outside their scope, or call for backup when the technician gets stuck.  

No matter what level of support is needed, however, the key to success is always the same—the relationship must be approached as a partnership. 

“The remote technicians and shop employees must work together cooperatively to reach solutions …that’s the key,” says Olsen. 

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