South Buckner Auto Clinic, Inc.
6414 C.F. Hawn Frwy. Suite 6
Dallas, TX 75217 (214)398-6097 Fax (214)398-1660
June 7, 1997
First, I want to list our equipment that you asked for, or at least a few items of interest.
1. An Allen SEA diagnostic machine. This machine is capable of automatic and manual testing of the engine fuel system, ignition system, dynamic compression, cylinder balance, charging system, starting system, and on many vehicles, the on-board computer system. It's oscilloscope is "live" rather than "updated", allowing more accurate lab scope tests on low voltage circuits. Live scopes have fallen from favor in recent years, and the Allen SEA, which unfortunately is no longer manufactured, is probably the last of a dying breed. It is still a good analyzer, and in my opinion, the best in the world. It is probably the most common high tech analyzer found in repair shops today and it is the possibly the only one that can perform "cylinder kills" on vehicles with distributorless ignition systems.
2. A Sun MCS2500 diagnostic machine. This is a PC based diagnostic machine that is really multiple machines in one cabinet. The purchaser can choose how much or how little of this system he wants to purchase. Ours consists of an engine analyzer, a complete Mitchell AutoRepair Database, consisting of many CD rom discs, and Edge Diagnostics SimuTech (the ultimate analyzer for on-board computer systems).
Suns engine analyzer, included with this system, has many good points, most notably, it has much easier hookups for engines with distributorless ignition systems. The downside is, it will not allow cylinder kills (power balance tests) on DIS systems. It does have a dynamic cylinder balance tests which kind of makes a guess at which cylinder(s) are weak. Except for the easy hookup on DIS vehicles, it doesn't even compare to the Allen. The gas bench on our Sun analyzer has failed repeatedly, although Sun claims this is very rare.
SimuTech is without a doubt, the most marvelous invention we have encountered in the autorepair business. SimuTech interfaces directly with the on-board computer of a vehicle, or the anti-lock brake system of a vehicle, and then wire by wire, systematically measures the resistance, present voltage, and current flow through each circuit the on-board computer monitors. It can test each and every circuit, once completely hooked up to the vehicle and programmed, in about a minute. The technician with an ohmmeter and a wiring diagram would likely spend hours testing each of those circuits, and because of the shear volume of wires, he would make many mistakes requiring him to retest frequently. It can also be set up to monitor up to six circuits at a time on the oscilloscope, allowing a technician to spot intermittent problems "live" (or almost live) as they happen. The SimuTech is the ultimate diagnostic tool for on-board computer systems available today in my opinion.
Why don't all shops have one? The price, not of the machine, but of the leads to connect to the myriad of different cars out there. The SimuTech, that can be purchased separately from the rest of the analyzer, and will work with most any IBM compatible computer, only costs a few thousand dollars; nothing for auto repair equipment. The leads necessary to interface it with the vehicle, cost anywhere from $250 to $1100 each, and there are probably at least seventy-five different leads available if you wish to work on all the cars out there. Then there is the cost of the annual software updates (common to all analyzers).
Although we could never give Edge enough good advertisement about their product, I don't look for it to be a commonly found piece of equipment in repair shops until something is done about the price of the leads.
The third piece of equipment on the Sun machine is the Mitchell repair database. Mitchell sold it to Sun, so it is no longer called Mitchell On-Demand, but it is the same thing. It is the most important piece of equipment in the shop because it is knowledge. It was once considered shameful for a technician to look something up in a book. He was simply supposed to know everything by heart, and if he was caught looking in a book by a customer, the customer assumed that he did not know what he was doing. Nothing is further from the truth anymore. A technician can and must use repair information on each vehicle that he works on, especially at an independent shop where so many different makes and models of vehicles come in.
Mitchell is not the only one out there, but having owned some of the other ones that are available, our opinion is that Mitchell is the only one to have!
3. We use a Hunter G111 computerized alignment system. The G111 is not their top of the line model, but for the most part, the size of the monitor screen that the technician looks at is the main difference. The software and alignment specs are the same. It is a very accurate piece of equipment that causes most alignment mistakes to be labeled "pilot error" and not a problem with the machine. We have owned it for seven years, and except for annual software updates and maintenance, it has never cost us a penny in repairs. I can not say that about any other piece of equipment we have owned, and as a matter of fact, equipment repair costs for the most part are very high and often.
4. RO Writer is the name of the computer business software that we use. It was written exclusively for the auto repair business. It keeps accurate repair records, available for any customer on request, and it lets us know if we are making it, or if we should start looking for another job because bankruptcy is looming close by. It is a very excellent dos based program for auto repair shops. It will run on most networks (we use Novell, but the company that writes the program likes Lantastic), but it has record locking problems that persist version after version. They are only a nuisance and do not cause data loss, however. From a personal view, RO Writer is the fourth auto repair software we have purchased, and we have found fault with all of them. Since I have tried to program in several languages for years, I understand what they are up against, and feel that RO Writer is about the best we can find.
Most people come into the shop and ask us if we have one of those machines that tells you everything wrong with their car. Unfortunately, there is no such machine, and if their was, we would be the first to own one at any cost! As a matter of fact, there is not a machine in existence that will tell you anything wrong with a car. They only give you specific information about what you tell them to look for, and it is up to the technician to interpret that information to come up with the correct fix for that particular vehicle.
Unfortunately, this information can almost always be interpreted more than one way, and often many ways. Ten technicians under certain circumstances would come up with ten different diagnoses if all they had to work with was a single printout. Therefore, the technician must then apply one or very many manual tests to confirm or discredit his original conclusion. Remember as I said before, mistakes in the automotive repair business are generally not viewed as mistakes. If you perform the wrong fix, you are a crook. People who are at least a little bit mechanically inclined about their vehicle might interpret it as a mistake. The customer who knows nothing about his car, however, and therefore lives in fear of auto repair shops, will always view a mistake as an act of dishonesty.
About all a repair shop can do is try and educate their customers on what can be expected realistically, and what not to expect. Depending on the individual, this may be a pleasant conversation that only takes a few minutes, or it might be a conversation that tries the patience of both parties, and may take more time than the actual repair time of the vehicle. The service writer should try his best to gain the confidence of the customer and take time when possible to explain to the customer what the shop is up against.
For instance, a complaint of an engine dead miss at all times can usually be diagnosed quickly, while a complaint of an intermittent miss that occurs once a week only for a second, stands a poor chance of being found with any amount of equipment. In such a case, one shop might work diligently on the car for days, never see the problem occur, and therefore, not fix it. The customer may later try another shop, in which case, the car might be exhibiting the problem on arrival. In the second case, that technician would likely be able to repair it in only a minute, whereas, technician A never stood a chance. This customer will undoubtedly brag to the world that technician A is dumb as a rock, and technician B is a real brain. In reality the opposite might be true.
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