Brago takes diagnostics on the road
Lakewood, Colo.—When shops call Rob Brago, owner of Colorado Diagnostic Equipment, it’s usually to be the “clean up man” and complete the final step in a diagnostic procedure. Over the last few years, he has built a reputation as a go-to diagnostician for programming newly installed modules and routine software updates on existing ones in shops along the Front Range.
Equipped with current automaker service information subscriptions, latest OEM and aftermarket scan tools, J2534 devices, five-gas analyzers, TPMS tools, and more, Brago, a former ASE master-certified and L1 technician and factory scan tool salesman, said he has become a part of many repair shops’ diagnostic strategies.
“Some shops see me as a necessary part of their diagnostic procedure. Now people know me as the guy that comes in and does the programming,” Brago told Parts & People during an interview at Lube & Latte, a client he services in Lakewood, Colo.
“Some of the smaller shops are happy to call me in,” he said. “They may not want to make the investment in the equipment or are not confident doing it.
“Not having to take the car to the dealership for reprogramming is a benefit,” said Dustin Olde, owner of Lube & Latte, a full-service three-bay shop that doubles as a coffee shop. “There is a lot of risk mitigation involved with having an expert do it (reprogramming).”
Lube & Latte Master Technician Chris Andrews said using a mobile diagnostician also saves the technician the time from having to navigate an OEM website for information, which can be very cumbersome for some makes.
As a diagnostic expert, Brago started his business selling scan tools in 2008, but said it quickly evolved into reprogramming modules for shops after installation. Brago also functions as a scan tool sales consultant, part of his original business plan, selling “whatever the shop needs” and then training them on it.
Autel is a preferred brand for shops, he said, since the tool allows the technician to perform tasks at an OE level. “They do an amazing job with a wide variety of cars,” he said. For programming, however, Brago said he sticks to servicing mostly domestic, Asian, and Korean vehicles, and some European makes.
For J2534 programming and recalibration, Drew Technologies’ CarDAQ-M is the preferred tool, he said, adding that he not only uses it, but also sells it to shops. “They are the J2534 leaders and have good tech support.” Forward-thinking automakers, such as Toyota, also allow independent technicians to stream the scan tool and J2534 capability from the Web to the car.
From what he’s witnessed, Brago said many technicians diagnose cars well. However, doing so is a challenge without the proper service information, equipment, and ability.
“It’s easy to get in over your head in diagnostics and take much longer than what you’re able to charge for,” he said, which is a situation that may also cause haste and influence a technician to skip critical steps. It occasionally causes them to jump to incorrect repair conclusions, he said, adding that popular repair databases that publish pattern failure and repair recommendations also encourage that behavior.
Initial steps should include a “pin out” test that involves voltmeter measurements. “They’re critical to getting to the root of what’s going on,” he said.
On any given day, Brago said he performs on-site work at four to eight shops along the Front Range from Longmont to Castle Rock. With 10-30 modules in modern cars, he said there is no shortage of work.
Once purely a RR procedure, many parts now require reprogramming after being replaced, Brago said, pointing out that the power steering rack-and-pinion assembly for a Ford Explorer now requires post-installation programming. Even something as simple as a window switch in some GM vehicles needs to be programmed, he added.
Although many shops use Colorado Diagnostic Equipment as a way to bridge the technology gap, Brago said independent shops will have to have OE-level diagnostic capability if they want to stay competitive.
In a sense, Brago said with a chuckle, he’s competing against himself every time he sells a new scan tool. “If I sell a piece of equipment, I train them on it, and show them how to use it. I can speak their language, having been a technician,” he said of his interactions with technicians. He added that attending AAPEX and SEMA help him stay up to date on the latest tools and service information.
Even though many shop owners say there is a technician shortage, there are young techs that are smart and willing to do diagnostics, he said. “They’ve grown up in a computer age, so they get it.”