Seventeen and Thirty Two

First, let me make it clear that I’m not taking a position on Right to Repair, nor is this magazine. But I want to point out something about service information that affects everyone in the industry, including the people who pump all the money into our industry; your customers.

When I was just a pup, I bought tune-up parts for Mom’s car: points, plugs, condenser, rotor, cap and wires. The parts man, recognizing my youth and inexperience, placed them on the counter and said “17 and 32.” He was telling me to set the points gap to 0.017” and the plug gap to 0.032”. In those days, that’s all the service information anyone needed to tune-up a Chevy straight-six, and most pros knew those specs by heart for a lot of different engines.

Today it’s impossible to memorize all the specs you need for even one engine. That’s because it’s no longer just an engine, it’s part of a computer-operated powertrain, and the specs depend on what other equipment is on the car. Even if someone is familiar enough with a specific car model to know what the live data should look like on a scan tool, installing a “revised” part or reflashing the computer might also change the data stream. Today, relying on memorized specs is not a good idea, and smart techs check for updates.

Looking up specs is more demanding than it used to be. Instead a 1200-page service manual covering a whole family of models, today we have five thousand pages of hyper-linked text that might apply to just one model. Books were updated once a year, but service information delivered over the Internet can be updated overnight. Although indexing hasn’t changed much, it’s grown: brakes, fuel and other systems are now divided into multiple sub-systems. One nice change is that, because there’s no page limit, specs and tool information are often included with the repair and service procedures, so you don’t have to search for them.

Another difference, an important one, is that today’s technicians must become skilled at finding information. Most shops buy just one information system, and the techs get used to navigating through that particular system. But even though there’s no “page limit,” it’s still impossible for one system to have it all; there are times when there’s no choice but to access factory service information.

And here is the big difference. Today, factory information is just a few mouse clicks away, and the charge for temporary access to that information can be a line item on the customer’s invoice. The problem is, as stated by a tech on iATN, “there is a huge segment of the industry that has no idea that these (service information) resources are out there, where to get them, how much they cost, and how to implement them in a small shop.”

Does the aftermarket have access to all factory service information and to all the tools needed to utilize it? We won’t discuss that here. The point is, too many people don’t know enough about that issue to contribute anything useful to the discussion. Whether it’s factory or third-party information, you have to look for it. And just because you can’t find the information in all the familiar places doesn’t mean it isn’t available somewhere else. Keep looking and keep learning.