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Life beyond Sublets: In-Shop Scanning, Diagnostics & Calibrations Done Right

Sponsored by AirPro Diagnostics

To illustrate just how specialized OEM-specific scanning, diagnostics and calibrations have become, we posed as consumers and randomly contacted a number of dealership service departments across the country to see if they had the tools and skills necessary to service a vehicle not under their banner. Their responses were enlightening, below is just a sampling:

“If it’s going to have any brand-specific codes in there, we’re not going to be able to find those,” one GM service department representative stated when we inquired about bringing a Toyota to his facility for an ADAS system problem. “We can definitely try and look at it, but I can’t promise what the outcome is going to be.”

“That’s going to be way outside of our purview,” a Mercedes-Benz brand specialist noted when we attempted to schedule the same thing at his operation. “That’s something that has to go directly to Toyota; they’ll have the capability to diagnose what’s happening with the car.”

When we contacted a Ford dealer service department to see if it could review the ADAS systems on a Toyota, the shocked service rep was blunt: “We’re a Ford dealer!”

Clearly, these dealers knew where to draw the line. So, if the best of the best acknowledges their own limitations, then why can’t the collision repair industry?

As insurers continue to pressure shops to avoid subletting their work, many facilities are looking for a cost-effective means of meeting the scanning, diagnostic and calibration demands of modern vehicles. Although there are several tools on the market that claim to provide high-level capabilities at affordable prices, basing the choice of what to use solely on cost is risky at best and potentially deadly at worst.

Some are falsely stating to body shops that any scan tool can handle these complex systems, and they need to be equipped and their techs skilled in all the vehicles they service to meet their criterion and stay on their program, shouldering the shop with all the liability.

“A shop knows they have to pre and post scan every car, but they’ve been told their $200 eBay scanner is doing the exact same thing as the OEM equipment. It’s really a total lack of understanding of how complex these electronic networks are by each manufacturer and how to safely service them,” stated body shop veteran Eric Newell, who now serves as Executive Vice President of Business Development at AirPro Diagnostics.

Josh McFarlin, AirPro’s Executive Vice President of Operations, adds that this lack of understanding can result in a well-meaning facility using a process that comes nowhere near realistically identifying many of the issues inherent in today’s vehicles. “No matter what tool you’re picking up – regardless of the level, who made it, whose software it is, at the end of the day it comes down to the specific skills of the technician operating the tool. The expectation that one technician in a body shop can service 25 or so makes, all the different models and trim levels is totally unreasonable. Here at AirPro our technicians only perform remote diagnostics day in and day out, and even with all of that experience, we don’t even have the expectation that one tech can service all makes and models! When a shop requests service with us, our diagnostic management system routes the service request to a brand specialist. We don’t have our brand specialists scanning brands they are not trained on and experienced with.

Naturally, any shop owner and/or manager who’s interested in chipping away at their sublets by integrating the correct tools and processes in-house must first take a serious look at their available capital. Depending on how many brands a facility wants to service on its own, it’s not uncommon for shops to spend anywhere from $75,000 to $200,000 for the necessary and available OEM-level hardware, annual software subscriptions and calibration equipment. Additionally, facilities need technicians with the brand-specific knowledge and training that some seem to think are growing on trees. That’s a very tall order for anyone in the auto body business in 2021, which is why many shops have turned to AirPro Diagnostics for more affordable and streamlined Diagnostic and ADAS Calibration solutions.

An AirPro user for the past two plus years (and a strong proponent of scanning and diagnostics for the better part of a decade), K. Michael Bradshaw (K&M Collision; Hickory, NC) has experienced a notable difference in his in-shop productivity since bringing scanning and diagnostics under his own roof. “In the past, we were transporting vehicles to and from dealerships to have these services performed. That’s pretty time-consuming, and it creates another set of challenges and really adds to cycle time. From where we were back then to where we are today, we do virtually everything in-house and AirPro helps make that possible.”

In addition to leading to a more economically sound operation, following this method has resulted in another critical benefit for Bradshaw: The peace of mind that comes from knowing that he’s not exposed to possible missteps at the sublet level.

“When you try to rely on multiple local dealerships, there’s not much consistency,” he observes. “Some dealers do a great job of making sure scans are performed the correct way, all the codes are cleared and the calibrations are performed correctly. However, there are just as many dealers that aren’t doing the right thing. In the past, we would continually run into issues where we’d take a vehicle to a dealer for a calibration and they wouldn’t do it; they were just hooking up the OE scan tool and seeing if there were any DTC codes. Many times, a code is not going to be thrown even if something is out of alignment. That’s just another reason for a shop to look at partnering with somebody like AirPro who specializes in collision damaged vehicle services versus relying on dealerships and other outside companies that might not.”

Perhaps best of all, he has been largely successful in bringing various payers in line with his processes.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time educating the carriers we deal with on why we need to do this, why we have the OE-level tools and why that costs more than somebody just hooking up an aftermarket tool that doesn’t have the same capabilities and won’t have access to all the modules within the vehicle.”

While it is indeed possible for shop technicians to perform OEM-level scans and related procedures without sending the vehicle to an outside party for help, the payers who are prompting this trend need to get the message that facilities can only rise to this challenge if they have access to the proper tools, availability of brand specific technicians and are continually training them to know what to make of the information these tools generate. Anything less is putting shops, technicians and most importantly the American motoring public at risk.

As Newell says, “The biggest takeaway is to put people before profits and make sure that the repair – not the cost – is the most important focus here.”

Meanwhile, your local dealership service departments only repairs the makes they sell. Body shops somehow think their one technician can service 30 makes? Something is very wrong with this picture.

This article was sponsored by AirPro Diagnostics. For more information, please visit https://airprodiagnostics.com/.

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