The Digital Decision

Digital vehicle inspections are taking the automotive repair trade by storm, but are they right for you?
It’s literally a million-dollar question.

Digital vehicle inspections (DVI), everyone is talking about it, but not everyone is doing it – yet. Increased efficiency, higher average repair order, fewer customers with buyer’s remorse and being environmentally friendly top out some of the reasons to switch, but is DVI right for your shop? Join Pete Rudloff as he breaks down the how and why of DVI so that you can choose for yourself if it is going to be part of your future.

I spent the first five years of my career as a flat-rate tech whose primary job at a local dealership was to fix broken transmissions and handle difficult diagnostics, much of which was warranty work. Any tech that has worked flat rate at an OEM dealer knows that living on warranty work is a hard way to make hours.

Early on, I had to learn not just how to be efficient at diagnosing and repairing complex systems, but also how to efficiently evaluate every vehicle, every time so that some non-warranty work could be presented to the vehicle owner. Brakes, suspension, tires, lights, wipers and similar items were key points to check because those repairs were not reimbursable under the manufacturer’s warranty and, as such, paid better to repair.

I honed my skills and became efficient at finding everything that was not right on a vehicle, a profitable endeavor that I carried with me when I ventured out into my journey as a shop owner. Nineteen years later, I am sure that one of the cornerstones for my continued success has been the inspection processes I created before I was a shop owner and have refined ever since.

An ever-evolving process, Pete’s Garage switched to a digital platform about six years ago, and we have not looked back.

Before discussing DVI, it’s important to consider why perform a vehicle inspection at all. The primary reasons fall into two practical categories. Category One is to sell work. This is ethical if the work sold has value to the vehicle owner. Most vehicle owners would be interested in knowing their vehicle would benefit from a repair or a maintenance item. Likewise, they also often want to know what to expect in the future.

A big part of a vehicle owner investing, or not, in their vehicle is whether they believe the investment will restore their vehicle back to its normally reliable state. Category Two is so that the service professional knows what they are working on. This was the impetus for why I started looking vehicles over so carefully. I needed to be sure that the work I was performing would result in no comebacks. Early on, I realized the economic benefit of this strategy too.

DVI systems are not without fault, and there are more than a dozen offerings available at this time, so it’s important to consider pros and cons and check out a few different options before diving in.

This first-time customer came in for a 4×4 problem on their truck. We found two rear control arms that were ready to break due to rust. Not only was the vehicle owner happy that we identified the issue before it failed, they expressed disappointment with their previous auto mechanic for not citing the issue years ago.

The single biggest reason to switch to DVI is the powerful impact it has on a vehicle owner. When they can read a report with pictures and video proof of their vehicle’s health status, it helps them feel good about making a decision to invest in their vehicle. Additionally, vehicle owners are going to experience less buyer’s remorse after making a big investment. If a shop presents a thorough list of what has been checked and found to be in good condition and what is in need of attention, it creates a level of transparency that vehicle owners will respond to positively.

In my shop, we have measured a solid ARO increase of 35 percent since switching to DVI. I’ve read other shops boasting even more than that, but even a shop that increases sales by 10 percent is going to realize a favorable ROI.

Another positive of going DVI is that it helps a shop perform the same inspection on every car that comes through their shop. While this is also doable on a paper inspection, software enhancements allow a shop to quickly change inspection processes to adapt to the ever-changing vehicles that come through the bay door.

From a shop owner’s standpoint, having every car checked the same, regardless of the technician, is valuable. Plus, the consistency saves a tech from jumping ahead, which inevitably results in the car traveling up and down the lift several times through the process. Each lifting event saved is money in the bank.

One of the challenges can be efficiency, both for the technician and for the service writer. Some DVIs are better at efficiency than others. Sometimes there are limitations built into the software that will cause a shop to change its core inspection approach to use DVI software.

How easy is the information for the service writer to process? Any well-run shop is going to want to get an estimate into their clients’ hands as quickly as possible. Does the inspection allow a technician to properly communicate concerns and recommendations to the service writer so that the writer can quickly compile an estimate and email or text that estimate to their vehicle owner?

Device flexibility is something to consider, too. Does the DVI work on a tablet? How about on a smartphone? Or maybe a laptop? In my shop, we have found smartphones to be the most efficient tool for a tech to use when gathering inspection data. Other shops may prefer a large tablet, but we like being able to drop the phone into our pocket, check something and then pull the phone back out to snap a picture or record a concern. It’s just faster.

Consider how flexible the software is when it comes to setting up inspection templates, the guide that provides a technician with which data to collect. Independent repairers tend to like new technology to fit in with their shop philosophies. Also consider how easy is it for the techs to add new concerns as they go. For example, can a tech add a new field during an inspection? How the data is collected is worth looking at, too, because software platforms using buttons to log canned answers or speech to text will be faster than platforms using a text box that requires typing.

This tire came in with a complaint of “steering doesn’t feel right.” The vehicle owner had just had a dealer perform a control-arm recall and noticed the truck didn’t drive correctly afterward. The owner even took it back to the dealer requesting a recheck. After being told nothing was wrong, the owner brought it to us, and we found the dealer hadn’t done anything to cause the steering issue. However, they totally missed the cords showing out of the tires. Had the dealer used a consistent inspection process, they likely would have netted a nice sale. Instead, we received an authorization for $3,400 in maintenance, tires and suspension repairs.

I’ve read about quite a few shops that have given up on DVI because they’ve struggled to implement it in a way that didn’t suck all the time out of their day. Picking the right software and having a written plan is critical. If you’re on the fence about DVI, you would benefit from writing out a plan for how your employees should be performing your shop’s signature inspections. Just sharpening up your paper inspection procedures may be enough to give you confidence to invest in DVI.

Once you switch to DVI, give it at least three months to see if it fits your shop’s needs. The switch will be a bit of a shock to your shop’s daily grind, and some employees might be hesitant at first. Most companies that offer DVI software rely on feedback from their users to make enhancements, and most DVI software companies are small enough that they can accommodate minor changes that will help a shop permanently adopt DVI as part of their brand.

DVI is paving the way for the future of how auto repair will be presented and sold to vehicle owners. In another 10 years, nearly 50 percent of auto repair shops will use a DVI system, not just because it’s faster, or because it results in higher ARO, or because net profits go up, but because consumers will demand it.

The single greatest reason I use a DVI at Pete’s Garage is that my clients are off-the-charts impressed with the detail in the inspection report they receive from us. It builds greater trust and confidence that we are not some hole-n-the-wall, grease-monkey type of shop.

Instead, it shows them we are a highly educated and professional auto repair facility, using the most advanced technology to fix their car. Vehicle owners like that and are willing to pay for it.

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