Automotive aftermarket shops fall into two categories.
The first are the proactive. They are those who embrace change enthusiastically and invest in their facility, equipment, business and talent. Equipment and software are purchased, services are advertised and staff are trained. When vehicles equipped with the ‘new’ technology require service and repair, the shop and staff are ready.
Then there are the shops which embrace change slowly — the reactive. These are the shops that wait until vehicles sporting the said ‘new’ technology are in their bays. These shops then realize they are ill-equipped to repair these vehicles. There are stark reasons why the vehicle with this technology is not serviceable at this shop, such as inadequate service information, a lack of proper equipment on the premises or staff who do not have the proper training. Those falling under this category require the most time to rectify the deficiency. Training takes time.
These examples have been the norm for decades. I could not begin to count the number of Friday afternoon phone calls I’ve taken from technicians and shop owners asking for diagnostic help on a vehicle.
Many times, the technician has taken a training class on the topic and may want to double-check their data or needs to clarify a key point we discussed during class.
Then there are the others, like those who wait until they are neck-deep in a problem vehicle and don’t have the training or skills to get through the diagnosis. In either case, I am happy to help as best I can, usually with positive results. Often, on a Friday afternoon.
Now add hybrid and battery electric vehicles into the mix. Unless the technician calling has taken training, they get a flat-out “No, sorry, you should not be working on this vehicle.”
To quote the words of a friend: “Some may say the waves are far from the shore.” Those days have passed. According to Statistics Canada, in 2021, there were more than 303,00 hybrids and more than 152,00 EVs on our roads.
Since then, numbers have increased dramatically. Older hybrids that were sitting idle may be back on the road. Stats also show that hybrids and battery electric vehicles are also increasing in popularity in rural and northern communities.
The service and repair of hybrids and BEVs requires preparation. Businesses need to be ready. Gone are the glory days of ‘muddling through’ modern technology. These vehicles are different. These are entirely different propulsion systems.
When it comes to hybrids and EVs, learning by making mistakes can be fatal. Period.
Safety must be policy if you plan to service BEVs. Business owners and technicians have heard about it for years now. Technicians might have taken classes — a long time ago — where safety was discussed. It’s time to consider all the pieces to the safety puzzle for an automotive repair business.
Towing and recovery
If your business model includes operating a towing/recovery service, consider the daily activities of your operators.
There is the obvious possibility of damage to the vehicle during recovery or while securing one to the towing vehicle. Components in these vehicles reduce weight by design and are easily damaged. Lockout service or boosting may require special procedures.
What are the limits to roadside service and what is safe to touch on a hybrid or BEV?
Chargers and parking
Shop owners might want to install Level 2 chargers in their parking lot to help promote their electric services. Have you carefully considered the location of your charger(s)? This may also be the time to decide on a safe area to locate EV-specific parking spots. Does your insurance company have anything to say about this? Should you designate “EV tow-in” spaces?
Counter staff require training to do their jobs around EVs. This goes beyond the obvious requirement to understand EV components and their operation for quoting and explanation of work to customers. All staff must require training to safely interact with technicians who are performing work on exposed high-voltage systems. A safe distance should exist from the dangerous area.
We all know customers should not be on the shop floor. They may try to enter the shop through the reception area or open bay doors. Supervision is necessary.
While ordering promotional signage to advertise your shop’s hybrid/EV repair expertise, it may be time to upgrade or install signage to help keep customers out of the service bays. “Danger – High Voltage” signage applies here.
The EV service area should be strategically located. High-traffic areas are not appropriate. The bay next to the front counter is not the best choice. Traction batteries and interior panels, when removed, require space. Not all battery packs are serviceable but for those that are, the work area must be suitably spacious. Consider the storage of a removed battery pack after the workday is over.
Identify EVs undergoing high voltage system service in the shop as “dangerous” using a buffer zone. Warning cones and boundary tape work for this. Emergency equipment for electrocution and fire should be readily available in this area. In the unlikely event that an EV must move outside in an emergency, it should have a straight path leading outside and away from the building.
Tools and equipment
Your shop may already have equipment that is useful and safe to use on EVs. CAT III 1000v is the standard for digital multimeters. Lab scopes will require differential probes. High voltage glove certification expires every six months. Battery packs are heavy and may be located inside or underneath a vehicle. Inspect tools and equipment before every use. An assortment of insulated tools rated at 1000v should be on-hand.
The last piece of the safety puzzle is the technician. They require hybrid/EV training. This instructor is a firm believer in hands-on training. Safe work habits develop and become routine through this training model.
Testing and wearing proper PPE should become automatic. A vehicle safe-down and confirmation should become automatic. Proper work methods and procedures should become automatic. Eliminating the possibility of becoming part of a live high-voltage circuit should be automatic. Using equipment safely should become automatic.
This is too much to implement on a Friday afternoon.
Mike Bailey is chief technical and developmental officer and co-founder of Environmental Motorworks. He is a licensed 310S and 310T Technician in Ontario and is certified to deliver HRAI’s Ozone Depletion Certification Program, as well as the EPA Section 609 Automotive Refrigerant Training Program in the U.S.