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lou's garage

I am surprised at how many people are thinking of going electric for their next car. Customers ask if their next vehicle is electric, will I still be able to service it. The answer to that is yes and no.

Back when I was a newly minted factory-trained Honda technician, I was the first generation to be formally trained on a new technology. It feels insignificant now, but back then electronic fuel injection was just coming in, replacing analog carburetors and it was a huge change. I was young and open minded and absorbed the new concepts. The older technicians in the dealership were slow to adapt as it was completely foreign to them.

Hence, for the first five years of my career I was the go-to guy that dealt with all the new fuel-injected problem cars. I had a large problem with this at the time. Because I was familiar with these new systems, I was the quickest at solving customer’s complaints. Getting the cars fixed quickly was good for customers, but it affected my income as warranty work paid by the manufacturer is usually done at a discounted rate. When a retail customer was paying for an out-of-pocket repair both the dealership and technician were paid the full amount. However, if the manufacturer was paying for the same repair we were paid less. Doing warranty work all day meant my income was generally 25-per-cent less per year than my peers doing all the easier, customer paid work.

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Spending countless unpaid hours attempting to source scarce EV information reminds me of my early struggles. Lots of head scratching for less income. I accept that the roles have reversed and I am becoming the dinosaur. Most of us aging, experienced technicians are approaching retirement and are struggling in the same way. Part of it is an unwillingness or slowness to adapt, but part is that we don’t want to bang our heads on the wall unable to source educational and diagnostic information. Paper manuals are a thing of the past. At the independent repair facility level, we must have costly monthly subscriptions to professional databases that supply repair information and procedures. Unfortunately, the amount of diagnostic information being supplied from EV manufacturers is non-existent because of the lack of any right-to-repair legislation. This means that the third-party companies that provide us this critical information have no coverage for anything electric.

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EV maintenance in general, dealing with items such as tires and suspension, is reasonably straight forward and most shops will participate in this line of work. Delving into high-voltage battery systems and their corresponding electronics won’t be easy for the average non-dealer repair facility. There are companies spearheading EV training for independents, but it is nowhere near enough to make a serious dent. If you are of the notion that car repair is expensive now, wait until all of us retire and there is a large percentage of EVs on the road. There is nowhere near enough young people coming into the trade to replace all those retiring. Young technicians who are great at understanding the nuances of the new EV technology will be cherry picked and will be working at the dealership level. Little independent competition leads to only one thing, an increase cost to service all vehicles, especially EVs.

Your automotive questions answered

Hi Lou,

I own a 1992 GMC Sierra - the old K1500 series that was popular from 1989-1998. It was my father-in-law’s pride and joy until he passed. It is in beautiful condition, no rust, and I use it only in the summer. I plan to drive it forever, or at least until rising gas prices become prohibitive. Lately there has been an intermittent no-start condition, but only when the truck has been running for a while. When I drive the truck for 20 minutes to the grocery store or to dump a load of yard waste, it refuses to start back up. Lots of crank from the battery, but the engine won’t turn over. Jumping it doesn’t work. I usually have to wait two hours, and then it starts fine. I have been to three mechanics who can’t figure it out, as they either can’t duplicate the problem (seems to start fine from cold they say) or claim that it’s fixed. The starter, distributor, battery and fuel pump have all been tested and replaced. But a few weeks later, same problem.

Any advice or ideas? - Chris

When a customer comes in with an intermittent problem, I spend a lot of time with them before I even look at the vehicle, trying to get a comprehensive understanding of what is going on. As I read your email, I am immediately confused. Lots of crank from the battery, but the engine won’t turn over doesn’t give me the complete picture. Are you trying to say that the engine is turning over, spinning away, trying to start, but refuses to fire up? Or do you mean that the headlights and such are turning on but the engine won’t crank over? Your last line where you say the starter, distributor, battery and fuel pump have all been tested and/or replaced also confirms to me that your repair facility does not understand either. These repairs are disjointed, they are guessing, firing the parts canon at it.

It is not my intention to be harsh, but repair service workers need to communicate better. It is not your job to understand mechanic-speak, it is the job of your service advisor to extract the information from you, and it sounds to me as if they failed. First, identify to them what the real issue is by means of a video when it is acting up. From there, once they have a clearer understanding of the issue, hopefully they can focus better and stop guessing. The truck is ancient technology by today’s standards, and it shouldn’t be that hard. Alternatively, if it is that intermittent that it can’t be reliably replicated, it is now your responsibility to make alternative transportation arrangements and leave it with them so they can drive it around until it fails for them. Cool truck by the way.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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