Fighting through to a solution

By James Dillon | Published:  20 September, 2017

Do our own workshop war stories point to a diagnostic way forward asks  James Dillon

More and more garages are struggling to achieve diagnostic success. Jobs which are started in good faith, turn bad, costing the garage time and money, causing stress within the garage team and perhaps most importantly, creating bad will between the garage and the customer.

This problem is getting worse due predominantly, to the existing skills gap of the workforce against a backdrop of a lightspeed rate-of-change in vehicle technology. The prevalence of problem vehicles (vehicles with seemingly ‘unfixable faults’) continues to expand. Take a read through the various Facebook groups and technical forums; these places are littered with problem jobs and ‘war stories.’

Common theme
A common theme tends to develop as these jobs unfold. The problem car is in the workshop. It has been somewhere else and had several components fitted to it already. It still has the same symptom for which it was originally booked into the first garage. The second garage has tried changing more things, to no avail, and have spent many hours that they don’t think they can charge the customer for. The customer is getting annoyed and wants the car fixed ASAP. The technician is under compound pressure from both the customer and their boss/manager to ‘just hurry up and fix it’. This may result in their reluctance to get involved with this type of work in the future.

From the business manager’s point of view, they also wish they never took the job on, as they’ve lost a productive employee for three days, they have a number of high margin, labour intensive, mechanical repairs backing up and they have a customer relations issue with the owner of the now ‘nightmare’ vehicle. Ironically, this is the exact same position that the first garage who looked at the job was in previously who chose to cut their losses and bailed out of the job, barely recovering the parts spend and a bit of labour. The same outcome looks like the ‘least worst’ option for the current garage too.
On review, the business manager may consider that the technician is at fault for not getting the fix, as the garage have the latest scan tool from ‘xyz tools’ company, they have an up-to-date data subscription from ‘mydataco’, the garage owner knows the technician has a multimeter – surely the correct resources exist in the business to fix this stuff? But does the technician really understand how to perform an integrated diagnostic routine using a variety of the correct resources? When the battle-scarred tech is asked if he wants to go on a diagnostic course he declines, thinking “why put myself in the firing line for more of that sort of horrible work, give me clutches and cambelts every day.” If you add in the negative impact a job like this can have on an individual’s ‘time saved’ bonus scheme, there is even more of an incentive for technicians to dodge the diagnostic jobs.

Typical scenario
This typical scenario raises a number of questions. Did the garage validate the previous repair attempt history of the vehicle during the booking process? Did they separate diagnosis from the fix and explain this to the customer?

Did they evaluate the job for its potential as economic/uneconomic to diagnose and fix? Did they identify that they had the correct resources in-house to tackle a job like this? Did they pre-agree a realistic spend threshold/budget for diagnosis? Did they set the customer’s expectation for an extended time without their vehicle? Did they get pre-authorisation to use only genuine parts during the diagnosis/repair? Taking 10 minutes at the customer enquiry stage to go through similar basic but critical evaluations will result in a much better outcome for all.

Critical evaluation
The biggest factor for consideration is whether or not the garage identified if they had the correct resources
in-house to tackle a job. The answer to this, for the problem job as described, requires critical evaluation; this is an on-going process. This is too deep a subject to do justice to here, but it concerns people, processes and resources.
What is becoming apparent, and is a key constituent of the diagnostic process, is access to the dealer diagnostic solution. Take note that this does not simply mean the scan tool element. The dealer diagnostic solution typically encompasses technical information (wiring, workshop manuals and technical service bulletins and processes), tools (the diagnostic hardware and the software) and training. These multi-element diagnostic solutions have been developed by the product experts (the vehicle manufacturer), with feedback from the dealer network, with the aim of right-first-time diagnostics. Consider that curing some vehicle symptoms will be achieved by updating system software or running through a technical service bulletin. The dealer solution has to be adopted by garages as the ‘new way’ of performing diagnostics on vehicles that are less than 10 years old.

Metaphorical cul-de-sac
With the complexity of the modern vehicle, a garage business that is attempting to diagnose and repair late model vehicles the old way, with only the latest scan tool from ‘xyz tools’ company, and an up-to-date data subscription from ‘mydataco’ is simply not good enough. Of course, it can still be attempted in the old way, but the garage doing this will likely end up in a metaphorical cul-de-sac of a problem job, with parts fitted and labour time spent and the original customer complaint still prevailing. Garage businesses probably have to ask themselves, if, in doing this, did they carry out the diagnostic service for their customer with reasonable skill and care?


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