Service information resources offer more data, faster

Not so long ago, service information used to be something that technicians usually referred to when they needed a reference for specifications. You know, the usual torque specifications, tightening sequence or exploded diagram that were normally looked up with a job already under way. Then, technology began to grow. Next, it exploded when computer controls took on every facet of vehicle operation. Before you knew it, few things in the service bay seemed familiar anymore due to all the changes.

This explosion triggered a tsunami in information publishing, and things have never been the same. At one point, knowledgeable techs prided themselves on how much they knew, just in case they needed it. Well, the just-in-case era is over. There is simply too much technical information for anyone to remember.

Welcome to a new era, the just-in-time era: In this new era, techs use a different methodology when using information. Nowadays, they take a proactive role and use service information before a job even begins. It seems like it should have always been this way. When you consider that roughly half of a technician’s time is spent searching for information, there simply had to be a better way.

In this issue’s Tool Q&A column, we’ll address some of the questions related to service information. There’ve been a lot of changes and there are a lot more on the way.

Q: Overall, what should I consider when shopping for a service information system?

A: The first thing to consider is whether a given system provides all necessary information for the range of vehicles that you service. Another thing to consider is the origin and structure of the information. In other words, is the information straight from an OE manufacturer, or has it undergone editing by, or actually originated from, technical editors to ensure the information is more real-world?

It’s also worthy to consider whether the system you’re considering integrates with your shop management system so information can be shared between systems. This is helpful for passing customer profiles and repair information between various shop systems. Finally, make sure the system is scalable to your needs, meaning that it can grow with your business as it expands.

Q: We’d like to access electronic service information with devices other than desktop computers,including tablets and smartphones. Is there anything on tap for these devices?

A: Yes, some systems can already be accessed with these types of devices and more are on the way. Mobile devices are evolving quickly and you can rest assured that companies will offer service information “apps” and sites formatted with mobile-friendly designs.


Q: How does a “hotline-based” information system differ from standard information systems?

A: Hotline-based information systems use a pool of technical experts to contribute service information that goes above and beyond OE-based publications. These information systems include relevant and valuable real-world information that may prove critical long before a manufacturer gets around to publishing it. Plus, if you get in a technical jam, you simply can’t beat the help provided by the experts there who can save your day. Bottom line: hotline-based systems focus on improving your shop’s productivity.

Q: Since it seems like everything’s headed towards a digital world, does this mean printed manuals will no longer be offered?

A: No way. Hard copy service manuals have been the mainstay of service information sources since the dawn of the automotive era. Although electronic forms of service information continue to grow, printed sources still remain popular because of their low-tech simplicity. And, since some shops don’t need access to information for all makes and models, printed manuals aren’t going to go away overnight.

Printed information also gives you a wide range of flexibility, because you can buy only what you need without worrying about the overhead of a computer-based system; the only tool needed is a set of reading glasses. You can buy just the information that fits the specific services you perform or you can build a virtual library to cover all the bases. Although service manuals are the main products of the printed world, hard copy information also comes in the way of technical service bulletins, labor estimating guides, wiring diagrams, and system-specific training guides.

Q: OK, so we’ve nailed our choices down to three different service information systems. Other than demonstrated features, what’s the best way to pit one against the other to see which we like best?

A: Perhaps the best way to orchestrate such a showdown is to get your techs together and run a series of information searches that are relevant to the real scenarios you face daily. If you need to, do it after hours to make sure everyone has a say in the selection. Buy pizza for your group; it’ll make it fun and more productive.

Another way to gain more insight is to pull some sample repair orders and use the scenarios on them to see how the different systems stack up against one another. Remember, too, that if you run a shop that caters to clientele with a broad mix of vehicles, make sure that you consider some of the more exotic makes in your sample scenarios.


Q: One of the service information system providers I spoke with mentioned something about iSHOP integration and certification. What’s it all about?

A: iSHOP is a set of computer interface standards that allow vehicle service equipment, management software and information servers to communicate seamlessly in the shop environment. iSHOP enables shop equipment from a variety of makers to share information about the customer, the vehicle and the service work performed – all without re-entering information multiple times or moving from one computer to another. With iSHOP, technicians are more productive and remain focused on the service of the vehicle because the information required is available at their fingertips.


Q: We already have a service information system, but are wondering if you could direct us to other Internet-based information resources that may be helpful?

A: There are several sites you should be aware of. The International Automotive Technicians Network ( is the largest network of automotive repair professionals in the world: a group of 75,483 automotive professionals from 158 countries. The members of this group exchange technical knowledge with their peers around the globe, sharing 1.7 million years of experience. iATN has been proudly serving the automotive service and repair industry and the needs of professional automotive mechanics around the world for over 15 years.

Another great resource is the U.S. EPA’s Motor Vehicle Air Conditioning site (, which features information on alternative refrigerants, regulations and impending changes to Section 609 certification programs.

Also take the time to check out the site of the Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI) at On the site you will find information about state emissions testing and other resources useful as a technician.

Finally, visit the site of the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) at The National Automotive Service Task Force is a not-for-profit, no-dues task force established to facilitate the identification and correction of gaps in the availability and accessibility of automotive service information, service training, diagnostic tools and equipment, and communications for the benefit of automotive service professionals. NASTF is a voluntary, cooperative effort among the automotive service industry, the equipment and tool industry, and automotive manufacturers.


Q: What about updates for electronic service information systems?

A: This is one area where these types of systems shine. In the old CD-based days, systems relied on update CDs with new content to update your technical library. The “freshness” of that technical library was only as good as your last update CD.

Today, with the almost universal adoption of the Internet, all that has changed. The Internet enables information publishers to put out updates on a continuous basis, by updating web content. The main thing is that the information is the latest available when you go to access it. So, as long as you subscribe to the updates by a given provider, you can be assured you have the latest information the next time you log on.


Q: Service information systems cost money. Should I add an “information access fee” to my repair orders to help offset costs?

A: That’s a business decision that’s best left up to you in terms of your overall cost structure. One thing you may want to consider is that using a service information system properly should help improve your shop’s overall productivity. That alone should more than offset the cost of the system you purchase.


Thanks for checking out this month’s Tool Q&A column. Remember, this is your column, because it’s based off of your questions. So, let PTEN know what’s on your mind when it comes to tools and equipment.