It's always challenging to keep up with the changing technology in the automotive industry. As soon as you master a system on a vehicle or a piece of equipment, the manufacturers change the design, rendering knowledge and/or equipment obsolete. One of the hardest decisions for a shop owner to make when dealing with change is determining the right shop equipment purchases.
One example is tire-mounting equipment. Larger alloy wheels and low profile tires that are standard on many new vehicles have rendered the traditional tire machines useless. Wheel balancers and alignment equipment also must be modified or replaced to accommodate these changes.
Other examples include the radical changes A/C service equipment underwent with the advent of R-134a and the endless, ongoing changes to diagnostic scanners. Technological changes have affected brake equipment and business management software as well. All this comes at a price — in terms of time, effort, training and money.
A business owner must invest time in research so he or she can make a solid decision when purchasing a new piece of shop equipment. Among the first questions asked should be: What is the projected return on investment (ROI) and over what time period? Other factors to consider are ease of use, space requirements, installation costs and maintenance and operating expenses.
Like technicians who can't rush out to buy every specialty tool the manufacturers recommend, shop owners know two things would happen if they bought every piece of equipment when it debuts: they would not have enough space to store the equipment and they would go broke buying it all. Instead, the shop owner must determine if the existing equipment can be used to complete the job, if an upgrade/ replacement is required or if an upgrade would make the procedure so much easier or faster that the equipment would pay for itself.
When plasma TVs first hit the market, they were expensive. But prices dropped over time because of competition, higher production volume and manufacturing efficiencies. In many cases, the same holds true with automotive service equipment. If you're the first one on the block to purchase the latest and greatest piece of equipment, you might pay a premium price and might not have a lot of options when choosing the manufacturer. Sometimes it's best if a shop owner waits to see who develops the best piece of equipment to suit his or her needs.
Trade magazines as well as the Internet are valuable resources when it comes to keeping current with the constant changes in the automotive industry. There are hundreds of articles written about the different types of shop equipment and tools that can be used to determine the next equipment purchase. Networking with other shop owners and technicians through a service dealer group or in an online format also will provide first-hand knowledge from people who have used the equipment in a working environment.
Your shop customers should always ask their equipment representative to come out and demonstrate the product to them and their technicians. If the technicians don't see the advantages of a new piece of equipment, the investment will sit in a corner and collect dust. Although thorough research takes more time up front, it will save a lot of aggravation later.
Chuck Hartogh is vice president and co-founder of C&M Auto Service Inc. of Glenview, Ill. and Vernon Hills, Ill., and is an ASE-Certified Master, L1 Technician. (ASA).