OEM Web Sites: Overcoming Your Greatest FearsPosted 1/17/2006
By Rachael J. Mercer
Hopefully you found the information you needed, but how much time did you lose as you searched for specific repair codes, specifications or other details? There is a tool available to mechanical and collision shops alike: Web sites that contain a "mountain of information" with which many shop owners and technicians are unfamiliar.
What Are These Web Sites?
Developed in 2003 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these Web sites were created as a result of the Clean Air Act "to ensure that aftermarket service technicians have fair and reasonable access to manufacturer-related service information," said Tanya Meekins, an EPA representative.
The EPA wanted to ensure that automotive technicians had the correct information needed to make proper emissions repairs. These Web sites were created specifically to provide a liaison between technicians and automotive manufacturers.
Each automotive manufacturer that sells more than 5,000 units annually in the United States is required by EPA regulations to have a full-text Web site that contains all of the same emissions-related information on it that is made available to dealer networks.
According to Bill Haas, vice president of education and training at ASA, these Web sites contain large amounts of information, which is an additional benefit for repairers.
"We're receiving complete bumper-to-bumper information," Haas said. "The non-emissions information we receive on these Web sites makes them even more valuable to repairers."
Many shop owners, whether they're operating mechanical or collision shops, just don't know that this information is available to them. And others, even though they are aware of these Web sites, have not yet taken advantage of this information source.
"It is my opinion that not many are using the OEM Web sites, whether they are ASA members or not. I have been to classes and seminars and when asked if we are using these sites, only two to three hands are ever raised," said Howard Pitkow, owner of Wagenwerx Inc., a collision repair shop in Wyndmoor, Pa.
How Can I Access This Information?
Now that you know such information is available to your business and technicians, how can you go about accessing these Web sites? Several tools are needed in your shop, which you may not be using currently. First, computer technology is a must. In this day of ever-changing technology, it's vital to your business that you take advantage of the technology available to you.
A complete list of OEM Web sites is available at www.nastf.org and can be found under the "OEM Service Web Sites" link found at the top of the page. These Web sites vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Each site is unique and requires that technicians become familiar with them individually. This means that shop owners must first register with the Web site and create a user name and password. This set-up process is usually quick and easy, but does require some organization. It is necessary that you keep a good record of your usernames and passwords, along with the credit card information you will use to register with the sites.
Donny Seyfer, AAM, owner of Seyfer Automotive, a mechanical repair shop in Wheat Ridge, Colo., recommends registering at Web sites in advance of a repair issue.
"Get your registration done well in advance so that you have instant access when you need it. You will have a username and password for each site. I recommend that you create a document for your staff so they will have easy access to it. Many of the sites require updates to your password every 90 days so you will need to keep your information list up-to-date."
After registration with each individual site, there is a varying waiting period required as the companies validate your credit card and then provide you with the access you have requested. Seyfer says, "Depending on the manufacturer, you may gain instant access or you may have to wait up to 72 hours." Following this short waiting period, it is important that your technicians begin accessing the Web sites to which you've gained access to ensure they're ready to use the site when they need information for a repair.
To maximize productivity, it is important to devise ways in which your technicians can become familiar with the information sources that are available to them. Some shop owners suggest allowing your employees to navigate the Web sites during slow periods or before or after work (while paying them for their time, of course). No matter the way in which your technicians learn about the Web sites, it is important that they have a grasp of the information available prior to needing the information for a repair.
Another shop owner has a suggestion for managing the flow of information provided by these Web sites. Dan Bailey of CARSTAR Automotive Inc., a collision shop in Overland Park, Kan., said, "In our shop, we assign one person to access the OEM Web sites to locate information for the technician. This enables a designated individual to become familiar in navigating through the Web sites for necessary information rather than several technicians having limited knowledge attempting to navigate the Web sites."
"The Collision Division Operations Committee is currently working on an OEM quick-start guide to the OEM Web sites," Bailey said. "We believe this will be a valuable tool for collision repair shops in enabling them to navigate successfully and in a timely manner to locate the necessary information."
What Does This Information Cost?
A complete listing of subscription fees can be found at www.nastf.org under the "Service Web Site Access Charges" link near the top of the Web page. According to Meekins, the range is approximately $0-$20 for 24-hour access, $0-$300 for 30-day access and $0-$2,500 for yearly access. Short-term, monthly and annual subscriptions are available. In addition, some companies have an option to purchase repair information at a per-document rate.
So how do you know which subscriptions to purchase? Haas suggests that if your shop specializes in a particular brand, then purchase a yearly subscription to that company's Web site. And as you need particular information about other automotive makes and models, you can purchase short-term subscriptions. "The average short-term access costs less than $20 per day," Haas said.
How Is This Information Different from Traditional Information Sources?
Jim Linder, owner of Linder Technical Services in Indianapolis, Ind., said one of the best benefits of OEM Web sites is the time it saves. "The real advantage to the OEM Web sites is a time issue," Linder said. "The information eventually will show up somewhere else in the industry, but it may take some time. The other advantage is that the OEM Web sites are at my fingertips. One click on high-speed Internet and I can access the information."
Traditional information sources such as Alldata, Identifix and Mitchell require mechanical and collision shops to purchase their software at annual subscription rates. Meekins said, "The basic difference [between OEM Web sites and traditional information sources] is that third-party information providers often consolidate manufacturer-specific information into a more generic presentation that could be applied to numerous manufacturers, makes and models. The information found on the manufacturer Web sites is more specific to that particular manufacturer, its makes and models."
Meekins added, "It is the EPA's experience that technicians often use a combination of third-party sources and manufacturer-specific information, depending on the nature of the repair."
You will need to evaluate how much you use your current information systems, and you will need to understand how often you rely on other sources of information for tricky repairs. Carefully evaluate how your current method for retrieving information is working and maximize your information sources by combining these OEM Web sites with your current information sources.
What Should I Do Now?
First, be sure that your shop has quality computers and high-speed Internet access. Without these components, you will not be able to take advantage of this wealth of information. Second, begin learning about the OEM Web sites by visiting www.nastf.org. Talk with other people who are using the OEM Web sites successfully. Ask for honest information - facts, not speculation, concerning the Web sites and how they have used them successfully. Third, get organized! Determine which Web sites you will use in your shop. Carefully record passwords, usernames and the credit card information used at each Web site. Determine who will learn to navigate the Web sites you will use. Will each person in your shop learn to navigate them or will specific people be responsible for obtaining information? Using these OEM Web sites can greatly improve your business. Lastly, be sure not to let unfounded fears and anxieties keep you from using this excellent source of information. Once you're familiar with these sites and you're using them successfully, pass this source of information along to others!
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