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April 29, 2014

News & Features

Technology advances add up for auto shops

The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

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Tom Mosca, of Maple Auto Repair in Fair Lawn, N.J., uses a scanner from Snap-on to diagnose car troubles. The scanner needs updating periodically as cars and codes change. (Tyson Trish / The Record (Hackensack, N.J.))

Changing technology might make car owners' driving experiences easier, but some auto repair shop owners' expenses have increased as they add new equipment to their business.

The days of lifting the hood of an ailing vehicle and snooping for a problem are gone. Now, auto repair shops are outfitted with scanners that diagnose problems in car engines, and they must buy expensive equipment to repair vehicles.

"We have to stay on top on what is changing," says Randy Harris, manager at J&J Auto Maintenance in Waldwick, N.J. "You either keep up or get left behind, but it costs you to keep up."

Repairs that used to be routine have become a full-blown computer exercise, Harris says. Cars that enter the market today use computer technology for anti-lock brakes, air bags, air conditioning, engine-emissions monitoring and navigating systems.

Most common warnings
    In its 2014 Vehicle Health Index, CarMD says these are the top five check- engine-light-related car repairs:
    1. Replace oxygen sensor
    2. Tighten or replace fuel cap
    3. Replace catalytic converter
    4. Replace spark plug(s) and wire(s)
    5. Replace mass air-flow sensor
    NWautos staff


Auto repair shop owners say increased competition from other independent auto repair shops, as well as specialized stores that focus on one brand of vehicle, have sliced margins for them, making any technology-related expense even more important to consider.

Tom Mosca, the owner of Maple Auto Repair in Fair Lawn, N.J., says the best example of his shop's increased use of technology is the Snap-on OBDII scanner, an on-board diagnostic scanner, which he uses on most of the cars that come into his shop.

When the "check engine" light illuminates in a car, Mosca says, the OBDII — which he purchased for $8,000 — can be plugged into the engine and will diagnose the area of concern by providing a specific code.

The codes, however, are constantly updated by manufacturers, Mosca says, and the manufacturers charge the auto repair shops for access to the new codes. Mosca says the last update to his OBDII cost $1,300, and he updates it every other year.

J&J Auto Maintenance owner Nancy Luce says she sends her employees to I-Car collision repair classes online and to vocational schools to learn about the changing car technology.

"Classes can run anywhere from $200 to $700, depending on the kind of class," Luce says. "It's a big investment."

Wayne (N.J.) Auto Clinic owner Ayad Shuaib says the changing technology was at the forefront of his mind when he opened his store four years ago. Shuaib says he initially spent $100,000 to lease different equipment that uses technology to help him not only diagnose cars, but also fix problems.

Despite the ability to spot problems in a vehicle more quickly, Shuaib says the human element of auto repair is imperative.

"Computers can guide us where to look, but you still have to rely on the human brain and the professional experience of the mechanics to find where the roots of the problems are," Shuaib says. "Unless a computer has learned every trick in the book, the human element and knowledge in auto repair — which is truly a science — has to apply."

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