The dash light myth

Jan. 1, 2020
What keeps me awake is this: Are shops fixing cars properly?

Some people won’t like my saying this, but I’m not as worried as others are about some of the things happening in the industry. I’m not saying that parts acquisition systems aren’t a legitimate concern. I’m not saying you shouldn’t worry about the privacy of your customer and shop data. If those are the things you decide to focus your attention on, that’s fine.

While I understand people’s concerns about such things, these issues aren’t what keeps me awake at night. What keeps me awake is this: Are shops fixing cars properly? And unfortunately – and this is what some people won’t like hearing – I’m not convinced that the majority of shops in our industry are fixing cars properly.

For example, at some of the seminars I conduct, I’ll ask: “How many of you have done a zero-point calibration on a Toyota after completing collision repairs?” Hardly anyone raises their hand. They don’t even know what I’m talking about. Yet, it’s a required step on many vehicles with electronic stability control.

Or I’ll ask, “How many of you know you shouldn’t weld within 12 inches of any electronic component?” Most hands will go up for that. Yet, when I’m out in shops, I frequently see welding taking place less than 12 inches from airbags or other electrical components.

This is the stuff that concerns me.

Part of what goes along with this problem is a common myth I hear: If there are no warning lights on the dash, it’s all good. But there are many things that need to be addressed following an accident that may not, if left undone, trigger a dash light. But they will show up in a scan of the vehicle and may affect the vehicle’s performance down the road.

Take that zero-point recalibration of the steering angle sensor that is part of the electronic stability control system, for example. Skipping this step won’t result in a “trouble light” on the dash. The vehicle may even handle properly under normal driving conditions, even if the system is not calibrated. But the electronic stability control function may not work properly when it’s needed most — in a subsequent “emergency maneuver.”

Other disabled systems don’t always trigger a dash light. And some warning lights can be cleared with a certain number of cycles of the key – even if the system is not repaired. Still other dash lights will only illuminate after the vehicle has been driven a specific distance after the fault code has been triggered.

I’ve previously written about the necessity of your shop having access to (and using) automaker repair information. But the “dash light myth” points to the importance of also being able to scan vehicles to check for fault codes and other information vital to restoring the vehicle to pre-accident condition.

Automaker scan tools are not inexpensive, particularly for a shop working on a variety of makes of vehicles. But just like the OEM repair information, they are becoming a crucial tool for repairing vehicles properly.

Aftermarket scan tools are an alternative, though they don’t always access all of the modules of each vehicle.

I’ve also seen some demonstrations of a relatively new tool and service (called ASTech from Automotive Electronic Solutions) that may offer another alternative for shops diagnosing vehicles during blueprinting or doing quality control post-repair. The tool connects to the vehicle’s diagnostic port and to the Internet. Codes from the vehicle can then be read (and even reset) remotely through the Internet by the company’s team of trained technicians who are using the automaker’s scanner and software.

In one of the demonstrations I’ve seen, the remote tech found a seatbelt sensor that was bad; it hadn’t triggered a dash light, yet could have affected the firing of the airbag in a subsequent collision.

So I’m not saying you’re wrong if there are other industry issues you’re concerned about. But I think it’s even more important to make sure you have the tools and information you need to ensure you’re fixing vehicles fully and correctly. And if part of your system for doing so is relying solely on the warning lights on the dashboard, that may be why those sometimes go by the nickname “idiot lights.”

About the Author

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson, a former shop owner, operates, a training and consulting firm. He's also a facilitator for DuPont Performance Services' Business Council 20-groups.

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