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Technology Vs. Serviceability

New technology should not get in the way of serviceability
by Bob Chabot

In my view, it is not enough that new automotive technology provide motorists with more performance, safety or some other desired functionality and/or benefit. New technology must also be developed with serviceability in mind from the get-go. Moreover, we must be embrace, rather than resist new technology, for our survival depends on it.

Recently, I attended the Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI) 2011 Winter Tech Week (a trade-orientated event), then shortly thereafter the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (a consumer-orientated event). I attended the events out of personal interest and also to research some articles regarding the interest of automakers in Ethernet-based communications systems and the increasing adoption of HTML5 as the software coding of choice by automakers.

While at these industry events, I came across two anecdotes that give us pause to think about the impact that new technology can have:
  • The first story (refer to the left-hand column below) comes from the curator of the Automobile Driving Museum, located in El Segunda, CA 1928, which ETI Winter Tech Week attendees visited. Like sorting wheat from chaff, it speaks to the need to first discern “relevant” inbound innovation from the ocean of emerging technology, then adapting to it in a timely fashion.
  • The second anecdote (right-hand column below) comes from Andy Glyc, who serves as the product manager for QNX Software Systems Ltd., which develops HTML5-based software for in-vehicle infotainment systems, telematic and other automotive applications. In a presentation at the 2011 QNX Auto Summit last October in Nagoya, Japan, he focused on vehicle serviceability. He shared a personal experience, framed around a single question that he posed to the audience.
"Change or get left behind"
 “How Many Car Guys Does it Take to Change a Headlight Bulb?”
In 1927, Ford Motor Co. announced that it would replace the "Tin Lizzie" Model T (left), which had been in production from 1908 until 1927, with the all-new Model A (right).

Upon its introduction in 1928, C. R. Gleason Co., an independent repair shop in North Dakota, sent the following letter to all of its customers who happened to own the older Model T vehicle:

Dear Sir,

We are writing this letter to you today because we want to help you get your money out of your Ford Model T. It's still as good a car as the day the new Model A was announced and there's no need to sacrifice it.

The Model T Ford is still used by more people than any other automobile. Eight million are in active service right now, and many of them can be driven one, two, three and five years and even longer.

Bring your car to us and let us look it over. You'll be surprised to see how little it costs to put it in tip-top shape.

New fenders, for instance, cost from $3.50 to $5.00 each, with a labor charge of $1.00 to $2.50. Tuning up the motor and replacing the commutator case, brush and vibrator points costs only $1.00, with a small charge for material.

Brake shoes can be installed and emergency brakes equalized for a labor charge of only $1.25. A labor charge of $4.00 to $5.00 will cover the overhauling of the front axle, rebushing springs and spring perches and straightening, aligning and adjusting wheels.

The labor charge for overhauling the average rear axle runs from $5.75 to $7.00. Grinding valves and cleaning carbon can be done for $3.00 to $4.00. A set of four new pistons and rings only costs $7.00.

For a labor charge of $20 to $25 you can have your motor and transmission completely overhauled. Parts are extra.

Very truly yours,

C. R. Gleason Co.

For the record, the C. R. Gleason Co. independent shop is no longer in business. A General Motors dealership, Theel Inc., now sits on the former shop's site. In Gleason's case, there was certainly merit in trying to demonstrate the affordability of maintaining the older Model "T" compared to the new Model "A," with examples of both minor and major service.

While this anecdote is about an independent shop, it can just as easily apply to other businesses. Perhaps you can think of dealerships, suppliers or automakers that were not able to change with the times in recent years?
Glyc asked everyone to make a mental note of their answer to that question. Then he continued.

His answer to the riddle, by the way, was three people normally, but only one if you've already lifted the engine block out of the way! He then explained why.

"My girlfriend had one of her Honda Civic headlights burn out, and she asked me if I could fix it. My male chivalry and handyman pride made me jump at the opportunity to help! I naively went out to the car with a screwdriver, expecting to maybe loosen the screws around the light enclosure, pop out the bulb, put in the new one, and dust off my hands for a well deserved beer in one minute flat."

"It became immediately obvious that Honda had built something much more nefarious in mind when they built the Civic. No screws. You had to remove the bulb from the back, but there was no any obvious way for a human hand - well, no adult human, anyway - to fit in the allotted space."

"I went back into the house, grabbed a handful of tools this time, and spent the next 20 minutes trying to figure out which parts of the vehicle needed to be disassembled to get at the light bulb. This wasn't immediately fruitful either, so I went back in the house and consulted the Internet."

"Low and behold, I wasn't just an idiot."

"I found many other posts from many other similarly delighted Honda Civic owners. It looked like the most popular solution was to remove the battery, battery cage and power steering pump mounts, lift the power steering out of the way, and then you could probably get at the bulb.

That was more of a challenge than I was really looking for, I'm afraid, so I went back to my girlfriend, tail between my legs, and shamefully recommnded that she take it to her dealer."

"I couldn't help smiling at her retelling of the dealer visit. Here's what happened next."

"The first technician came out, all confident with a line something like 'Well, many guys don't really know how to do car stuff, so we'll take care of it."

Then he spent about 15 minutes digging around, trying to discover how on earth you get the stupid bulb out. He then had to call over his boss to get assistance. They did end up replacing the bulb, but it was a more complicated procedure than the technician expected it to be."

"So tally it up - me and two mechanics - that makes it three guys to replace her Honda Civic light bulb." He also noted that Honda was just the example here; many other instances exist.
Lesson learned?
Change happens. But the failure to identify real and lasting inbound change over time, then adapt to it demonstrates that attitude and timing matter. Stubbornly hanging onto the past at all costs is a sure road to failure. For some shops, it may take several such instances to erode viability; for other shops, once may be enough.
Lesson learned?
Serviceability matters. This example reflects how little attention is too often paid by the industry undefined regulators, automakers, Tier 1 companies and others undefined to integrating serviceability into innovation, beginning at the design stage then throughout a vehicle’s life. Consumers and those who fix their automobiles deserve better.

Recognize relevant inbound change
One often reads, sees or hears in a press release or some other glossy marketing piece catchy buzzwords undefined lightweight, economical, fuel efficient, improved performance, integrated safety, OEM fit and finish, etc. Let me ask you: When was the last time you heard the keyword ‘serviceability’ (or a synonym) used to market innovation to consumers? For those who can name one instance, when was the time before that?

Automotive service and repair businesses need an early radar warning system that detects new inbound realities that will impact their market and the nature of services they provide undefined well before it shows up in service bays. Fortunately, there are several meaningful resources that can help shops identify emerging service trends, provide time for meaningful consideration and chart their future direction.

For instance:
  • Learn what technological changes are inbound undefined typically with several years leadtime undefined by attending key industry events hosted by ETI, the Society of Automotive Engineers (e.g. World Congress) and others.
  • Be aware of the role and follow the progress of certain automotive industry organizations dedicated to serving our entire industry, which not by chance includes ETI and SAE, as well as others such as the National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) or the Mobile Air Conditioning Society (MACS) Worldwide.
  • Then plan, prepare and train to be service-ready with the knowledge, tools and equipment, as well as the competency to use fully all three resources when the time comes. For example, during ETI Winter Tech Week in December 2011, almost every automaker stated that they would introduce more production-series hybrid and electric vehicles and continue the electrification of their other vehicle platforms. It’s critical that service and repair facilities recognize and discern the changes that will impact them, and then gain the service knowledge, train for the incoming change and tool-up accordingly.
 ETI: An Industry Enabler
The Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI) is focused on improving vehicle serviceability as early in the manufacturing process as possible.

ETI hosts several key industry meetings -- ToolTech, Summer Tech Week, and Winter Tech Week --  that enable all automakers to share scan tool, service procedures, underhood, undercar and collision information with tool and equipment manufacturers and others in the aftermarket.

This enables effective and efficient tools and equipment to be developed sooner than in years past, often before a new model is sold.
What if vehicle design was service- and consumer-centric?
The rush to innovation, without keeping serviceability and timing in mind, is not without a price; the Honda and Ford anecdotes demonstrate that. You may have your own war stories to tell. It’s time automakers listened.

While it is difficult to innovate and develop new, improved technology, ultimately, it is those downstream of design undefined such as aftermarket businesses and consumers undefined who pay for it one way or the other. Foisting higher than necessary service and repair costs by “design” upon consumers and service facilities of all types to sort out and pay for is unfair and in my view, irresponsible to vehicle owners undefined our shared customers. It also begs the real issue. We need to retool our mindset. We’re better than that.

The choice of design path is a matter of each OEM’s will. Continuing to treat serviceability just in terms of associated service information and procedures, tools, equipment and training, much of which is too often developed slightly before, or just after, new technology is introduced is yesterday’s paradigm. Vehicle serviceability should not be an afterthought.

All innovation will need to be serviced and repaired throughout the lifetime of a vehicle. Those who build the tools and equipment for those who fix cars for those who own them expect and deserve more from the automobile industry. It’s time to put those who buy vehicles first.

Regulators, manufacturers, suppliers, associations, distributors, educators and others involved need to consider and incorporate the serviceability of any new technology undefined from the design stage throughout the vehicle’s lifetime undefined into the decisions they make. Serviceability doesn’t end when a new model is introduced; nor does it end when warranties expire. Consumer-centric, vehicle-lifetime serviceability matters. It is also change that is relevant to everyone.



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