Auto Service World
Feature   September 1, 2014   by CARS Magazine

Growing Specialization

A result of growing vehicle complexity is the need for specialization.

A result of growing vehicle complexity is the need for specialization.

SSGM’s long-time technical editor Jim Anderton discovered this when working on an Infiniti G35 with a particular engine issue. In order to properly diagnose and fix the problem, Jim needed to get the technical manual for that engine. Not too much of a problem . . . that is until he discovered that the manual was some 1,300 pages in length!

Remember, that is just for the engine. Manuals for the other vehicle systems were of equal size. Combine them all and it is as if someone had merged À la recherche du temps perdu, Gravity’s Rainbow and Clarissa into a single volume, then appended War and Peace just for good measure.

Why the need for such comprehensive volumes? It is because the systems on today’s vehicles are so complex, with numerous controls, sensors and computers, that a simple mechanical fix is now almost a thing of the past.

This is going to be a growing issue for technicians in the coming years. Technicians will have to develop specialized skills in order to work on specific vehicle systems. That should not come as a surprise. If one has to use a 1,300 page manual just to diagnose and fix an engine, the only way a technician is going to become competent in diagnosing and fixing engines of similar or greater complexity is by devoting considerable time and energy to becoming an expert on such engines. An analogy can be made with medical specialists. Brain and heart surgeons spend years becoming experts in their chosen fields, knowing the intricacies of the organs they diagnose and operate upon. I would not expect a heart surgeon to operate on someone’s brain as I would not expect a brain surgeon to crack open my chest and start fiddling with my ticker.

I’ve seen this in some service shops already – not the surgery part, mind you. Some technicians are singled out for their expertise in diagnosing and fixing certain systems. Yes, they can pinch-hit if one needs an exhaust replaced or some other job done. But these technicians are there to tackle specific vehicle systems and they are always upgrading their skills to stay on top of things.

I believe that this is going to become more common in the near future. With vehicles relying on more complex systems and computer controls (just take a look at some transmissions today), there is going to be a natural shift to specialization amongst technicians.

There may even be a shift towards specialization amongst service shops, deciding that more profit can be made focusing on servicing specific vehicle types. In this way they can focus resources and training on becoming experts on those vehicle types and systems, and having the right tools and systems for the job. In Vancouver, I came across a couple of shops that only worked on BMW and Audi vehicles. The shops had been in business for decades with loyal customers, some of whom come from great distances to have their vehicles serviced. When they advertise that their technicians are experts, there can be no doubt that is true.

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