Recruiting and integrating a diagnostic technician into a collision repair shop
With vehicle scanning, electronics trouble-shooting and calibrations of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) becoming an increasing part of collision repair, shops are now facing the challenge of recruiting, training and integrating technicians with those skills into their businesses.
What types of knowledge and experience make for a good diagnostic or ADAS technician within a body shop? As part of a panel addressing that issue at a recent Collision Industry Conference (CIC), Jake Rodenroth, of asTech, said his views have evolved. asTech offers remote scanning of vehicles and operates some of its own ADAS calibration facilities in some markets.
“It’s something I initially thought required someone with a mechanical type background, because they are used to the research, used to looking up labor operations and things like that,” Rodenroth said. “But what we’ve found is that the mechanical side struggles to see the collision variable in the vehicle. They struggle to see when an aftermarket hood has been fitted to the vehicle and now the ADAS component will not calibrate. They struggle to see the possible impact of paint work, body repair and structural alignment. The knowledge needed is a blend of both mechanical and collision. So that after they have followed all the repair steps, after they’ve used the factory tools and targets, and yet the car still does not calibrate, they are really experienced to troubleshoot it from there, recognizing when things related to the collision and repair are preventing a proper calibration.”
Bob Augustine, of scan tool manufacturer Drew Technologies, said those in the mechanical repair industry could bring to collision shops experience in regularly researching OEM information.
“Familiarity with the navigation and flow and content of the OEM service information is going to make or break your ability to estimate correctly,” Augustine said. “If you pull up five manufacturers’ websites, and you look up something like front windshield calibration, you’ll find that where the service info is placed in the service tree is probably different among all five manufacturers. You can waste a lot of time trying to figure out where they put that stuff. If you are familiar with the navigation of the website itself, you’re able to access the information a lot quicker.”
But Augustine also agreed that a “diagnostic tech” in the mechanical repair industry does very different work than one in a collision repair setting, in part because they will find themselves working on much newer vehicles than those seen in many mechanical shops.
“If you look at the average repair in a mechanical shop, they are dealing with parts degradation over time, component failure, or climate issues or water intrusion that have been manifest over a long period of time,” Augustine said. “So the types of repairs that are being done from a diagnostic tech in the collision space are actually very different from the mechanical space. If we have someone making the migration over, we need to make sure their mindset changes. Otherwise, a mechanical tech will struggle in the collision environment.”
Darrell Amberson, of LaMettry’s Collision, which operates nine shops in Minnesota, said he sees it slightly differently, seeing this work as potentially very appealing to current mechanical technicians. Scanning, calibrations and ADAS gives those technicians an opportunity to move away from working on rusty fasteners and older cars to focus on higher-tech systems and new things they’ve not worked on before.
But even aside from current technicians, he said the pool of people who could potentially do the work is significantly larger than the pool of traditional body and paint technicians.
“Think of anyone who has a passion and capacity to handle technology,” Amberson said. “The marketplace out there is just immense. In theory, you could go to an Apple store and hire someone who could learn about automobiles. It’s easier to teach the automobile part to someone who has an inclination toward this technology, than it is to take a traditional body tech and teach them about high tech.”
Amberson said his company is finding that two shops is enough to keep an ADAS technician busy full time, doing just scans, calibrations and some dash or airbag work.
“That is sort of a vague formula, which depends on your sales volume and mix of work,” he acknowledged, noting that because of dealership relationships and OEM certifications, LaMettry’s works on a vehicle population that on average is just 4 to 5 years old.
Rodenroth said it’s critical that if a shop has a “diagnostic technician,” that person should work closely with the shop’s estimators or repair planners. Obviously, he said, addressing any diagnostic trouble codes found in a pre-repair scan must be incorporated into the estimate or repair plan. But the diagnostic tech also should review other estimate line items as well; they may spot that a windshield replacement, for example, could trigger a need for ADAS calibrations or other sublet work that could be scheduled in advance to prevent delays at the end of repairs.
Rodenroth said diagnostic technicians also need to help estimators understand why following seemingly unrelated OEM repair procedures can impact ADAS calibrations. He said he’s seen instances when improper joining methods used between parts with different substrates can impact the grounding of electrical components.
“If both parties, the diagnostic tech and the estimator, are not researching the same manual, we’re destined for failure,” Rodenroth said.
Industry trainer Roger Cada also sees a role for the diagnostic tech in helping estimators understand the necessary procedures in order to negotiate payment.
“If the estimator can’t explain it to those who are paying the bill, you can see where things will start to fail,” Cada said. “There has to be a deep knowledge in that estimator to know how to explain why it’s needed.”
Amberson said his company is developing processes for how blueprinters get input from body, paint and diagnostic techs. Currently, he said, estimators at LaMettry’s locations look up OEM repair procedures themselves.
“But I’m not convinced that’s the most efficient way to do it,” Amberson said. “It might make sense to have someone else with expertise doing that. We’re looking at developing a resource department to do the research for the difficult ones, at least. Maybe we’ll find it will just be more efficient to have them look up everything. I’m not sure. But certainly there’s a growing relationship between estimators and diagnostic techs, and the estimators are becoming more and more dependent on that high-tech individual.” q