The world is experiencing a technological revolution, and the automotive service industry is definitely not exempt. Almost every aspect of the automotive service industry is affected by applications of new technologies. Some of the most obvious areas affected by digital technology include:
- Electronic Service Information
- PC-Based Diagnostic Equipment
- Computer-Based Training
- Technology-Based Accessories
- Electronic Service Information
The amount of service information that must be managed has reached the point that a paper-based medium is impractical. The technicians of yesteryear would pour through manuals looking for information. Today, technicians can perform a keyword search on most original equipment manufacturers’ (OEM) websites and quickly find all related information across every OEM publication.
Online resources, such as the International Automotive Technician’s Network (iATN), support online collaboration and sharing of technician-driven repair information. Now technicians can engage through discussion forums and even live chat with over 80,000 other technicians from around the world!
PC-Based Diagnostic Equipment
As cars become more complex and high tech, the equipment used to diagnose them are following suit. Fortunately, as technology evolves, it tends to get cheaper and smaller, as is evident in today’s automotive diagnostic equipment. Until about five-ten years ago, engine analyzers were huge pieces of equipment, often called “big box” analyzers. In addition to taking up a large footprint in the automotive shop area, big box analyzers carried large price tags, selling for $20,000 – $30,000.
Today, a technician can access far more information by using a PC-based diagnostic tool at a fraction of the cost of a big box analyzer of yesteryear. PC-based equipment can be used as a digital storage oscilloscope, a scan tool, or a control module re-programmer.
The most promising PC-based diagnostic platform is the J2534 standard. This platform was originally designed to allow reprogramming of cars across multiple manufacturer lines with a single interface. For less than $2,000, this inexpensive interface combined with a computer, and the OEM’s software, is all that is needed to reprogram a car’s powertrain control module (PCM). Prior to the development of the J2534 interface, reprogramming typically required the use of the manufacturers factory scan tool which was cost prohibitive for most independent repair shops
Many automotive manufacturers are expanding the capabilities of the J2534 interface to include scan tool diagnostics. For example, Toyota now offers full OEM-level scan tool functionality with a special J2534 cable ($500). This allows an independent technician to have the same diagnostic capabilities as the dealership technician, at a much more affordable cost.
More manufacturers are offering diagnostic (scan tool operations) support through the J2534 interface. At some point in the future, it is possible that virtually all OEM level reprogramming and scan tool operations could be performed using one J2534 interface.
Computer Based Training
With cars becoming more high-tech, the need for advanced training continues to grow. In the beginning, the OEMs supported the instructor-led model. Starting around 2000, however, many of the OEMs began delivering some of their training online. The trend has continued, and almost all OEMs now use online training to some extent.
Some OEMs deliver almost all of their training online using the OEM facility to evaluate the technician’s performance. Other OEMs use a blend of online training, instructor-led training, and performance evaluation. Procedures that expose a technician to potentially lethal risks, such as high voltage hybrid systems, are typically all instructor-led. Online training has proven to be effective and it reduces the cost of travel, lodging, and lost production associated with attending instructor-led training.
Working as an automotive technician requires a commitment to life-long learning, much of which will be delivered online. Technicians who can not adapt to this type of training will soon find themselves being left behind as the industry moves onward.
Technology-based accessories are starting to appear in the automotive industry. A good example of this is the automotive wireless router offered by Autonet Mobile. This router provides a broadband Internet connection to the car using cell phone technology for the data transfer. Originally offered as a dealer-installed accessory from Chrysler, the router is standard equipment on all Cadillac CTS Sports Sedans beginning in April 2009. This unit is also available as an aftermarket accessory from Advance Auto Parts and online from Amazon.
It is just a matter of time before a technician pulls a repair order that reads, “Wi-Fi is not working, repair as needed.” Properly diagnosing this problem may involve checking the “Network Connections” configuration of the customer’s laptop computer. So, add computer repair to the long list of skills a technician of tomorrow will need.
With all the changes taking place in the automotive service industry, this can be an exciting time for many and yet a somewhat scary time for others. Quite frankly, those not into life-long learning and who want things to stay the same, may be in the wrong business.
A technician today, who is unwilling to master new technologies, will suffer the same fate as those technicians in the late 1980s who thought electronic fuel injection was the “work of the devil” and face extinction like the “Carburetors Rock!” technician below.