Learning Evolving Vehicle Technology

April 10, 2019
One way to stay abreast of new automotive technology is by partnering with local community college body shop programs.

Deep down, Mauro Vitale is a drag racer at heart.

So, even though Vitale’s parents operated a pizza restaurant, he wanted no part of the family business right out of high school, in 1994. While the family business offered security, Vitale was all about racing Fox body Mustangs.

And his enthusiasm for the auto industry has yet to waver over the last quarter century.

“I’ve just always had a passion for that—I thoroughly enjoy it,” says Vitale, who currently owns Forest Collision, in Forest, Va. “It always drove me.”

In recent years, Vitale has steered his business toward success by focusing on staying on top of evolving vehicle technology. The 26th-year shop owner has gained recognition for his wealth of industry knowledge from peers like Tina Hopkins, a veteran body shop manager who nominated Vitale for a 2018 FenderBender Award.

Hopkins says Vitale possesses “a wealth of knowledge and is always willing to teach what he knows.”

Below, Vitale explains the keys for mastering new vehicle technology.

Train Consistently.

Vitale appreciates the challenge of trying to return damaged vehicles to factory specs. That’s why he’s willing to invest both time and money with regard to training for his staff.

“It’s never been about the money to me,” says Vitale, who invests $6,000 per year on training for his staff. “It’s always been about taking that vehicle that was crashed up and making it just as good, if not better, than it was pre-accident.”

Vitale and his staff occasionally take training from vendor Sherwin Williams, for example, and often take courses on topics such as estimating and welding.

“Basically, anything that involves the industry, and efficiency, and staying lean—I’m a firm believer that that will make or break a technician,” he explains. “If you give them the right tools in the first place, because you have a process in place, [then] that technician’s rolling.”

Vitale typically insists that at least half his workforce attends each training course.

He especially feels that estimators need to take on a heavier load than ever these days, to provide coworkers with “repair procedures, provide them the right parts, and to make sure that we use OEM parts and not aftermarket.” He also feels that training usually makes employees so efficient that the courses essentially pay for themselves over time.

Avoid Complacency.

Despite the industry’s technological evolution in recent years, Vitale has noticed that, with “a lot of the older people that are in the business, [it’s] becoming a dying trade because they’re stuck in their old ways,” he says.

“With the new vehicles and how stuff has changed, it isn’t like the old [way], where you get it in, you put a headlight in, you beat the fender out and you send it up the road. Ninety-five to 100 percent of cars now have modules in them that control these lights.

“So, when these cars come in, we have to make sure a vehicle gets repaired correctly, with the pre-repair scans, make sure what codes are in it, and pull up information to repair the vehicle.”

Vitale often turns to his ALLDATA shop software to help him research proper repair procedures.

Partner with Local Dealers.

On the rare occasions where training courses and information from ALLDATA aren’t enough to answer Vitale’s questions about new vehicle technology, he then turns to local dealership employees. By forming a working relationship with area Volkswagen and Subaru dealers, Vitale has ensured that he can usually get any technological question answered in short order.

To gain vehicle information fast, Vitale and his staff typically chat with dealership service managers, parts managers, or writers to gain their insight, often over the course of a 10-minute phone call.

“We just keep up with what’s going on … with how new cars have developed,” Vitale explains. We will “fall back on the dealer if we need more information, like what we’ve got to do about the repair process.”

Team Up with Vo-Techs.

Vitale has enjoyed the experience of recently sitting on the board at the Bedford (Va.) Science & Technology Center, a high school vocational program. He says the experience was mutually beneficial for both parties.

His main motivation for joining the vocational center’s board was “just to bring technicians into the industry.

“I saw it coming, from past experience, that the industry is changing,” he adds.

“I feel like I can go to the school and find those younger people that can struggle finding a job [when coming] right out of school—and I’m seeing people that were driven like I was when I was younger.”

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