Created on Thursday, 23 December 2010
The old advertising slogan, "Don't open your hood to strangers," is more accurate today then ever before.
Recently, I wrote about how rapid and continuously changing technologies have enhanced the pleasures of driving and made vehicles much safer. But, the pace and expertise to service the technology often outstrips the resources of the independent repair facility.
In decades past, automakers focused on annual styling and design changes. Today, annual advancements mostly take the form of mechanical and technical improvements. It's likely that a 2011 model may look identical to a 2006 model from the same maker, but with hundreds of new components and technical improvements.
One of the realities of this paradigm shift is the increased reliance on the latest technology for diagnostics and repairs. Staying abreast of the continual, evolving technical developments and diagnostics is a full-time job.
As onboard computers and operating systems become more sophisticated, so does the degree of knowledge and equipment specialization required to accurately diagnose problems and make repairs.
Dealers, supported by their manufacturers, invest significant sums in the latest hardware, software and training, to ensure that their technicians stay current in the knowledge and ability to service their exclusive line of products.
Advanced technologies have had a corollary effect on independent auto repair shops. It's no secret that independent shops and aftermarket specialty chains often send vehicles to new car dealers for diagnostic and repair work that can't be performed by them.
In recent years, corner repair shops and independents have seen their share of the market shrink – for several reasons.
First, it's increasingly cost prohibitive for smaller shops to maintain investments in the latest tools, equipment and training to service every make and model.
These shops tend to concentrate on brakes, tires, oil changes and other "less specialized" services for a wide variety of brands.
Second, diagnosing and repairing today's automobiles requires current factory supported tools, software and training. This has increasingly fallen to franchised dealerships, much to the chagrin of the corner garage.
As one repair shop owner recently noted in a trade publication, "We are trapped in a scenario where we want to be a one-stop centre servicing all makes and models, but that's getting tougher to accomplish. We have to gain access to these tools or give up some of our business to the dealer organization." (CarCare Business, September 2010).
Last year, auto manufacturers and repair shops came to a voluntary agreement with the federal government over the "right to repair" issue. It effectively gave all repair shops the right to purchase repair specs and programs from the manufacturers.
But this was a Pyrrhic victory for corner repair shops, which are now faced with having to make huge investments in the test equipment, software and tools to repair a wide variety of late model vehicles. Consequently, they find it harder to compete with dealerships devoted to one brand.
Many corner shops have accepted this new reality of a shrinking (and highly specialized) marketplace for vehicle repairs; some shop owners have even contemplated leaving the business altogether.
Consumers should know that in this age of increased specialization, only franchised new car dealers are permitted to perform warranty repairs on behalf of their particular manufacturer. Plus, when it comes to vehicle maintenance and repairs, fewer and fewer independents find they can compete with dealers when it comes to the technical support, technology and their specialized expertise.
In recent years, dealers have also re-focused aggressively on promoting non-warranty repairs (routine maintenance, tires, etc.). They are very competitive on basic maintenance and service and they have the necessary resources to support your vehicle, no matter what year in its life cycle.