We get a lot of questions from customers that ask why we, and any repair shops, charge for diagnostics. Its a fair question but the answer is anything but simple. It has a lot to do with the differences in modern cars compared to what they used to be. It also has to do with a lot of misinformation out there and the difference between a cheap scan tools you can buy online and ones used in a professional shop. Finally there is a big issue of the difference between diagnosis and just reading codes and throwing parts at the issue.
A little comparison of cars from the 1950's (or even into the 80's for some brands) helps to get us started and I will mainly focus on the engine in this example for sake of brevity and clarity. When cars started becoming a product that every household wanted its important to understand time and context. In the 1950's particularly in North America it was a period after the war, production of cars was ramping up, many of the lessons learned from the military were working their way into the automotive industry. As an example even in motor oils see a previous post of some of the wartime discoveries that were creating longer lasting cars. The new 'cold war' was on and many people wanted to work in the city but live outside in the suburbs or even a different town. The new interstates and roadways across North America gave people the freedom to do just that.
In terms of context, pollution, fuel mileage, looks over safety and other safety features were not really considered early on. A typical engine needed oil, a spark from a distributor and fuel from a mechanical pump. Transmissions were generally 3 speed automatics or a 4 speed manual. The most sophisticated electronics were within the radio, and those were vacuum tubes. Brakes were drum brakes (generally) and ABS or Traction Control weren't phrases that had even entered the lexicon of automobile manufacturers. Every connection in the car except for some rudimentary electronics was a mechanical system and a mechanical connection.
As the years passed and the auto took off in sales people wanted more. By the 1970's crippling fuel costs, a demand for more safety and better mileage and the advent of the first rudimentary computers drove intense decades of development and with it more complexity. As customers demanded more from a car, from safety to better fuel mileage cars began to move away from mechanical systems to ones that involved more computers, monitoring systems, and eventually they became interrelated. Standard diagnostic codes and ODB II (On Board Diagnostics) came together to give some standards but the way systems and other computers relayed information can be very proprietary. Some modern vehicles communicate via fibre optics within the vehicle between modules while others use shielded wires, proprietary communications standards etc.
Have engines become that much more complex?
We are a European shop and its obvious we have a love for all things Porsche so I will draw on two engines from Porsche from two different eras. If we look at an early air cooled Porsche engine from a 911 from the 1960s its a beautifully engineered motor just under two litres. An air cooled flat six mated to a 5 speed manual '901' transmission. The lightweight car had about 130 HP. Compare that to a modern day Porsche engine of similar displacement like a 2021 base model Cayman. It also has a two litre (water cooled) turbocharged 4 cylinder engine but produces 300 HP. None of that would be possible without complex system management computers for fuel injection, 02 sensors, knock sensors, coolant, tires, ABS, traction control, air bags, power windows, remote start, remote door locks, timing sensors, boost sensors, wheel speed, transmission control and on and on. The greater the number of parts of sophistication of the engine means incredible performance, but only if all systems and sensors function perfectly. When one part fails it may look like something else failed instead based on just looking at the fault code alone.
Thats all good but why can't you just buy one of those scan tools online for a few hundred bucks?
Its a good question, and the answer also lies in the difference between reading a fault code and diagnosis. One is a simple task, and the other is far more complex. Scan tools and other electronics are cheap and readily available, you can pick one up for under a hundred dollars. They will plug into your ODB II port and read fault codes. We often get asked if what we do now with modern cars is just read a fault code and replace a part, in fact that is what lesser shops do. The challenge is that reading a code likely wont help in most situations. It may point out that your 02 sensor is reading low and that may lead down a rabbit hole chasing parts that aren't the issue - they just appear as an issue down the line. On top of that, although fault codes may be somewhat standardized, every single vehicle has different arrangements of computers that communicate with each other on everything from fiber optics to proprietary data systems. No ebay scan tool can make up for years of training in automotive systems and diagnostics.
So what am I paying for?
A good shop has the right tools for the job, and each brand often has a specialized scanning tool that is used on a particular brand of cars. Even cars under the same umbrella of ownership needs different tools for different cars. If you take VW Aktiengesellschaft there is VW, Porsche, Bugatti, Lamborghini, SEAT, MAN, Bentley, Audi etc - 12 brands in all and each needs a scan tool that can go much deeper than one bought at an auto parts store.
Are the scan tools you use really that expensive/good
As an example for one brand - Lamborghini, a used scan tool (yes used) is about $19,000 CAD if you could find one. We have scan tools for all the brands that we service, plus license fees, access to the latest technical bulletins, training and techniques. We pay subscription fees for the latest software updates and most recent information. On top of that we have the training in diagnosis of these complex systems. We have scan tools specific to each brand we service or we have access to similar but very sophisticated computers but they really give us a look at 'flags' the computers throw for faults, they also give us a much deeper look than a cheap scan tool can.
I still don't fully understand - give me a better example
Sometimes a better example is thinking about it differently. When you see a doctor for a general complaint they draw on years of training and a host of diagnostic equipment that assists in diagnosis but doesn't do the diagnosis for them. If you come in with a specific complaint like being tired it might be a simple thing like a need for more sleep, or it could be something more complex like an underlying neurological issue. The experience, expertise and tools are why you go there. Its the skill and experience and access to the latest medical information and training that you are utilizing. You don't (or shouldn't) get your medical advice from Google - I did once and its turns out I was just thirsty, which is good as Google said I may have rabies (I don't) . Silly example aside, its a good one as its about making a diagnosis with more than just a description. For us its about finding all of the facts to support a diagnosis and a conclusion for your car.
Is it fair to compare our technicians to a doctor? Obviously not in all things but in terms of a diagnostic process yes. Neither profession relies on a guess or a piece of diagnostic equipment bought from an auto parts site on the internet. You would likely be a little taken aback if your health care provider showed you and xray machine they bought on ebay, or said they did their medical degree virtually and didn't think the practical experience of hands on training was worth it.
Its no different than that in a modern shop. Sometimes the problem is really a simple 02 sensor replacement and sometimes the problem is something more than that in a complex web of systems. Even the older cars with simple carbs and vacuum lines require a holistic look at the overall car, and not just a focus on fixing the symptom.
What you are paying for in a modern shop is training and experience in diagnosis of a rolling complex computerized systems that also happen to be an automobile. A scan tool is part of the diagnosis and its a very expensive and specialized piece of equipment that is only part of the overall tracking down of the issue. If your shop tells you they are chasing down fault codes and replacing parts as the codes tell them too, find a shop that knows the difference between code chasing and diagnostics. And don't ask them if they think you have rabies.
If you have followed any of our previous posts you will know that we started the interior floor last year. We did all of the interior where we store customer cars and the rear of the shop area. Over the last few days we have been closed as the final stages of the epoxy flooring have been completed in the main shop area. We staged the pouring of the the epoxy to get the customer car storage area done first before the season started and although things were delayed due to covid we took the opportunity now to finish the rest off.
Its the only time we have had since we opened that the entire shop is empty. It won't look that way again after Friday as we are allowing the epoxy resin to cure. The final piece left to finish is the custom RSP Motorsports logo that we will put in a prominent spot.
The final picture gives you an idea of the depth of shine on the floor after the concrete was resurfaced and cleaned. In total about 1500 pounds of concrete was removed in the grinding. Every machine (except hoists), parts etc had to be either moved or completely removed to complete the process. Renato has always had a desire to have a shop so clean it would pass the 'white sock test' if you walked anywhere without shoes on (not that we do) and it looks like he got his wish while supporting local business.
The RSP Motorsports experience is also about how we treat you. Our spotless shop is only part of the experience of how we strive to achieve customer satisfaction. Take a look at the area where you have your car serviced, the care put into the environment of where the technicians work says a lot about the type of care ultimately put into you and your vehicle.
Its been a challenging time during the pandemic, with closures and and all the uncertainty of the past.
Both spring and the hope of turning a collective corner are not far away.
Over the years we have taken a great deal of pictures of customers cars that were in our shop or at events we participated in. We always try and entertain or inform with our blog posts and videos but in this post we want to see just how good you are at spotting cars using only a fraction of the whole image of a car. Its surprising how just a small detail of an iconic car is instantly recognizable and others than can be a bit of a head scratcher.
This week I will be posting selected pictures of parts of cars and I ask that you let us know what vehicle you think each one is. Post your answer in the comments or email us: [email protected]. Please include your answers and your contact information.
We will be taking all of the winning responses, and selecting one at random for some RSP Motorsports Merchandise including a $100 discount for any service performed at RSP Motorsports. (Open to Ontario, Canada residents only). Deadline March 1st 2021.
Here is an example of a question:
Commissioned in the 1930's this car ceased production in its modern form in 2019
Answer: Its a VW Beetle. In this case its from 1979. The pictures can get pretty challenging unless you really know your cars.
Its surprising how little of the image you need when you know the car.
Scroll down and see how you do. We will be conducting the random draw of all the correct entries we get before March 1st 2021. One submission only please to [email protected].
Lets see how you do...
Classic Car Recognition Contest
Discontinued in 1988 this 'classic' now sells unrestored for between $18,000 to $22,000 at auctions
Its not been an easy year for anyone, in fact its been the toughest in a long time. With the pandemic, minus 15 degree weather, the winter blahs and all that goes along with it we thought we all needed to see a glimpse of hope and whats around the corner so we added a few pics from the warmer days of 2020. With travel restrictions in place and new ones possibly coming why not put effort into staying local this year and give your car the attention it needs?
For us, supporting London and GTA businesses is all part of getting back to normal when this pandemic ends and particularly during it. Where we can, RSP Motorpsports, puts every purchase into local businesses like ourselves. From local cleaning staff to to even buying local for our past Holiday staff party we believe in this community and we will fight to make sure we all emerge from this ready to get back to the business of getting our community, province and country back on its feet.
The corner is in sight and with vaccines on the way and a potential to slowly return to normal we thought we would do a few pictures from the year. Its also a great time to get an appointment booked for winter service if your car is in storage with us or you want to get a head start on the season.
Give us a call - we specialize in Exotics, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Ferrari, Audi and European makes and we can get you ready for a brand new season
Let us get dreams of spring and summer turned into a reality - give us a call today. Maybe you have your eye on something for the spring, this is the best time to have us do a Pre Purchase Inspection (PPI) on it. Or maybe you just want a little bit more of a spirited ride, call us and let us see what we can do for you today.
We are all about making sure you have exactly what you need to have a safe, problem free year - book now as its going to be a busy year.
A few slides of images over the course of last summer at RSP and the area. We all need to dream - make yours come true. Don't forget we also service many family cars from SUV's to Sedans. We have over a century of combined experience in everything from general repairs and service on family cars to performance testing and modifications on Lamborghini and Porsche and all in between. Call us today at 519-474-7700 and book an appointment now.