“Every system on the vehicle has undergone a technological transformation – including the fundamental battery and charging system. The higher demands of “Start-Stop” technology, the advances in charging system strategies, and the introduction of new battery designs all require today’s shop owner and technician to be up-to-date on diagnostic and service techniques. Failure to do so will only lead to premature battery failures, system component damage and ultimately – to dissatisfied customers.” Pete Meier, ASE Master Technician and Technical Editor for Motor Age Magazine
We love this quote from our friend Pete Meier. In three sentences, he summarizes the challenge and the opportunity presented by the rapid evolution of vehicle power systems in the past 15 years. We have seen more change in these 15 years than the previous forty. Whether it is the proliferation of battery types, the addition of critical systems like Start-Stop technology or the adoption of completely new powertrains, such as EVs and Fuel Cells, things are changing rapidly. It isn’t easy, or cheap, to keep up, but there really isn’t a choice if a shop wants to remain competitive and successful.
This month, we have pulled together several resources related to the rapid changes seen in these vehicle systems. Some of the below resources provide an overview of key trends, while others dive into one specific area of concern for shops and technicians. Together, we hope they give you better context for what is changing, how best to stay on top of those changes and even how you can benefit from them.
Running on Full Charge
This article, by Kayla Oschmann on VehicleServicePros.com, provides a great overview of this month’s subject. In it, Kayla addresses the many new starting battery types deployed by manufacturers to address system needs and the service implications that come with them. Specifically, she notes that many of the newer battery types have specific requirements when it comes to charging in order to obtain a beneficial charge and avoid internal damage. She also addresses the need for new types of equipment to address changes in system function, such as the need for a flashing power supply to support required system voltage during module reflashing, as well as the need for a power supply to support a variety of other diagnostic, service and repair applications.
From the shop perspective, she hits upon an important point to remember when it comes to battery service equipment – one size doesn’t fit all shops. It is important for shops to assess their specific needs and ensure that the equipment under consideration address those needs in a way that works for the shop. It is worth a look.
Education Can Boost Your Bottom Line
This article, from AutoServiceProfessional.com, takes the approach that education and a solid game plan are the building blocks to greater battery and related item sales. It notes a recent trend that battery life, in general, has shortened over the past five years. “…, without driving disruptions, 44% more auto battery failures were reported in 2017 than in 2016, according to a J.D. Power report. Batteries are the most frequently replaced auto component, the report noted.” The article also references the fact that, during the pandemic, many cars are sitting idle much more than normal, which has negative consequences for battery life.
These factors present opportunities for shops, but to maximize this opportunity requires preparation and education. The article suggests that testing every vehicle is a great starting point and suggests making sure that all techs in the shops are ready to have the battery discussion with customers. The article goes on to suggest several strategies to make the battery discussion easier and also notes that this is a relevant topic for hybrid owners as well as conventional ICE-powered vehicle owners. It is a good reference in that it provides a checklist on the best ways to generate more battery sales and ensure your customers address their battery needs before they have a major disruption (such as a no start or other service problem that will cause them significant heartache).
A Healthy Heart Makes the Vehicle Purr
This article, by Edwin Hazzard in Auto Service Professional, is more old school, in that it links to the electronic edition of their magazine, but it is worth the effort. We think this is a great article to follow the above piece on the sales opportunities related to batteries. In this article, Hazzard addresses changes in system design and battery construction and identifies how they are interconnected and increasingly important. As the article subheading states, “Higher order electrical system demands are increasingly dependent on battery condition.” While the above article addresses the selling opportunity, this piece provides the technical basis for why battery health is so critical and why so many forces are conspiring to deplete battery health in modern vehicle systems.
He does a great job of illustrating how today’s batteries are utilized in current system designs versus the old days, when the battery was mostly used to start the vehicle and not much else. He introduces strategies for determining battery state-of-health and places the state-of-health factors into context to show how poor battery health impacts vehicle performance. Finally, he identifies the tools and equipment needed to provide comprehensive battery service for your customers. It is a quick article, but a good one.
Battery Substitutes Can Cause Real Problems
As system designs become more specialized, individual components and their specific characteristics become increasingly important. In the starting system, nowhere has this become more true or has represented a greater change from the past than battery selection. Back in the day, substituting for the OE battery type was not a big deal, in that all batteries were the same construction, flooded lead acid. This is absolutely not the case now, as OEs warn against replacing an AGM battery with a flooded battery, even if the flooded equivalent (in terms of size and CCA rating) is significantly less expensive.
Now, the level of concern regarding substituting on the part of the OEs has gotten even more stringent. In many cases, they warn against even substituting a battery of like construction, noting that it still may not provide the needed level of performance. In this TSB, republished by AutoServiceProfessional.com earlier this month, Toyota calls out the specific battery model to be used for replacement of its Start-Stop equipped Highlander model batteries. They identify the unique Enhanced Flooded Battery (EFB) construction and warn against substituting other battery types as well as other EFB batteries. This is where we are headed with batteries in general, we believe.
Servicing Hybrid 12V Batteries
In this video on Import-Car.com, Andrew Markel addresses questions and concerns about servicing the 12 Volt battery typically found in hybrid configurations. As he notes, the 12V system is typically isolated from the vehicle’s high voltage battery pack and can be charged and jump started as if it were a battery in a conventional 12V system. As always, we caution you to make sure you know the battery’s construction, as hybrids often utilize an AGM battery, which must be charged using an AGM-capable battery charger or there is risk of damage to the battery. It is a great video with useful tips and insights into hybrid 12V battery service.
Systems are changing and changing fast. As a shop, it is important to keep up with those changes so that you can offer your customers comprehensive, beneficial service. This also means additional investment in tools and equipment to interface with these new systems and components. We are here to help is you have any questions in this area. Please drop any questions in the comments and we’ll get them answered for you. Thanks.