Commitment To Training

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Do you ever say these five dirty words?

Saturday, April 1, 2017 - 07:00
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“Send it to the dealer!” That’s a phrase heard often in independent shops around the country. In the shops I worked at, it was typically heard under two very different circumstances, though. Often, it would be uttered by technicians who just didn’t want to be bothered by any kind of diagnostic work, preferring instead to earn their pay doing nothing but “gravy” work. You would also hear these five dirty words when a technician who did tackle a diagnostic challenge raised their arms in defeat after spending more time than they could ever hope to be compensated for trying to uncover the culprit and finding themselves no closer to an answer than when they started.

Don’t shrink from a challenge. Instead, consider it an opportunity to grow and learn.

Let me start this discussion by saying that I’ve worked at both OE dealerships and independent shops over the course of my career, and I can tell you that the quality of technician is not dependent on the sign on the front of the business. If you have the guts to tackle that job with what you have, allow me to share some ideas that will help you be successful at fixing that son-of-a-gun.

Win more than you lose

Over the last decade or so of my career as a full-time tech, I would be “that guy” that was given the problem cars – those that had been in more than once and still weren’t fixed. And I didn’t mind! I liked the challenge and won more often than I lost only because I stubbornly refused to spew those filthy five words until I couldn’t get up off of the canvas. My motto was, and still is, “A human designed it, a human built it, a human broke it – by God, a human should be able to fix it.” Sounds better when I think of it in my head than it does when I see it in print, but you get the idea. Even if I took a loss monetarily, I knew I was going to gain in the long run from the experience and lessons learned, good and bad, from tackling the challenge.

Nothing beats attending a good training event in person. Only then can you interact with both the instructor and your fellow students in a way that can’t be duplicated.

One key to success is following a logical process and working smart, not hard. The very first step for me was to learn as much about the system(s) involved as I could. That often required a lot of reading, and not just on the service information platform the shop used. On some particularly tough challenges, I would spend my own time researching online and availing myself of every resource I could find. And thanks to the efforts of organizations like National Automotive Service Task Force and Equipment Tool Institute, access to this information on the OE level is easier than ever.

One such case that really stands out in my memory was a Lexus with an evaporative emissions fault that I couldn’t make heads or tails of. I literally wrote up a stack of notes on the Toyota EVAP systems in use from the beginning and by the time I was done, I was pretty comfortable with how everything worked and was ultimately successful in resolving the customer’s concerns. Those notes turned into the very first story I ever wrote and actually got me involved on this side of the business!

The next step in success is following a testing process that starts in a general way, eliminating as many possibilities as you can and narrowing down the list of potential suspects. Then, pinpoint testing will help nail down the ultimate cause of the concern. These are tests and techniques that may be listed in the OE flowcharts, but more often than not the most successful approaches are the techniques developed by your fellow technicians and learned by your own continuing education efforts. Maybe you follow certain threads on iATN, maybe you dig into your SI’s resources (like Mitchell 1’s “SureTrack”), maybe you subscribe to a capable teacher on YouTube (like ScannerDanner, South Main Auto Repair and of course, Motor Age!) or maybe you get out of the shop and attend aftermarket webinars or live training events. My whole point here is that you cannot remain stagnant, relying on what you learned yesterday alone to carry you into tomorrow.

“If you haven’t yet, check out Motor Age Magazine on YouTube. Our How2, Trainer, and In The Workshop segments are there to help you grow as a tech.”

The final step is to make sure your tooling is up to the task. I remember my very first scan tool, the venerable Snap-on “brick,” that used cartridges depending on the genre of the vehicle you wanted to work on. Its narrow screen only displayed, if I recall correctly, 6-9 PIDs at a time, and I can’t imagine trying to rely on that tool alone today! And it’s not just the diagnostic tooling. Certain repair procedures require special tools in order to perform the repair properly and without damage to the system or other components. The times I had to finally throw in the towel, it was because I didn’t have the tooling I needed to continue. But hold on, my fellow independent techs, the times are changing and that may be an excuse that will no longer fly for many of us.

Many of you reading this get it. You’ve invested in your tooling and your training, and are willing to tackle any challenge that comes your way. In fact, there are those among you that are actually benefiting from your efforts and tackling those problem cars the dealer can’t handle! Imagine that – a dealer tech telling his service manager, “Send it to [insert your shop’s name here]!”

A great opportunity is coming!

Back in February, I participated in a panel discussion that was supposed to be about the “must attend” training conferences offered here in the States. The end result for me was simple. The “must attend” for you is the one you can – meaning, you can get the time off, and you can afford to make the trip. One such opportunity that is coming soon is the one we’re hosting, NACE Automechanika. There is a lot going on over those few days this July, including the training event we’ve put together with the help of the best independent trainers and the best aftermarket training organizations this country has to offer. And I’m sure that, by now, you know that this training is offered at no cost to those who attend. You just have to make your own travel and lodging arrangements and there are plenty of ways you can do that on a budget. Even there, though, we have help. Partnering with TST, AMi, and NATEF, we are able to offer scholarships to help cover those travel and hotel bills. For full info, log on to

If the Chicago event is still out of reach, check out the regional opportunities near you. Most of the big aftermarket companies have expanded their training arms in a big way over the last few years, and host a variety of training platforms from live events held locally to online “virtual reality” programs. All of these programs have one goal in mind – to help you become a better technician.

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