It has become apparent to me after years of observing technicians and do it yourself, one of the things lacking is the ability to diagnose problems with a vehicle. So I ask myself, why? With vehicle becoming more complex every day, certainly, there’s more of need than ever before to be able to diagnose these vehicles.


Hanging parts and hoping it will fix the problem cost too much money and rarely is the guess of which part to try the right guess. So why is it so hard for some to properly diagnose these problems? Here are my thoughts on it.

I started in the automotive repair business fresh out of vocational school in1978. I was greener than green and would soon find out just how green I was. This is not to knock the school I attended, it’s just a fact. As I worked my trade, I learned. It soon became apparent to me the future of the repair industry was moving away from mechanical controls to a more computerized system loaded with electronic devices. If I was going to keep up with the changing technology, I was going to have to educate myself. This was done at times on my own dime. I would take the problem vehicles others didn’t want to work on and began my schooling of hard knocks. I was far from perfect but over time I learned a lot. All the while other techs I worked with were making more money doing what we call the gravy work. It wasn’t really the others techs fault, they were just trying to make a living.

If you look at how we got paid, we were mostly paid a flat rate. If you worked at a dealer the manufacturer set the amount of time they would pay to do a job. It was usually much less than it should have been. Not only didn’t it pay much to replace a part, but it also paid even less to diagnose the problem with the vehicle. It doesn’t take long to figure out the way to make more money is to just hang parts. To a point, the manufacturers were okay with that. In essence, we were being trained not to spend the time needed to diagnose a problem, just do a quick test or two and hang a part. I had an opportunity to talk to a dealer tech a short while back who told me the owner of the dealership won’t allow the customer to be charged diagnostic time. Needless to say, this poor guy was their driveability tech and also handled most of the electrical issues that came through the door. He was getting his brains beat out while others with fewer skills were making all the money. I can only hope his toolbox has wheels and he went where his talents were more appreciated. Think about what that told the other techs who observed this situation. Wanting to keep their warranty expenses down the manufacturer want to pay as little as possible. At the end of the day, the technician had to find short cuts to make money. Why spend the time diagnosing something when the money was in guessing and parts replacement.

Then there are the auto shops that pay their technicians a small hourly wage and give them a percentage of the customer’s bill. Depending on the shop, the guy or gal doing the more complicated work usually made less money. I’m not here to complain about compensation packages, but think what happens in a tech's mind when exposed to this work environment. I worked in a shop where one of the mechanics just hung parts all day long. He was fast and good at what he did, yet he didn’t do alignments, driveability or electrical repairs. He made way more money than others in the shop who were expected the handle these problems. I’m sure this isn’t an isolated occurrence. A newer tech looks at this and next thing you know they are hanging parts. After all, they want to make as much money as possible too.

Then you have Google and professional sites such as IATN and Identifix. While there is nothing wrong with these sites or using Google to help with that vehicle kicking your butt, getting on the pattern failure bandwagon and replacing parts based on reported failure rates isn’t diagnosing a problem. Many shops, techs, and DIY will base what part to hang next on a report. This is not diagnosing the vehicle.

Then you have shops which are hesitant to charge what there diagnostic time is worth. We don’t seem to have a problem paying a doctor to do a diagnostic test on our bodies to find out what is wrong, and yet in many ways, today’s vehicles are more complex. What we learned in the past and the habits we developed from them may not serve us well today. As a tech, you need to develop the skills and knowledge demanded. Modern vehicles are complex and can easily be damaged by not performing a proper diagnosis and repair. You have to develop the skills needed. Not doing so will mean your out of business in short order. The day of the parts changer is coming to an end.

Finally, when you develop the skills needed you should be compensated for them. You should insist on it. You have invested considerable time and money to do the job right and your diagnostic skills should be rewarded. You have made a major investment in time and money to get where you’re at.

I say all of this to show how we got to this point today. While there are many resources available for those who want to learn and keep up with changing technology, you have to build your diagnostic skills as discussed earlier. For those of you who are doing so, keep it up. It will pay dividends.

If you would like to learn more there is a book entitled OBDII Diagnostics Made Easy. This book walks you through the diagnostic process. The book is an easy read, loaded with lots of information that can help. The book is available on Amazon if you would like to check it out.

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