I was talking to a group of body shop owners the other day at a trade association meeting, and one said, "I'm not in the repair business anymore; I'm in the computer business!
"These new cars are great for the consumers, but fixing them is getting tougher and more expensive."
In the end, diagnostics have quickly become a huge part of the collision repair process and a reality that shops need to accept. The ones that embrace the technology and become adept at using it will get more work while stragglers will eventually lose their spot in line.
To find out about the present and future of automotive diagnostics, we interviewed one of the country's leading experts on the subject. Michael Flink, national trainer/commercial product sales manager, has more than four decades of aftermarket experience. He has spent the last seven years with Autel, one of the world's leading manufacturers and suppliers of professional diagnostic tools, equipment and accessories in the automotive aftermarket.
Q: When did diagnostics become such a big part of collision repair?
A: In 1982, diagnostics really took off, even though the very first computer-controlled system hit the market in 1979, when Chrysler introduced its Lean-Burn system in the K car (Aries, Reliant, LeBaron) An early computerized spark-advance control system consisted of three parts: the carburetor, the spark-control computer, and a group of eight external sensors.
By the early or mid-80s, GM had the Electronic Spark Control System (ESC), which was the beginning of the computer age in cars with check engine lights , followed by OBD-II and then CAN (Controller Area Network) and then the beginning of ABS (Antilock Brake Systems) and TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System). I witnessed all of these generations and evolution with those systems and now we're going through it again with ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
Q: Are more and more shops joining the diagnostics world out of choice or necessity?
A: The collision repair industry is now going through the same thing the mechanical repair industry went through in the '90s and early 2000s. When OBD-II came around, shops realized that they had to have a scanner to do anything on these cars, and when CAN hit around 2004, it became more important for body shops.