The economic news lately has not been good. There has been a significant downturn in the economy this year, and the prospects for a turnaround anytime soon don’t seem very promising. To make matters worse, gasoline is over $3 a gallon, utility rates are up, food prices are up, virtually all costs of living are up, and taxes are up. Budgets are stretched thin and almost everybody is feeling the pain.
Home sales are down, retail sales are down, new car sales are down, and automotive parts and service sales are down.
So what can you do in times like these? You can do nothing, wait for business to pick up and hope that some of your customers will spend their $600 “economic stimulus” tax rebate check this summer with you on auto maintenance and repairs (which would be a very patriotic “Buy American” kind of thing to do), or you can take advantage of the current economic situation to make some much-needed changes in your business.
If business is slow, it means you and your employees probably have some more time on your hands. Rather than sit around and gripe about the economic bad news or talk about sports, why not use that non-productive time to get some much-needed training on the latest technology? Hybrids are the coming thing, and with soaring fuel prices, their numbers will continue to increase with every new model year. There are already more than a million hybrids on the road today, and in a few years that number will grow tenfold.
If your shop is not up to speed on hybrid technology, now would be a great time to attend some hybrid training clinics so you’ll have an edge over your competition.
Now would also be a good time for you or your technicians to attend any classes or training clinics that you may have considered in the past, but did not attend because you felt you couldn’t spare the time or the manpower. Well, now you can. If your workload is lighter and you have some slack time, use that time to schedule in some training.
Ask your parts suppliers and local schools about any training clinics that may be available. Go online and check out the multitude of new self-study courses that ACDelco, ASA, Bosch, Delphi, Denso, Ford, General Motors, NAPA and other parts suppliers and tool manufacturers have available. Google “automotive training” or “technician training” and see what pops up in the search results.
Check out the Automotive Management Institute (AMI) training guide at www.AMIEducationLink.com. Now would also be an excellent time to make any new tool and equipment purchases or upgrades you’ve been thinking about. Tool manufacturers and distributors are feeling the economic pinch the same as everybody else, and some are offering special deals to stimulate sales. On big-ticket items, it’s a buyer’s market right now, which gives you much more leverage in negotiating a better price and financing terms. Interest rates have dropped significantly, and will likely remain low for a while. So long-term financing of purchases or improvements for your business will cost less in the long run if you finance those purchases now.
When business picks up (which it eventually will), investments that are made today in upgrading shop equipment, diagnostic tools and advanced training will pay you back big dividends later.
Improving your diagnostic skills and repair capabilities to handle the latest technology means you won’t have to send customers back to the new car dealer. High-tech services such as PCM flash reprogramming isn’t just for dealers anymore. Any shop can do it — provided they have the know-how, access to the OEM flash updates and the right pass-through reprogramming tool or scan tool to do the work.
If you’re thinking this sounds great, but you can’t afford to spend the money right now, how are you going to afford it later? Prices for tools and equipment will continue to rise with inflation, and will likely cost more to buy next year than they do today. As for training, if you don’t have the time now, you probably won’t have the time later.
Maybe you think you don’t need to upgrade any of your tools or equipment, or maybe you know-it-all and don’t need to take any training. Think again. If that’s your attitude, you may as well start planning your retirement now because automotive technology isn’t standing still for anybody. It is accelerating at a break-neck pace and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Hybrid vehicles are here now, and many more hybrid models are on the way. Fuel cells are still a few years down the road, but a whole new generation of low emission, clean-running diesel engines will go into production this fall and become increasingly available in both domestic and import makes. On gasoline engines, direct fuel injection is replacing port fuel injection. Onboard diagnostics continues to expand and grow in complexity. All 2008 model year vehicles now have Controller Area Network (CAN) systems that require CAN-compliant scan tools. The number of possible fault codes on many vehicles has exploded from a hundred or so to several thousand! Stability control is being offered as standard equipment on more and more vehicles. Tire pressure monitoring systems are now standard on all 2008 model year cars and light trucks.
Are you up to speed on all of these new technologies? Do you have the diagnostic tools for servicing these late-model vehicles? If you can’t say yes to both of these questions, now is a great time to take advantage of the current economic situation and upgrade your equipment and get the training you need.