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Article: One Diagnostics, Two Diagnostics, Three.... the song and dance of diagnostics.

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One diagnostics, two diagnostics, three

The budget conscience customer at a repair shop asks, “Why do you charge so much for diagnosing a car? The machine does all the work. I’d rather just take my car to one of those places that offer free code checks.” The mechanics answered, “If those “machines” do all the work and those free places can tell you what’s wrong, why are you here?” It’s the typical song and dance of the one diagnostics, two diagnostics, three.

Apparently, I was misinformed as to how or what knowledge is necessary to diagnose the modern car. It seems, to some people, that all you have to do is hook up a scanner and the answer pops out like bread in a toaster. If so, why do most of these folks that head for these free code jockeys, still end up going to next read-code-change-part shops before a “real” mechanic finally figures out the problem?

Of course, you have to consider where this information about diagnostics is coming from. It’s a safe bet that neither captain code reader or his first mate cheap skate customer, have any high opinions that a trained professional mechanic is needed to find out what’s wrong with the land yacht. The opinions vary, but you can basically whittle them down to just three variations especially when it comes to diagnostics.

A – “All mechanics are alike”
B – “Always go with the cheapest mechanic you can find because they all have the same scanners and tools.”
C – Combine A and B.


It’s the term “diagnostics” that has several different meanings too. The charge for the diagnostics is always a question that someone will have, but I’ve never had anyone ask me, “What makes your diagnostics better than the next guys?” Just in case I ever had to answer that question, I’ve divided up this song and dance of diagnostics into three categories. So here goes, diagnostics, and a one, and a two and a three….

1. Be the code commander at one of those “free read” places, and grab your low-end-can’t-do-much-else-but-read-generic-codes and give your interpretation of what the display is telling you after your brief instructional lesson on the use of the tool to an even less informed consumer.

2. Be a code jockey at a more professional shop than your local parts store code commander ever could possibly imagine of being, and grab your high end scanner but only to use it like a code reader.

3. Actually testing the component or system that is coded and determining what the failure is with the aid of a scanner and other various tools of the trade.

The big problem that I see is that some people that have the same misconceptions that all mechanics are equally trained also have mistakenly determined that all scan tools are the same. Code reading is one thing, giving your opinion of the meaning of said code is another. Trying to diagnose by just reading a code is the real problem.

It still surprises me when someone questions the diagnostic fee, or asks, “Now you’re going to take that off the bill if I have the work done right?” Answer that question with a no and you’re liable to see a majority of those type of customers walk out the door. Say yes to the question and you’re into a situation that after you’ve spent time on finding the source of the problem that the estimated repair is going to run more than the customer wants to put into the car, and now they decide not to have the work done. All the time you just spent on the car is lost dollars that you’ll never recover.

I’ve tried it both ways over the years and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m better off getting paid for the use of my scanners, diagnostic charts, meters, scopes, and various other tools needed to perform the correct procedures and tests than I am of letting all my efforts slip out the lobby door.
What’s the solution? Everybody has their own opinion as to what works better. Quite frankly, I think the only way it will ever change is with time. When enough time has passed and less and less repairs can be made without solid and proper diagnostics maybe then it won’t be such a big hassle.


For the here and now, maybe I should offer diagnostics as a “One, and a two, and a three” types of diagnostics. But, I’m no jockey and I’d make a terrible captain so I might offer different code diagnostics but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like it.

As it is now, most everything such as turn signals, engine performance, theft systems and the like all go through more than one computer module. Coding is taking on a whole new era of diagnostics. One thing can lead to two and two can lead to three. That’s where more in-depth diagnostics plays a major part in solving an issue with the modern car more than just read a code.

I wouldn’t put it passed the engineers to monitor balljoint wear with a sensor, or even tie rod ends in the near future either. All those wearable items on a car could eventually be monitored in some form or fashion. Then, when a car comes in for a front end alignment it won’t be so much the technician putting it on the alignment machine right off the bat, they would have to start the diagnostics off with a scanner. There would be less of the customer coming in that tells the mechanic that the last shop said they needed a laundry list of suspension parts when nothing checks bad at the next shop.

For the most part, if you’re reading this and you’re a shop owner or tech you’re probably nodding your head right about now. You’re probably saying to yourself, “Been there, done that.” Yea, “we” know what it takes to diagnose some of these problems but what “we” need to let every consumer know that it takes more than a code jockey or captain code reader to diagnose their car. Diagnostics isn’t as simple as “A one, and a two, and a three”.



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