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Using Online Resources

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Consumers aren’t the only people getting new, useful information online. Sites such as IDENTIFIX. ALLDATA and Autoshopowner.com provide shop owners and their employees with valuable resources that can help with everything from tips on everyday repairs to advice on running a business.

Ratchet+Wrench spoke with Frank May, an Indiana shop owner and a moderator on Autoshopowner.com’s member forum, about the importance of utilizing online resources to improve your business.

If you don’t have access to it, then how are you going to know? Where are you going to go for the answers to problems you’ve never seen before? We had a Ford Explorer come into the shop, a 2006 that needed a new radiator. Then we ran into an issue we’d never seen before: The PCM has to be reprogrammed after changing the radiator out, apparently the fan interval kicks in if you don’t. This is something we wouldn’t have known—we’d never seen it before—but we saw a service note on ALLDATA (alldata.com) about it. If we had just taken a shot in the dark on it, we would’ve gotten burned.

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In this business, as a whole, I think people aren’t taking advantage of this as much as they should. I didn’t come up through the car industry; I came from outside of it. Everything I know, I’ve learned since opening up my shop 13 years ago. A lot of guys, maybe 60 percent of shop owners, I’d say, just don’t like being online; they just don’t like taking the time to do it. They’re more hands-on, getting-their-hands-dirty type of people.

At our shop, we basically rely on the Internet now for all of our information. We don’t really use any printed manuals or any sort of catalogs. Once you have fast Internet, it becomes much easier and quicker to use the Internet to find these answers. And it’s more reliable, I think, because it’s regularly updated. In our shop, we have three computers hooked in—and we’re in the process of hooking in a fourth—with Internet access. We have cable Internet—the fastest we could get—and we have a wireless router, so the guys can have laptops in the bays, and they have from time to time. We use it quite a bit.

There are a few ways to use it. You can research parts, vehicles, problems—all of it—or you can talk with other shop owners and technicians and learn from their experiences. IDENTIFIX (identifix.com) has become very, very useful for us, as far as finding information. The same goes for ALLDATA. When you spot the common repairs and it describes exactly the problem you have, that gives you a lot to go on, especially if it’s something you’ve never seen before.

All the time, there’s new stuff popping up on you. If you have to just wing it through there without any outside information, it makes it much more time-consuming and difficult. If there’s 10 other shops that solved a problem you’ve never seen before and you have access to them, it’s just a leap ahead. That’s the benefit of the different forums.

The Autoshopowner.com forum is very entertaining. You get a lot unique perspectives, and it lets everybody put in their input. You can see other shops’ failures and victories and see what works for you. If I want to buy a new scan tool or something like that, I can throw a question out there and ask what people recommend. I may get seven or eight different answers but I can see what other shops are doing and what they like and don’t like.

It’s a way to keep up with new aspects of our industry, too. Sometimes things are coming down the pike and it helps you stay aware of things that someone else may have dealt with that you haven’t. Like someone was talking about having a new type of inspection in his shop. If you’ve never been around it or done one of those, it helps to give you an idea of what’s involved in something like that.

I recommend looking into non-automotive forums, too. From a marketing, managerial or sales standing, you can always benefit from another industry. The application may change slightly but the basic concepts are the same. It’s probably something that many people don’t do.

There’s this discomfort level with the Internet and the computers and so forth with a lot of people, because everything is always changing. But our industry is always changing, too, and we have to keep up. It can be hard, and we need to make it as easy as possible. We have access to all of this, we have research available, and we need to use it.

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