Chasing electrical parasitic drains and diagnostic headaches are a specialty at Lakewood Auto Electric
Lakewood, Colo.—Briant Grossi, owner of Lakewood Auto Electric (LAE), has been ”chasing the electricity,” as he puts it, for 16 years, working exclusively as an automotive electrical systems diagnostics and repair specialist.
The shop has earned a reputation over the past 30 years as electrical repair experts and now gets the majority of its work by referral from quick-lube and undercar shops such as Firestone, Sears, Pep Boys, and Goodyear, Grossi said, adding that it is also under contract to work on state government vehicles with electrical problems that can’t be fixed elsewhere.
Grossi employs two full-time technicians and one service advisor at his 2,500-square-foot, four-bay shop.
With subscriptions to Mitchell OnDemand and AllData, a full line of scan tools, including different models of Snap-on and the GM Tech II, and oscilloscopes and PICO scopes, LAE is capable of diagnosing almost any electrical problem, he said. “The only time we send a car to the dealership or use mobile diagnostics is if it requires proprietary software, or if a recall needs to be addressed to complete a repair. Other than that, we’re equipped to diagnose and repair everything in-house,” he said.
To keep up with technological advancements in modern vehicles, Grossi earned a certification to work on hybrids through Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, which he said offers one of the best hybrid programs he has attended in his more than 30 years in the business.
Selling diagnostic time and repairing parasitic drain is a traditionally difficult aspect of automotive repair, Grossi said. It has become a staple of his business, with more than 25 percent of the cars on his lot at any given time in for a “no start” complaint.
“The complaints for ‘no starts’ are increasing as technology and electronics advance in modern vehicles,” Grossi said. “The process for testing parasitic drain is already exhaustively tedious, and you don’t want to cause unnecessary damage to a vehicle during the diagnostic process due to uncertainty.”
He added that if a technician knows for a fact that a vehicle doesn’t have a parasitic drain, he or she can start to look for fairly simple electrical repairs, such as replacing a battery, starter, or alternator. But typically there isn’t an easy way to tell, and in cases where parasitic drain is the problem, the tech and the customer are faced with a “scary abyss” of diagnostics, most of which require an understanding of electricity to even pinpoint a starting place, Grossi said.
“When you’re working as a specialist, you see all types of repair jobs, and you have to learn from every one, including the difficult and time-consuming ones. That’s how you become more efficient and cost-effective the next time you take on a similar repair,” he said.
For that reason, Grossi said he is in the final stages of producing a drain diagnostic tool, for which he has a patent pending and five working prototypes.
“I invented the Parasitic Drain Tester so even the greenest technician will be able to pinpoint an electrical problem or failing circuit that needs attention – it will save time and money for shops as well as consumers,” he said.
The tool will have a touchscreen interface, with a simple, easy-to-use design, allowing even third-party testers to easily show their customers whether or not their “no start” issue is being caused by a failing battery, or if it requires further diagnostics, Grossi said.
“Our hope is that this tool will remove the ambiguity of where an electrical problem really lies, not just for technicians, but for customers,” he said.
Grossi said parasitic drain is an ongoing problem in the industry that is only getting worse, and a diagnostic tool used specifically to address the issue is needed. A recent statistic he learned from Johnson Controls showed that 98 percent of the batteries they receive back as faulty are actually in need of a simple recharge, not a replacement.
“The carbon footprint to recycle a battery is also enormous and not something the public may be aware of,” Grossi said. “A device to show customers that their battery isn’t the issue before they insist on a warranty replacement is extremely important. And because we do so many diagnostics on ‘no start’ complaints, we were in a unique position to address it by creating a tool that benefits most professionals in the industry,” he said.
Still, Grossi said electrical diagnostics will always come down to one thing: the laws of electricity. And one of the most oft-used diagnostic tools at his shop is still the simple ohm meter.
“Electronics in modern vehicles will continue to advance, but the laws of electricity remain the same. I always tell my techs when they’re stumped to ‘chase the electricity.’ Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find,” he said.