The auto repair shop of the future
A recent video from Gruber Motors gives us a glimpse into the future of the auto repair scene. While many EV owners are familiar with how a Tesla service center (or other dealer) works, this is only a small part of what we’re going to see develop over the next few years.
How things went with the hybrids
About a year ago my mom asked me if I was afraid to drive an EV. “The battery must be so expensive! she said. When I asked her what made her think about this, she told me that a family member recently got rid of an older Toyota Prius. The problem? The car (in running condition) was worth around $ 5,000 and the hybrid battery failed. My parent went to the dealership and got a quote for $ 3,500 (out of the gate) to replace the relatively small pack of the hybrid. She traded in the car at the dealership for $ 500 and bought something else, and later told my mom that she would never buy a hybrid again.
“Did you know she could have fixed it for $ 500 to $ 1,000?” ” I asked.
My mom was shocked when I told her about independent Prius mechanics who will come to your house and swap the battery for a refurbished battery for so cheap. They then take your broken Prius bag with them, swap out the wrong cells, and place it in someone else’s car. They even have a year or two of warranty.
Electric vehicles are now starting to follow a similar path. There aren’t many Tesla’s that are out of warranty. The original Roadster and some 2012-13 Model S vehicles are all there is right now. If a newer car stops moving completely, people take it to the service center and Tesla will repair it under warranty. If something like a battery or drive unit fails, they replace the entire unit rather than taking it apart and repairing the faulty component (s). Take an out of warranty Tesla that needs a new pack or drive unit, and expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars replacing entire sections of the car.
Just like hybrids and gasoline cars before them, it’s always cheaper to take an out-of-warranty vehicle to an independent repair shop. In the video, Gruber Motors explains how it has taken a very different approach to electric vehicle repair than Tesla’s service centers, and how its approach is possibly the future of independent electric vehicle repair shops.
A very different approach
When something is wrong with a Tesla vehicle, Tesla Service Centers take a very modular approach to vehicle repair. If a battery pack has a problem, they replace the whole pack. If a drive unit breaks, they replace the entire drive unit.
It’s very different from the transmission shop I used to hang out in when I was little. My dad had a pretty good deal to rebuild transmissions, especially for commercial customers who racked up over 100,000 miles a year on a vehicle. He would bring in the vehicle, lift it up, drop a transmission, disassemble it completely, inspect / replace broken components, put on a new clutch and other parts that tend to wear out quickly, reassemble it, test it and have it pickup truck or truck back on the road in a few days.
This approach helps reduce costs. Instead of paying GM a lot of money for a new factory transmission, they would pay for labor and only the parts / fluids that needed to be replaced. If commercial companies were to buy a new transmission every two years for their vans and trucks, they would be hard pressed to afford it, but independent stores take care of people and keep vehicles on the road much longer.
Gruber Motors does the same with Teslas. Instead of replacing a full battery, the company digs in and finds out exactly what’s wrong. In other videos, he explains that sometimes it’s just a few faulty cells that need to be replaced, and the vehicle comes back to life. It’s also clear that a lot of other things can go wrong, so they have electronics technicians on their staff to dig deep and only make the repairs that are necessary.
Future repair shops will be very different from old ones
Unlike vehicle repairs in the 1980s, what needs to be repaired is very different with today’s electric vehicles.
Mechanical problems do occur with electric vehicles, but they are relatively rare because there are so few moving parts. If something goes wrong, it will more often be an electronic problem. Pete Gruber shows how different his shop is from most small auto repair shops today. There is a large area with just some electronic repairs and diagnostics going on. In the garage, there are no oil stains on the floor or odors, but there are oscilloscopes, laptops, and a variety of electronic tools that you usually wouldn’t see in the garage. local mechanic.
The skills required are also very different. Auto repair shops will still need people to turn a wrench like they do today, but independent electric vehicle repair shops will need people with much more electronics skills. Even Tesla needs people with different skills, so they’re teaming up with community colleges to train people in the skills they need to know, even if they’re not going to dig deep like the folks at Gruber Motors do.
So independent stores are going to need people with even more skills. The people who learn these skills will be of great value in the coming decades, as more and more electric vehicles will no longer be under warranty.
Another pattern we could see
Personally, I don’t think all independent electric vehicle repair shops will do the specialized things that the folks at Gruber Motors do. For at least part of the industry, there will likely be more than one star topology.
Some local EV stores will do what Gruber does and do all of their deeper repairs in-house, but many won’t have the skills to do all of this, especially if the volume of business is low. Instead, they’ll likely do something a little more similar to what Tesla’s service centers do, but for a lot less.
It might make more sense for people with relatively scarce skills (extensive electronic repair) to rebuild and refurbish broken items at a specialized facility. When a small independent store needs to replace a battery, they can order a refurbished replacement battery for a fraction of what Tesla charges for a new battery. On top of that, they will pay a basic fee. When they ship in the broken pack for the installation to be refurbished for the next customer, the base charge will be refunded.
Currently, this is how it works for many auto parts. You can buy a new alternator, or you can order a refurbished or remanufactured unit for much less. The same goes for water pumps, some types of batteries, and many other auto parts. Machining and rebuilding that requires specialized skills only happens in a handful of places, while independent stores and DIY mechanics are taking advantage of this skill on a global scale.
The other benefit is for the customer. When there is a high volume of electric vehicle repair activity, drivers will appreciate the ability to get their car back in a day or two instead of waiting for complex repairs. Their local mechanic quickly sets up a refurbished pack, then sends the broken one for a complex repair to use for another customer.
Either way, it’s great to see efforts being made to ensure that electric vehicles have a future when they are over 8-10 years old. Keeping electric vehicles on the road is a great way to further reduce their environmental impact, and we all benefit.
Featured Image: Screenshot from Gruber Motors video.
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