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Gonzo
Gonzo

Flash or Pass --- Modern mechanics have more tasks to do than previous generations of mechanics ever had to do.

Flash or Pass

         A few decades ago cars were just . . . well, cars.  They had an engine, transmission, a starter, a heater, maybe an air conditioner, and all the usual accouterments that made them a car. Mechanics toiled away at replacing engines, rebuilding master cylinders, and fixing transmissions. Almost every component on the car was reworked to a like new condition and some parts may even have been rebuilt several times, before they were too worn out to go around the horn one more time.  Labor rates raised and fell with the economy, while parts suppliers kept up the demand for rebuild kits as a normal over-the-counter parts inventory. Then somewhere along the way something changed. 

            The era of the microchip followed right along with the era of plastics. Things were built not to “rebuild”, but to toss.  Thin plastic housings with hundreds and hundreds of micro circuits all wired into a microchip made up circuits that allowed the impossible to become the possible.  Some tasks became obsolete, like the telephone switch board operator, even bank tellers nearly went extinct when the ATM machine was developed. The world would never be the same with the microchip in every facet of modern life.

          Machining tools could now process and manufacturer automotive parts at such close tolerance that less material was needed per component. The prices for some of these components fell to less than or equivalent to the rebuild kits. Rebuilding an automotive component was soon a thing of past generations. The skills of the mechanic were now overshadowed by the microchip’s ability to manufacture a part better and cheaper than he could repair the old one.

        Soon, all this “toss-when-worn-out” reached the microchip itself.  Computer software started finding itself in the very same throwaway society.  Maybe not in the sense that we actually threw it away, but a new set of instructions or an updated program may be needed and flashed into a replacement processor.  This brings up a whole new problem for the mechanic.  Now those skills he developed in rebuilding a master cylinder have next to nothing to do with reprogramming an anti-lock brake module, and if he wants to stay in the business of repairing today’s cars he’s going to need to know how to program, or at least understand the need for and/or the process, rather than knowing the old school way of rebuilding a master cylinder. So as a mechanic, you have to ask yourself, “Do I flash, or do I pass?” Passing on the flash may mean you might not have the type of work in the shop that you can handle anymore. Luckily, there is a way around that problem.

         These days nearly every car on the road has more than one type of computer device in the car, and there’s a very good chance that at some point something will need a software update or reflashed because a component has been changed or upgraded. In a way reflashing, programming, coding, or the other various software issues there are in the modern car are somewhat of today’s version of rebuilding that master cylinder to a like new condition.

         Cars these days are lasting longer, running longer, and have different types of break downs than models from those early days.  That’s doesn’t mean changing brake pads or installing a reman transmission isn’t done on a daily basis, they most certainly are.  It’s the other side of the repair business, the computer updating and reflashing that’s an even bigger part of regular maintenance than ever before.

          So, which type of repair shop are you?  Are you the shop that will do the mechanical work, but leave those electronic issues to someone else?  It’s something every shop owner, as well as technicians need to think about.  Of course, the amount of investment and the continual training involved can be overwhelming. Fortunately, there is a way to do the mechanical stuff and be a proficient repair shop without breaking the bank, and still service your customers’ electrical and software needs. The mobile diagnostic technician is the answer.

        Seriously, I never dreamed there would come a day I would be saying this, but the mobile tech is a viable source of revenue and a vital source of technical skills that a shop without those skills should utilize.  Now, I’m not talking about those fly by night boys with a box of tools, I’m referring to the diagnostic scanner mobile tech who has the experience in dealing with all the websites, programming issues, and has the up to date information on how to perform such things as reflashing, key programming, and reloading of new software.  

         What’s happening in the automotive electronic world reminds me of how things were when manufacturers switched from points and condensers to electronic ignition systems. A lot of guys refused to learn the new systems and soon found themselves only working on older models, which eventually faded away.

            Somewhere along the way of the electronic ignition systems, parts swapping became the norm.  Instead of testing or diagnosing a problem it was a lot easier to keep the various types of ignition modules in your tool box, and when a “no-start” came in it only took a few minutes to swap the ignition module with your test piece. It did save diagnostic time, and it did get results, but the microchip and new technology has struck back again.  The old school ways of parts swapping vs. in depth diagnostic with scopes and scanners has just about run its course.  Now, swapping components can lead to an even bigger problem than what the car originally came in for.

          However, the general public is having a hard time comprehending the reason for these diagnostic costs.  It used to be that they would bring the car to the shop, the mechanic would do some fiddle greasy job that involved rebuilding some part or swapping the old ignition module, and he didn’t charge a diagnostic fee. If a part was suspected as bad, it could usually be swapped out without any worries. That’s just not car repair anymore. Now swapping components with integrated modules can lead a disaster.

          On the other hand, those techs who pick up the pieces after one of these parts changers finish slapping parts should be commended. The aftermath of installing a processor without knowing the eventual outcome can be a brutal blow to the pocketbook. 

         Radar systems, infrared and optical systems, cameras and proximity sensors aren’t the kind of components easily rebuilt, if at all.  But, there’s a good chance you can reprogram most of it. Yes, we still have engines that need built and gears that need changed, but there seems to be a lot more in the mechanic field that involves electronics.  To be today’s top mechanics and a repair shop that can get the job done, a lot more emphasis has to be put on that little microchip than on a rebuild kit.  Flashing modules and loading computer software updates are just a part of the business now. 

          Programming ain't for everyone, and some shops and techs can get by without ever dealing with it.  But, when needed, utilize the expertise that is available to you.  Learn how to flash by attending a couple of classes or find someone that can do it for you.  Help your customer help you increase your bottom line.  Don't pass on the flash.

 

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Yep, they make cars more complicated today. Not necessarily a good thing but something you have to deal with. Electronics is taking over and there are less mechanicals to cars. Perhaps someday  will have cars without  any mechanical components. Hard to envision today !

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Gonzo, I hope you are doing well. Great article, I make sure my guys understand the fundamentals so the more steps are integrated into the technology they completely understand the systems they are working on. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome with the new tech, is the manufacturers obstinance to share information with the independent shops.

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3 hours ago, HarrytheCarGeek said:

Gonzo, I hope you are doing well. Great article, I make sure my guys understand the fundamentals so the more steps are integrated into the technology they completely understand the systems they are working on. One of the biggest obstacles to overcome with the new tech, is the manufacturers obstinance to share information with the independent shops.

Doing better, not quite all the way back from it all.  I'm getting around great, playing golf and all.  Things like crawling under a dash are out though.  Lots of those type of movements will take a long time to get back to normal...at least for me.  I'm not at my shop these days, spending my time teaching and writing articles.  This article is really based on the lack of preparedness of the students leaving the college program at the college I'm teaching at.  Their theory is that they'll learn that on the job.  My thinking is....learn it now, get good at it later.  But, I'm just a substitute teacher...lol....like...what do I know anyway. I've only been in the trenches for three decades and I don't have a clue what repair shops need in the way of fresh mechanics.  Hopefully they'll let me teach an advanced class on the subject for those who want to know how to flash.  

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Great article on a very important topic.  If shops don't embrace the change in the automotive world, they will fall victims the same as the blacksmiths did in the early 1900's.

You make many key points, but two things really stick out for me. The ability and desire for shops to maintain their technological edge, which means they need to think differently. And, if we don't communicate the right message to the consumer, how in the world can they comprehend the costs associated with repairing and servicing their hi-tech vehicles?

We can train the techs, and we can invest....but without a ROI we are doomed.  And we won't attract the quality people to our industry until we change how we think and understand the true cost of being in business. 

You speak of training....I want to include Shop Owner Business Training too. I have seen too many shop owners with great techs, all the right equipment and make it mandatory for all their techs to attend training; only to give it all away because the shop owner does not understand how to properly charge the customer.

 

 

 

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This article is really based on the lack of preparedness of the students leaving the college program at the college I'm teaching at.  Their theory is that they'll learn that on the job.  My thinking is....learn it now, get good at it later. Gonzo,  

I think we touched on this in one of the chats.. I Graduated from LTI at the end of 1990 , it seems as if the schooling is the same then it was now as far as what they teach. Of course back then it was okay since the "electrical age" was just getting started. Now we are deep in the "electrical age" and it seems to me to be where the majority of the focus needs to be period! Is it lack of good teachers, good equipment, being lazy or a monetary thing as far as the school is concerned ? Are people really scared of change??

if we don't communicate the right message to the consumer, how in the world can they comprehend the costs associated with repairing and servicing their hi-tech vehicles? Joe,

I can't count how many times I say this every single day at work. Of course saying something is one thing implementing it is another, but when you tell a customer this, they seem to roll their eyes and sometimes just walk off "trying to rip me off, a diagnostic charge" I just let those guys go , I feel sorry for them because the will probable end up at some hack shop who ends up charging them more than I would on a total bill since they will probably have several parts and possible many trips back to that shop before the problem is solved. That being said how do you get the customer aware of these things? I think it may have to come from someone rather than the tech or the shop, but who????

ps I don't know what happened to the quote thing, I had to copy and paste that is why I attached the names to the end of the quote

 

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