It all starts with the right information

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

That's where the secret weapon called the diagnostic hotline comes into play. With such a service, you can summon the collective expertise of diagnostic experts that can give you the proper coordinates to escape the minefield safely, and save the day. One advantage hotlines have over some of the other information resources is that they have a self-developed database of problems and fixes based off real-world work experience. In other words, a hotline may be able to help you with a field fix long before a service issue ever makes it into a service bulletin or other document.

Q. Is there any place online I can network with my peers to “compare notes” about the challenges we face in our shop from day-to-day?

A. Although there are numerous online forums for auto repair professionals, the most esteemed network for service professionals is the International Automotive Technicians' Network (iATN) found at Representing the largest network of automotive repair professionals in the world, the iATN consists of approximately 74,500 professionals from 156 different countries. The members of this group exchange technical knowledge with their peers around the globe, sharing their combined experience of over 1.7 million years. PTEN sponsors the iATN as a showing of support for you, the service professional.

One quick tip for using the iATN: Don’t get the impression that you can use this network for help instead of service information. The intent of the iATN goes beyond that, when professionals have already sought out the proper technical information, but still can’t get to the bottom of the problem.

Q. We’re actively involved with onboard diagnostics (OBD) and our state emissions program. Is there a central resource we can use to learn more about OBD and I/M programs throughout the country?

A.  The National OBD Clearinghouse, at, is hosted by the Center for Automotive Science and Technology at Weber State University.  The site features an all-things-OBD approach, covering topics such as I/M program information, a vehicle OEM database of DLC locations and TSBs related to I/M, and the status of programs throughout the United States—and a whole lot more.

Q. What do I look for when shopping for and comparing various service information systems?

A. Without question, opinions vary if you were to ask which system is the best. One shop may find that one brand of system works best for their specific needs, while another shop may find another system is a better fit. That’s because there are numerous variables that go into the selection equation, with each one being unique to your particular situation. As some examples, consider available formats (paper vs electronic), Internet vs. disc, the vehicle applications you service most often, the type of work you perform (electrical work requires good schematics), frequency of updates and subscription terms. Of course, there’s the price tag, but try to look at your service information subscription from a value standpoint. That is, which system—given your shop’s specific needs—provides the best cost/benefit ratio? Whatever you do, don’t buy based on promised feature content alone. Try each and every system you’re considering by researching the type of work you perform on vehicles day-in and day-out.

Q. We’ve found that for some vehicle applications we absolutely must have service information from the OE vehicle manufacturer. Where can we go to find out what’s available?

A. Visit the home page of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) at and click on the OEM Service Websites link on the left. This will take you to a page with links to service information availability for each of the different manufacturers. While you’re there, make sure to check out the section on Vehicle Security, and to learn how to become part of the Secure Data Release Model registry.  

Q. We do our best to keep our technicians trained, but need to be aware of sources of where they can get training. Any ideas?

A. Technician training can come through a multitude of avenues, ranging from professional training organizations, tool and equipment vendors, parts suppliers, all the way to manufacturer training. As a strong nucleus for training in your area, always check with the local community college for what's offered there, as well as in the area. NASTF can also help with technician training. Just download the training matrix document from the NASTF website. It gives specific training program availability from the OE manufacturers, including what's available to each audience.  

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