Mechanic Tips

Why Connectivity Features in Cars Impact Repair Processes

As technology advances, modern cars are being equipped with more and more connectivity features that allow them to interface with smartphones, apps, and external services. While this brings many benefits to drivers, it also introduces new challenges when it comes to car repairs and maintenance. In this article, we’ll examine how connectivity features like Bluetooth, WiFi, connected navigation, and telematics systems are impacting automotive repair processes.

The Rise of Connected Cars

It’s hard to find a new car today that doesn’t come with some form of connectivity built in. Features like Bluetooth allow drivers to sync their smartphones to make hands-free calls and stream music. In-car WiFi hotspots keep passengers connected on the go by linking to cellular data networks. Connected navigation pulls real-time traffic data and other location-based information from the cloud to optimize routes. Many cars also have telematics systems that can monitor the vehicle’s mechanical performance and send diagnostic data back to the manufacturer.

This connectivity provides many useful functions, but it also creates a complex digital ecosystem within the vehicle. Where previously technicians could service cars as isolated mechanical systems, they now have to contend with all of the integrated electronics and interactions with external networks. This added complexity impacts repair processes in a few key ways.

Accessing Diagnostic Data

When cars were purely mechanical, technicians could diagnose issues through hands-on techniques and experience. Connectivity features have allowed more diagnostic data to be gathered from sensors throughout the vehicle. This data provides valuable insights into the car’s operation, but it requires specialized tools and software to access.

Mechanics now need to use manufacturer-approved scan tools to pull diagnostic trouble codes and perform calibrations during repairs. This relies on having the right proprietary interfaces and subscriptions to run the software. Independent shops have to invest heavily in all the necessary OEM diagnostic systems in order to work on connected cars.

Parts Programming

Many modern car parts are electronically controlled and configurable. Components like airbag modules, ignition coils, and steering angle sensors often need to be programmed or calibrated when they are replaced. This requires interfacing with manufacturer systems to input configuration data using scan tools. If parts are not properly programmed, they may fail to work or cause faults in other systems.

This means technicians cannot simply swap in new parts as they could in the past. The added programming steps take more time, expertise, and tooling. Shops without the right capabilities can no longer perform certain repairs, forcing customers to go to authorized dealers instead.

Secure Data Access

As telematics and data sharing become more prevalent, automakers are securing vehicle networks to prevent unauthorized access. While this improves privacy and cybersecurity, it also restricts repair technicians from tapping into key data streams needed for diagnostics. Access to systems like the onboard diagnostics (OBD) port is protected by complex electronic handshaking protocols.

Shops often need to apply for security keys or credentials from manufacturers to gain the required access. This administrative burden coupled with the lack of standardization across brands adds barriers for independent mechanics trying to service connected cars.

Software Updates and Resets

With vastly more computerized components in modern vehicles, software bugs and configuration issues are not uncommon. Diagnosing these electronic faults may require updating control module programming or resetting adaptation values. While mechanics could previously make mechanical adjustments, they now need to interface through the car’s software.

Once again this requires specialized and brand-specific tools to access the programs and coding within modules. Software lacks the physical tangibility of mechanical systems, forcing technicians to rely on abstract troubleshooting processes. Issues like software calibration mismatches may lack any physical symptoms altogether.

Supply Chain Disruptions

The semiconductor shortage over the past few years has demonstrated the impacts of supply chain disruptions on connected car repairs. With critical chips going to new car production, the availability of replacement electronic parts suffered. Parts inventory dried up for components like infotainment systems and engine control modules.

This parts shortage left repair shops unable to source needed modules for their customers’ out-of-warranty vehicles. Even simple repairs became impossible without the electronics. Repair timelines were delayed by months in some cases as shops waited on backordered parts.

The Need for Technical Training

As connectivity transforms car repair, technicians require ongoing training to keep pace with the changes. Workshop staff need fluency in interfacing with electronic systems, analyzing telematics data, updating firmware, and using diagnostic software. Even experienced mechanics may lack exposure to the newest technologies.

OEMs and equipment suppliers provide training programs, but the investment in keeping technicians current is significant. Many shops struggle to fund the necessary training as vehicles become more complex. Forward-thinking managers realize technology skills must be a priority to access and service connected systems.

Opportunities Through Remote Diagnostics

Though connected cars pose many challenges for repair, they also enable some new capabilities. Telematics systems that transmit vehicle data back to the OEM can provide earlier fault detection and diagnostics. Manufacturers can pull trouble codes remotely and pre-diagnose issues before the car even arrives at the shop.

This allows for more targeted and efficient repairs – technicians know the likely fault and required parts ahead of time. Some repairs can even be performed remotely through over-the-air software updates. While they won’t replace hands-on technicians entirely, connected systems enhance diagnostics.

Adapting to the Future

Connectivity is transforming cars from mechanical machines into sophisticated computers on wheels. This integration brings amazing benefits but fundamentally changes repair requirements. Technicians can no longer rely on mechanical know-how alone; they need digital skills to interface with electronic systems. Investments in training, tools, and capabilities are necessary to keep up.

While the learning curve is steep, connectivity also opens opportunities to improve diagnostics and maintenance. Shops willing to adapt to this new landscape can thrive. By embracing technology and building digital capabilities, the auto repair industry can evolve to successfully service the connected cars of the future.

At SNC Automotive in Brendale, our expert mechanics have over 20 years of experience servicing modern connected cars. We invest heavily in the latest diagnostic systems and training to properly troubleshoot and repair electronic faults. If you need help with a connected car issue, our certified technicians have the capabilities to get your vehicle back on the road quickly. Give us a call at 07 3205 4315 to book an appointment today.

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