Independent mechanic keeping up with hyrbrid technology
Sharing the information
Efforts are under way in several states and Congress to force automakers to share technical information with independent garages.
The move is supported by most of the large aftermarket parts suppliers and opposed by automakers and the Automotive Service Association.
Find a hybrid mechanic
Start by searching "auto service" on Angie's List. Then, ask them if they have experience with hybrid vehicles.
by Lindsay Murphy
As owner of a highly rated garage in Ruskin, Chris Mann has an extensive list of certifications. He doesn't, however, hold a certificate in hybrid repair. Manufacturers like Toyota and Honda won't train independent mechanics. "It's pretty much impossible to get the manufacture training," Mann says.
But he hasn't let a piece of paper get in his way of servicing a growing category of auto repair. Mann taught himself how to repair hybrids and he attends any hybrid courses he can find. "The training's out there," he says. "It's just that the independents have to look harder."
More than the availability of training, the cost of keeping up with technology is posing problems for some mechanics. "Even with the conventional cars, it's the technology that is going to be the biggest drawback for the independents," he says. Newer vehicles require make-specific scanners and tools that range in price from $3,000 to $40,000. "That's where the dealerships have a bigger advantage than most independent shops," Mann says.
It's certainly an advantage at Gateway Honda of Port Richey. "All of our technicians are trained to work on hybrids," says Service Consultant Tobias Baskind. In addition to training, the manufacturer supplies any special tools the vehicles require.
Still, Mann maintains he can beat dealers on price and stands behind his reputation for quality. And, as far as where to take your hybrid for service, both sides agree customers should do their homework and find a mechanic with a good reputation, independent or not. "I would check out the dealers and their track records," Mann says. "And, I wouldn't take it to just any independent because they may not know what they're doing and they may end up messing up your car."
For Angie's List member Susan McMillan, a good warranty and reputation influenced her choice of mechanics for her Toyota Prius and Ford Escape hybrid. She takes the Ford to Mann because she trusts him. The Prius, however, goes to the dealership because of Toyota's 'tires for life' program - as long as she takes it in for an oil change, they'll replace her tires.
And after six years of Prius ownership, McMillan maintains it's the best car she's ever owned. "I'd like to see roads full of hybrid-electric cars and cars that run on biodiesel," she says. "If we weren't beholden to the oil industry, I think we'd all be driving [them]."