Mobile Diagnostics: An Idea Whose Time Has Come
If you have programming needs and lack the resources to do it in-house, then consider a mobile diagnostic professional.
For those of you who do not know or have never heard of a "mobile diagnostics professional" (MDP), here's a brief explanation: A mobile diagnostics professional is a technician/business owner who owns a van or truck stocked with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and aftermarket scan tools, oscilloscopes, personal computers and other diagnostic and programming equipment, software and information systems. MDPs use these resources to provide client shops with diagnostics and programming services, usually for a flat fee. Most mobile diagnostic professionals do not perform repairs except for reprogramming (Click here to see a related story, "What Is Reflashing?").
The majority of mobile diagnostics professionals are "business to business" entities and do not perform diagnostics and programming directly for the general public. The mobile diagnostics professional's intervention is a sublet service hired by a repair shop.
How can a mobile diagnostics professional solve your shop's problem with staffing, equipment or knowledge? MDPs deal with technological challenges every day. If you haven't before, you may want to consider what may be a credible business solution to challenges this technology presents to your business - challenges that will only increase as time goes on.
No doubt about it - vehicle technology has advanced greatly in the past 30 years as a result of vehicle systems becoming increasingly reliant on electronics and microprocessors. While the benefits of advanced technologies have certainly been a boon to the driving public, these same technologies have challenged the automotive repair industry in several important ways such as staffing problems, return on investment, and knowledge and revenue generation.
Like other segments of the workplace, the automotive repair industry has seen advances in technology outstrip the ability of its work force to handle these new technologies in a competent, efficient and profitable manner. I believe that there are several reasons for this, including the natural talents and interest levels of the technicians themselves, the amount of training required to stay proficient and the costs of this training.
Talent and interest are both essential ingredients for becoming a competent diagnostic technician. On the talent side, good diagnostic techs tend to be "global thinkers," able to be mindful of multiple concepts at once while comparing and contrasting those concepts. They also seem better suited to handle abstract concepts needed to understand electrical and software behaviors not seen with the naked eye.
A tech's interest in diagnostics typically falls into one of two camps. Either they find great personal satisfaction in performing diagnostics or they would rather get a root canal. A technician who does not have a strong interest or even passion for diagnostics will never devote the time and effort needed to become both efficient and accurate.
As vehicle technology becomes more sophisticated, the amount of training needed to understand these technologies and diagnostic tools will increase as well. If a technician plans on performing diagnostics effectively, the old standard of 40 hours of technical training per year is rapidly becoming inadequate. However, the amount of diagnostic work a typical shop takes in still tends to be the traditional 5 percent to 20 percent of the work mix. As a result, the need for training is increasing but the revenue stream is stagnant.
The old "train them and they might leave" argument is still a shop owner's concern in our industry. Training is a large financial investment, no matter how or when it is conducted.
Employment contracts are rarely practiced in our industry for many good reasons on both sides of the employer/employee relationship. This is unlikely to change in the future, but as the need for training increases, it could create further strain on the employer/employee relationship.
For all of these reasons, many shops are struggling unsuccessfully to find competent personnel to handle the ever-increasing demands of vehicle diagnostics.
MDPs go into this area of the industry by choice because they are people who thoroughly enjoy diagnostics, all day, every day. This is in contrast to the typical line technician who performs diagnostics on an occasional basis and perhaps with little real interest.
MDPs are available when needed, typically the same day as called or the next. They are always available and never quit working at one shop to go work exclusively for another.
Knowing an MDP is available lets a shop more accurately schedule maintenance work for their regular techs each day. Accurate workflow scheduling without worry about staff technicians getting bogged down on a diagnostic job is a real efficiency booster.
MDPs pay for all of their own training and they do that training on their own time, not the shop's billable time. While it is true that the investment the MDP has made in training is reflected in his service charges, that training is ultimately paid for by the shop's customers.
Equipment and return on investment (ROI)
On-board diagnostics II (OBD-II) has undoubtedly been a real benefit to our industry. However, OBD-II only covers powertrain technology and some other ancillary systems. Meanwhile, microprocessors now operate all other vehicle systems as well, and this technology is being applied with very little thought toward standardization among the various OEMs. This fact has put a large strain on aftermarket scan tool manufacturers: it's nearly impossible to build an OEM complete scan tool with all the features and capabilities to make it a good investment at a price the market will bear.
As a result, there are currently no aftermarket scan tools as complete as the individual OEM scanners they aim to supplant. This increasingly leaves shops in a position of having to choose between buying OEM scan tools for functions that may rarely be needed, or sending their hard-won customers to the OEM franchise dealers to complete ever-increasing amounts of diagnostics or reprogramming. Neither choice is a good one for an independent shop.
Knowledge and revenue generation
We have made great strides over the years in educating vehicle owners about "diagnostic charges." While it is still never an easy sell, it is at least now possible to get a customer to agree to some amount of diagnostic charges. However, there still exists the problem of assessing a charge on what is, at the time of write-up, still an unknown quantity about to be expended by the shop, not to mention ever-increasing uncertainty of a successful diagnosis.
Performing diagnostics and programming all day, every day means that the investment made in equipment and training will provide a much faster return. This means the purchase of equipment is a more-efficient use of funds for the MDP than would be the case in a traditional shop. That investment is of course reflected in the MDP's charges to a shop, but again those diagnostic charges are paid for by the shop's customer on an as-needed basis, not by the shop.
For the traditional repair business, purchasing and maintaining the level of diagnostic equipment most MDPs have never works out on an ROI basis. However, the MDP has the ability to spread those purchase costs across 100 or more client shops. This not only makes those purchases a more efficient use of funds, it also translates to lower costs to the consumer needing those services.
Performing diagnostics exclusively throughout the workweek naturally means the MDP will amass a larger amount of diagnostic knowledge than would a traditional line technician who only performs diagnostics occasionally.
Once these diagnostics lessons are learned, there will be many more opportunities to put them and the efficiencies they enable to good use. This lessens the effect of "knowledge extinction" and increases the value of knowledge gained through volume usage. That efficiency is also passed on to the ultimate consumer of that knowledge - the vehicle owner.
As you may have guessed by now, MDPs are not only more efficient in diagnostics from a time perspective, but also more accurate than the occasional diagnostician. The MDPs I speak with boast of a more than 95 percent success rate in properly diagnosing the vehicle concern the first time. All of the MDPs I have spoken with guarantee their diagnostics either by outright purchase of parts installed unnecessarily as a result of their diagnosis, or by a refund of diagnostic charges. MDPs do not "guess" with their money or your customer's money. The success of any mobile diagnostics business lies completely in the accuracy of the technician's diagnosis. Accurate diagnostics always translates to lower costs to the customer.
At this point you may be thinking, "OK, what's the downside to using an MDP?" The shop's only burden is selling the diagnostic charges to their customer before scheduling an appointment with an MDP. Over time, this typically becomes easier than selling diagnostic time for your own staff. This is because with an outright guarantee on diagnostics, service advisers are more confident and successful at selling diagnostic charges to their customers. Customers are more apt to pay those charges when they have every confidence that their money is spent wisely and efficiently.
Do the shop's technicians worry about the owner bringing in a hired gun for diagnostic work? Not typically. Most shops have a tech who handles diagnostics, but only on a part-time basis between performing line work. This is needed and I'm not suggesting that a shop do away with its diagnostic tech, nor should the shop refrain from purchasing a competent aftermarket scan tool.
The MDP service is most efficiently used when your staff person, for whatever reason, simply can't diagnose the problem correctly. Only then does the MDP come in to help the shop. When used in this way, the MDP is not seen as a threat by the staff technicians. Once the MDP helps the technician get unstuck from a tough diagnostic job, that technician is then able to go back to profitable line work. This means more profits for the tech.
Many times a line tech will actually ask to work alongside the MDP to have a "mini training session," increasing the tech's value to the shop going forward. Many MDPs are themselves part-time technical trainers and find doing these mini-training sessions a personally rewarding part of what they do.
So, how do you find out if there is a MDP in your area? One option is to go to www.mobilediagnosticsgroup.com and find one listed in your state. All the MDPs listed there are independently owned and operated local businesses that you can partner with to build a profitable future.
AutoInc. Web Site |
ASA Web Site |
Property and Casualty Regulation Included in New Federal Bill |
Road Warriors: Spreading the Red, White and Blue |
Selling Maintenance and Repair During Tough Economic Times |
Shop Profile |
Tech to Tech |
Tech Tips |
News Briefs |
Taking the Hill |
Around ASA |
Net Worth |
Stat Corner |
Members' Advantage |
Copyright (c) 1996-2011. Automotive Service Association®. All rights reserved.