March 2009, Broomfield, Colo. -- Advancements in vehicle technology are forcing independent repairers to equip themselves with a wide range of scan tools and service information if they wish to accurately diagnose and repair customers' vehicles.
Andy Eberstadt, owner of 5th Gear Automotive Service Inc., said he tries not to think about how much money he has invested in OEM and aftermarket scan tools over the years but that he can justify the expense because of the diversity of his customers' vehicles and adequate volume of ROs.
"Having the OEM scan tools makes an amazing difference," Eberstadt said. "I try to justify which scan tools to have by the types of cars coming in."Many times, aftermarket scan tools get you going in the right direction, he said, adding that other methods of retrieving information are often necessary, especially for various control modules. That usually leads to buying a subscription to an automaker's service information Web site or buying the OEM scan tool, he said.The laundry list of important scan tools and software that Eberstadt has equipped his shop with include Ford IDS laptop software, Chrysler DRB III, GM Tech II, Bosch Mastertech, Prog Rama's PC Retriever, Snap-on Modis, Launch X431, RossTech VAG tool, and the Ease Diagnostics J2534 Universal Reprogrammer that allows him to reflash modules for GM, Ford, Chrysler, and Toyota. "When I started my business, I just specialized in imports," Eberstadt said, reflecting on his shop's start in 1981 in Northglenn at the time. "But you have to work on other makes and models to make it." Often times, family members have other domestic makes they want you to work on, he pointed out.
In addition to scan tools, he said he equips the shop with many specialty hand tools for specific jobs. For example, he said, he purchased a special, timing-belt tool from Assenmacher Specialty Tools in Boulder to perform jobs on Audis. Many aftermarket data providers and Web sites are also vital sources of information, he said. Aftermarket service information providers, such as All Data, Mitchell, Identifix, and networking on iATN, aid in troubleshooting, Eberstadt said, adding that many times he looks for technical service bulletins (TSBs) associated with the specific trouble code. Having the right scan tool to hook up to the vehicle is just half the battle, he said, adding that retrieving data to replicate the drivability problem is the other half.
"People are taking longer to make major decisions," he said. "But they also are telling me they want to keep their car longer and make it last a few more years."