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Every collision repair shop needs an ACE tech

Monday, April 2, 2018 - 07:00
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Does it feel like our industry is going through a great awakening in terms of embracing new vehicle technologies? There are Advanced Driver Assist Systems (ADAS), safety systems and controls performing functions we never dreamed of. Most trade publications and industry events contain content on vehicle scans, calibrations and autonomous cars. There are semi-autonomous cars driven by consumers on the road today and fully autonomous cars being tested. We are seeing repair issues that would have been completely irrational in the past, such as heated steering wheels not functioning after simple door trim R&I procedures; sun roofs that don’t function after modest collisions; and electronic steering systems that don’t function after headliner removal. The complexities of the modern vehicle are growing exponentially, and we are really experiencing it in our collision repair businesses. 

More and more shops are performing at least some pre- and post-repair scans. Where I work, we perform both on all collision vehicles, including hail jobs. The headliner issue referred to in the previous paragraph happened on a Ford F-150 hail job, to us enforcing the wisdom in performing the scans. 

Performing scans and clearing diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs, often referred to as fault codes) only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the technology tsunami we are experiencing. Calibrating right front seat sensors on many models has become commonplace in recent years. We are calibrating many cameras in increasingly different locations on vehicles. We are calibrating radar units. We are programming more modules. Front-end alignments on some vehicles such as some Audis have become far more complex and expensive due to the many sensors that require static or dynamic calibrations. (I’ve seen sublet invoices for some exceeding $800.) We are more thoroughly researching and adhering to factory repair procedures, especially since the well-publicized John Eagle Collision court case. Some of these procedures have new and unique procedures for wire repair and connector replacement. 

As a result, a new breed of technician is emerging. I am referring to an Automated and Computerized Electronic systems technician, working in an auto collision repair environment. For simplification let’s refer to this person as ACE. I understand that they are people and thus have their own unique traits and attributes. However, I will speak in some generalities to create an understanding and to paint a picture of what I describe. 

To begin, I will describe what ACE is not. ACE is NOT the stereotypical high school low performer who was sent to automotive training because they couldn’t succeed elsewhere. ACE is NOT a typical body tech or painter, whose roles and attributes to restore auto body appearance and function are familiar to most of us in the industry. ACE is NOT a typical independent service (mechanical) shop technician who performs typical service work — including diagnostics — that primarily revolve around vehicle maintenance and drivability issues. ACE is NOT a typical dealership technician, including those who specialize in diagnostics. Scans for collision issues and calibrations of collision avoidance and other cameras and sensors are not among their typical tasks. Nor are deployed airbag systems. 

ACE typically has a higher-than-average IQ and an even higher EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient, which includes measurement of self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management. It includes common sense. It is not just dependent upon the mental aptitude we are born with, but instead it can be increased through learning.)  

ACE has a keen interest in new technologies, perhaps even a great passion. ACE has an appetite for learning. He or she may spend hours online studying, not necessarily because it’s required, but instead because of fascination. It could also be to not be beaten by a difficult issue, but instead to gain understanding to be used to overcome the obstacle. This is the person who may take a scan tool home to "play with it" on their own vehicle. ACE can often tell you about new technologies and vehicle features that are coming. They are not intimidated, but instead look forward to the opportunity to experience it firsthand and to work on it. 

Like other mechanics, ACEs can work with his or her hands. They have the ability to understand and perform most types of mechanical repair, but gravitate to those involving technologies found in dashes, airbag systems, accident avoidance and other safety systems. They are more inclined to master those mechanical systems controlled by computer modules than other mechanics. 

Every shop needs an ACE 
Today’s shops are finding their way on how they handle the ever-increasing new technologies in collision repair. Shops may perform the work in house with their own staff, sublet to a dealership, sublet to an independent who specializes in such work or use a scan tool that connects to an offsite entity that uses their scanning equipment (typically factory scan tools) and provides direction, or some combination of these solutions. No matter which methodology is used, there is (or at least there should be) typically some form of our ACE performing the operation. As we continue to deal with the increasing amount of new technology operations including scans, calibrations, programming and diagnostics, the need for ACE will increase and the opportunity to use someone of lesser skills will diminish. In other words, we repairers will have to have at least one ACE at our disposal, in house or through sublet. 

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