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How MDG helps deal with Challenges Caused by Increased Vehicle Complexity

An idea whose time has come.

As founder and president of the Mobile Diagnostics Group Inc, I want to outline to you what I believe to be a credible business solution to challenges new vehicle technology presents to your business, challenges that will only increase as time goes on. Modern vehicle technology advanced into the computer age around 30 years ago. Advancement has increased with each passing year as vehicle systems became increasingly reliant upon electronics and microprocessors. While the benefits of advanced technologies have certainly provided a new level of safety, reliability and driveability to the driving public, these same technologies have challenged the automotive repair industry in several important ways. As a Mobile Diagnostics Professional (MDP), I deal with the technological challenges every day.

I am pleased to introduce you to our Mobile Diagnostics Group, which is a highly reliable answer to the challenges we face as an industry.

Staffing Challenges

Like other segments of modern working society, the automotive repair industry has seen advances in technology outstrip the ability of its workforce to handle these new technologies in a competent, efficient and profitable manner. There are several reasons for this: the amount of training required to stay proficient, along with the costs of this training, and the natural talents and interest levels of the technicians themselves.

As vehicle technology becomes more sophisticated, the amount of training needed to understand these technologies and diagnostic tools increases as well. If a technician is to perform diagnostics effectively, the old standard of 40 hours of technical training per year is inadequate. However, the amount of diagnostic work in a typical shop still tends to be 5 – 20% of the work mix. As a result, the need for training is increasing while the revenue stream is stagnant.

The old “train them and they might leave” argument is still an industry concern. Training is a large investment, this is unlikely to change in the future, but as the need for training increases, it will create further strain on the employer/employee relationship.

For these reasons many shops are struggling unsuccessfully to find competent personnel to handle the ever-increasing demands of vehicle diagnostics.

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 are better suited to abstract concepts needed to understand electrical and software behaviours not seen with the eye.

This is in contrast to competent line technicians who tend to be more “linear thinkers” and “tactile learners,” learning by sight and touch rather than by mental abstraction. Linear thinkers seem to have difficulty with the broad critical thinking skills required to analyze a problem quickly and correctly the first time.

These incompatible “global” verses “linear” thought processes often leave any single technician inefficient in one area or the other.

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 strong interest, even passion, for diagnostics will not devote the personal time and effort needed to become efficient.

Equipment and Return On Investment (ROI)

OBDII standards cover power-train 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 towards standardization among the various OEMs. This fact has put a large strain on aftermarket scan tool manufacturers. It is currently impossible to build an aftermarket scan tool with all the OEM features and capabilities at a price the market will bear. This increasingly leaves shops in a position of having to choose between buying OEM scan tools for functions that will rarely be needed, or sending their hard-won customers to the OEM franchise dealers to complete ever increasing amounts of diagnostics and reprogramming.

Knowledge & 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. There is also the uncertainty of a successfuly diagnosis and possession of the scan tool capabilities to complete the job.

We have, as technicians, all spent our own uncompensated time and effort to gain a hard-won piece of knowledge while diagnosing vehicles. We always rationalized the time by telling ourselves that we will earn that compensation the next time we see that same problem or system. There is some truth to that argument. But vehicle systems are more varied and complex than ever, and they change sooner as each new model year passes. This means that a technician’s hard won knowledge has less chance of paying dividends into the future. This is known as “knowledge extinction.” The knowledge gained creates less of a return on investment than it has in the past.

Performing diagnostics exclusively through out the work week naturally means the MDP will amass a larger amount of diagnostic knowledge than would a traditional line technician. Once these diagnostics lessons are learned, there will be many more opportunities to put them to good use. This lessens the effect of “knowledge extinction” and increases the value of knowledge gained through its greater volume usage. That efficiency is also passed on to the customer.

Through volume, MDPs are not only more efficient, but also more accurate than the occasional diagnostician. The MDP typically have a better than 95% success rate in properly diagnosing the vehicle concern the first time. All of the MDPs I have spoken with guarantee their diagnostics either by out right purchase of parts installed unnecessarily as a result of their diagnosis, or by a refund of diagnostics charges. MDPs do not “guess” with their money or your customer’s money. The profitability of any mobile diagnostics business owner lies completely in the accuracy of his or her diagnosis. An accurate disagnosis always translates to lower costs to the customer.

Solution – Mobile Diagnostics Professionals

What is a “Mobile Diagnostics Professional” (MDP)? An MDP is a technician/business owner who owns a van or truck stocked with OEM scan tools, oscilloscopes, PCs and other diagnostics and programming equipment. He uses this truck full of resources to provide his client shops with diagnostics and programming services. Most mobile diagnostics professionals do not perform repairs.

The majority of the Mobile Diagnostics Professionals are “Business to Business” entities and as such do not perform diagnostics and programming directly for the general public. The Mobile Diagnostics Professional is a sublet service hired by a repair shop.

How can a Mobile Diagnostics Professional solve the previously outlined problems of staffing, equipment and knowledge investment?

Staffing Solutions

MDPs go into this area of the industry by choice because they are people who thoroughly enjoy diagnostics. 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 for another.

Knowing an MDP is available lets a shop more accurately schedule R&R and 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.

The MDP pays for all his own training and does that training on his or her 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 directly and only as needed.

Equipment and Return On Investment

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. A better return on investment through increased volume means a lower per cost use charge to the end customer.

Is subletting diagnostics to an MDP right for your shop?

At this point you may be thinking “Ok, what’s the down side 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 advisors are more confident and successful at selling diagnostic chrages to their customers. Over time, 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 that handles diagnostics, but only on a part-time basis between performing line work. This is needed and I’m not suggesting that shop do away with their diagnostic tech, nor should they refrain from purchasing a competent aftermarket scan tool.

The MDP service is most efficiently used when your own staff person is occasionally unable to make positive diagnosis. 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 in order 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 an MDP in your area? Simply go to the Find a Specialist page 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 for your shop!