It all starts with the right information

Tools don't do any good if you don't have the information to use them.

If you take a moment and look around your shop, can you identify which tool is most important? At first, you may feel it's your engine analyzer, scan tool or DVOM. Then again, maybe it's your trusty four-wheel alignment machine, or perhaps the brake lathe or wheel balancer.

No matter what kind of work you do, information is really the most valuable tool of all. It is this precious commodity that makes effective and profitable repairs possible. Because, without the right information, guesswork and comebacks increase, along with customer dissatisfaction.

As proof, think of the times where you've said, "If only I knew that before," or "I'll know the next time," after you struggled to make a repair after previous unsuccessful attempts. Or maybe, it was as simple as misjudging on an estimate where you lost your shirt on a certain job.

It all boils down to the fact that your hardware (tools and equipment) won't do you much good unless you have the right software (information). Depending on the task at hand, the right information may be something as simple as proper training on a certain vehicle system. Or, how about the time a technical service bulletin saved your hide because it uncovered the quirks of a certain problem, then steered you in the right direction for a fix?  

This issue's Tool Q&A is dedicated to the cause of finding the information you need to do your job—whether it’s on good old-fashioned hard copy, or via the information superhighway. We’ll list various resources that can give you the information you need, when you need it. Clearly, you need tools of the mind as much tools for the hands.

Q. Our shop focuses on air conditioning work, so knowing all the latest rules and regulations is critical to both legal compliance and our success. Where can we find this sort of information?

A. The USEPA Stratospheric Protection Division's site at offers a wealth of information related to motor vehicle air conditioning. There, you’ll find information in a context presented for both service technicians and motorists, as well as regulatory status updates and federal register notices. With the introduction of HFO-1234yf refrigerant coming soon, you will also find a copy of EPA's final ruling on that refrigerant posted on the site.

Q. When comparing information subscriptions, which is better, paper or electronic?

A. Although electronic service information has become most popular because of its search and update efficiencies, the traditional print format is still a viable way to get information. For example, print information works well for simpler information needs like looking up the specifications related to performing an oil change. Overall, you may find that the best information library for you consists of electronic and paper sources. 

Q. How do technical service bulletins (TSBs) fit into the overall service information picture? Some of my guys here say they only apply to dealers. Is that true?

A. No, that’s not true. Technical service bulletins, or TSBs, provide a supplementary source of information that goes beyond manuals. TSBs often replace published procedures, specifications or capacities used during vehicle service and may also address in-service problems. For these reasons, you should always consult TSBs prior to beginning work. TSB’s can also generate additional service opportunities for your shop and help build customer confidence.

Q. Even with the best service information resources, we need help with the really tough problems from time-to-time. Sometimes we just need additional expertise!

A. Auto repair is a vocation of many battles; each against an elusive opponent that has different characteristics and countries of origin. On Monday, you may have outfoxed all of your foes using your diagnostic prowess to its fullest. Ah, yes, on such a day life is good and your confidence grows to new heights. Come Tuesday, though, and you could be in for a humbling experience. Fact is, the battlefield of auto repair has an area akin to a minefield that can explode on any given day, destroying the chances of performing a job profitably, or to the satisfaction of the customer. No matter how much experience you've accrued or the extent of your training, you will wander into the minefield from time to time and will find yourself trapped, looking for a way out.

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