Vehicles are having a very noisy rebirth. The type of work you are going to be seeing is changing as the vehicle mix begins to evolve toward more electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as cars with small, turbocharged engines. The popularity of ride sharing is also changing the infrastructure of the auto repair industry by the day. There are services that are simply going to disappear overnight and new ones that will take their place. For example, power steering fluid service is on the list of things that are moving toward extinction; although, that system will still need to have torque angle sensor calibration work during wheel alignments. There is also the frequency of service to consider. Fluids have become much better and engines, transmissions and drivetrain change intervals continue to climb. If these are profit centers for your business, you may be in trouble.
Recently, I participated in a webinar hosted by Babcox Media to talk about how new vehicle technology presents opportunities for shops, and I want to hone in on some of the topics we discussed with some thoughts for your consideration.
I do a connected car presentation as part of my extracurricular industry work, and during the class I talk about the growth of mobility through ride sharing where a mom could put her kid in an Uber to one activity, while having another picked up and brought to her from another. Before you panic and think that ride sharing will reduce personal miles driven and minimize your interaction with customers’ vehicles, I always ask, “Who is going to work on the ride share vehicles?” There will be lots of competition for this work, but you have time to work out a creative and appealing way to get that business. This type of evolution isn’t just confined to highly populated metros, either. If you live in a small town, don’t think that this level of convenience is not also coming your way.
They are coming (for real this time), and the technology to stretch their range is going to be significant as 2018 rolls around. As my Focus Electric is all too happy to remind me that I am driving oil free, it does have an extremely hardworking cooling and HVAC system. The A/C system shares its design with its hybrid HV compressor cousins. The heater is a whole different animal, as it uses a heating element to warm coolant. Batteries don’t need much in the way of maintenance, but software updates for operating systems, infotainment and even braking systems are among the necessary services. Speaking of brakes, electric cars driven by savvy drivers are going to experience the same problems that hybrids have for years — and that’s rust. If you are good at driving either a hybrid or an electric car, you are going to turn most of your braking power back into electricity. So, while the brake pads might not wear out, parts do rust over time. Your brake inspections for these cars are going to be different than on traditional vehicles. You need to pay much more attention to caliper and rotor rust than how much material is left on the pads.
The challenge with these vehicles is consumer denial. Outside of the hardcore hybrid owners, I find that lots of our customers who own hybrids want to deny that there is an engine working in a very difficult environment under the hood. They tend to think of themselves as driving an electric vehicle. While it is true that most of these vehicles are very well built, they require the same maintenance as a non-hybrid engine. But, the frequency of these services may be different depending on how the vehicle is used. Taxicab statistics show that hybrids and battery electric vehicles do best when their batteries are exercised, so they are very good urban-assault vehicles but lose some of their appeal when used primarily as highway vehicles. As these vehicles age, there is a notable market for repair and replacement of the battery packs.
The Small Engine
There are engines running around out there that make 100+ horsepower per liter. These are not necessarily in high-dollar performance cars, but rather in small cars, SUVs and pickup trucks. These little powerhouses have different needs. They use special oils, and customers don’t tend to get that. These vehicles need top-tier fuel, but most of the industry doesn’t even know what that is, let alone vehicle owners (www.toptiergas.com).
Most notably, these small-engine vehicles are almost all gas-direct injection with variable valve timing. That means they build up carbon at an alarming rate, even with the right oil and fuel. Automakers struggle getting these vehicles out of warranty before the carbon monster hits them.
Our problem is that by the time we see these vehicles — around 60,000 miles on average — mitigating the carbon problem is much more difficult. The carbon that breaks off the valves can scratch the cylinder walls and cause loss of compression. And, if that isn’t enough, the gooey fuel/carbon mix that oozes around the rings also causes compression loss. I can tell you from personal experience with my 2.0L EcoBoost that servicing these things correctly is something your customer will feel both at the gas pump and in the seat of their pants. Your challenge? How to evangelize this service before these cars get so “carboned up” that they need the head pulled to solve the problem.
Another common theme we’re seeing with all modern vehicles is the number of modules that need updates. There are great new products on the market that can assist you in getting up to speed with software updating. This is going to be an absolute necessity for techs going forward. Even as over-the-air updates begin to be used on more and more vehicles, there will still be updates that can only be performed at a shop. You cannot send this work to the dealer.
Cars have been evolving in a big way over the last decade, more than doubling the amount of on-board technology that we see from cars 10+ years old. In the next five years, the technological evolution will look nearly vertical. Opportunities abound, but only if you know what is coming down the road. For more information on what you need to know to service the next generation of vehicles, head to import-car.com/webinars and look for our latest webinar on new vehicle technologies.