Servicing Euro Luxury Vehicles
Perhaps It’s Time to Step Up and Consider This Market Niche
I commonly hear remarks from various shops that, while they routinely service domestic and Asian vehicles, they tend to shy away from many European brands, claiming that “they’re just too difficult to work on and the tools needed are too specialized.” One remark I’ve heard more than once is “we don’t mess with those Garman cars...they’re a pain in the butt.”
We decided to reach out to two firms that specialize in Euro cars (both in terms of entry-level OE-level service, high performance and ultra-performance models). ECS Tuning, based in Wadsworth, Ohio, sells both direct replacement and performance upgrade parts as well as specialty tools and equipment targeted at Euro cars, and the renowned Euro car technician and Porsche specialist Dave Warner, owner of Exotic Motorwerks.
Exotic Motorwerks is located in a very affluent area between Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, locally known as “the Beverly Hills of Phoenix”. The region features a substantial population of Porsche, Audi and Mercedes, as well as VW owners. Dan, assisted by long-time German vehicle technician Andy Piech and service writer Brian Dame service all German brands, with Dan specializing in Porsche. One of his “specialties within a specialty” involves the relatively unique Porsche 928. Dan has become so well renowned for his expertise on that model that even Porsche dealers from as far away as Las Vegas and California often refer their 928 customers to him.
“My love for Porsches was such that, while our shop does offer VW service as part of the overall mix, I decided to concentrate my personal efforts on models within the Porsche marque, while co-worker Andy tends to handle the remaining brands,” Dan noted that while his shop services all German brands, Porsche service accounts for approximately 95% of the shop’s workload.
“Don’t be apprehensive about adding Euro cars to your workload,” notes Dan. “With the proper training and a few specialty tools, it’s not as daunting as you might think. Training is key. Once you become familiar with the service techniques required, the initial fear factor diminishes.”
While the majority of his Porsche customers tend to be male, he is seeing a rise in female owners, especially with regard to Boxster and Cayenne owners. As a result, the shop is trying to make an effort to become more “female-friendly.” This was part of the decision to move into the current location, which features a more spacious and uncluttered environment, with a spic & span attractive waiting room. By the way, the shop’s website can be viewed at www.exoticmotorwerks.com.
PITFALLS TO AVOID WHEN WORKING ON LUXURY CARS
Following are tips provided courtesy of Exotic Motorwerks’ Dan Warner.
Today’s Euro luxury cars are becoming more complex each year and this can make them more difficult to work on than most other mainstream cars. A lot of the difficulty stems from the many exotic and often fragile materials that are commonly used including delicate body materials, computerized stepper motors, ceramic brake rotors, specialized interiors and delicate undercarriages. One small misstep can cause thousands of dollars in damages and ruin your relationship with that client, so it’s important that the technician takes extra care when working on these cars. Here are a few of the areas I suggest all technicians pay special attention to when working on these cars that I have found valuable in my 30 years of working with exotics.
Be aware of ground clearance. Sports cars such as Lamborghini, Ferrari, McClaren and Porsche can all have extremely low ground clearances. The undercarriage of these vehicles can also have a lot of soft areas that you need to be aware of when jacking the vehicle or placing the vehicle on a lift, such as oil, A/C, brake and fuel lines that are often routed along with the rocker panels or near jack points, leaving them vulnerable to damage if attention is not paid to lift arm or jack placement. We like to use hockey pucks on the lift points to avoid marring the lift points and to also get a little more distance between the lift arms and the bodywork. Also, don’t forget to turn off the air suspension (if so equipped) before lifting the car to avoid suspension component damage.
Use the right fasteners. Most vehicles use standard bolts, studs, and nuts, whereas many luxury vehicles often use specialized torque-to-yield hardware that can only be used once or hardware made from exotic materials like aluminum or titanium. Always reference repair manuals if you are unfamiliar with the job.
Take care of the rotors. Many luxury vehicles today use ceramic brake rotors. These rotors are very delicate and extra care needs to be taken when removing and replacing them. Never pry on ceramic rotors. Use a brake pad expander when replacing brake pads on vehicles equipped with ceramic rotors to avoid rotor damage. With a full set of ceramic brake rotors costing upwards of $25,000, these pieces warrant extra care and attention.
Use the right fluids. Fluids for Euro luxury vehicles are usually designated for that specific brand or model of vehicle. Everything from the brake fluid to transmission and engine oils is often designed specifically for a particular vehicle. When refilling these fluids, you must be aware of the appropriate fill levels. Often, the “maximum” line is not your target. This is especially important when it comes to replacing the engine oil. As the oil heats up and expands, the vehicle can suddenly be in an overfilled condition, allowing oil to be sucked into the intake manifold and running through the combustion chamber, damaging oxygen sensors and catalytic converters. Check with the manufacturer or consult the owner’s manual before adding or replacing fluids to ensure that you are using the correct fluid and filling to the correct levels.
Be aware of body materials. The body material on some luxury vehicles can be extremely delicate and can easily be damaged. Many high-end cars today are made of aluminum or carbon fiber. When working on these vehicles, it is important to be aware of your surroundings. Never lean on these vehicles. Even a slight amount of pressure on certain areas can cause cracks or dents.
Keep the interior clean. When working on the interior, be sure to use seat and carpet protectors. The interiors of these vehicles are expensive and their owners are much more aware of their condition. We always wear clean gloves and ensure that our pockets are empty to avoid any scrapes or tears.
Luxury vehicles are often very expensive to maintain. It’s the job of the service writer to communicate possible pitfalls ahead of time to the client and to ensure that the complaint that the customer has will be fully mitigated by the repair. With many of these luxury vehicles costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is important to have a delicate touch with both the client and the vehicle and make sure you understand what you are getting into when you begin a service or repair. Following these tips can help you to avoid unseen pitfalls and keep your clients happy.
TIPS FROM ECS TUNING
Adding European vehicles to your available service lineup includes specific challenges and changes that have deterred plenty of independent shops from ever exploring that market. Many shops choose to either focus exclusively on what they know or only offer basic services that are fairly universal across all makes and models to avoid these challenges. However, there are ways to incorporate this market into your business without adding an extreme cost. As European car service experts, we’re here to offer insight into why your shop should consider this market and what you need to get started. We’ll cover some of the key benefits and equipment that will help you venture into the European car service field so you can make an informed decision if this market is right for your business.
Two of the drawbacks to owning a European vehicle, especially a performance-oriented model, are the costs of service and parts. However, for an independent service and repair facility, this drawback becomes a reliable source of income and steady work. Unfortunately, European vehicles, while not too different than Domestic or Asian market vehicles, tend to scare both consumers and shops away due to the perceived difficulty of service and specialty tools often required to perform major repairs or maintenance. This is only partially correct. It is true that many higher-end European cars do require more regular services and often have slightly different procedures associated with those jobs, but it isn’t true that they are more difficult to service. This is especially true with modern cars from any market-sharing metric hardware and many of the same OEM parts suppliers. With modern vehicles constructed from a uniform system, even a Domestic Market-exclusive facility is already well equipped to handle European cars.
Since shop tools and equipment like hand tools, lifts, and specialty bits are used across the board, the only major additions needed to delve into that market are dedicated employees with experience on those vehicles and a few special tools. You only need to make a handful of hardware purchases to begin servicing those vehicles.
As we mentioned, modern cars share striking similarities in both their hardware and parts thanks to the consolidation of OEM suppliers. You may find that many Domestic vehicles share components like alternators, starters, throttle bodies, and more with their European cousins. This makes the learning curve much milder than in decades past, where many of those components were developed and manufactured either in-house by the auto manufacturer or produced exclusively for their vehicles. Now, we have a fairly standard approach to nearly all vehicles of every make. When you boil it down, it really is just nuts and bolts.
Speaking of nuts and bolts, with European cars, you may find that specialty sockets and bits, like Torx bits and Triple Squares, are required to remove many components. This is one of the key differences between say a Volkswagen and a Chevy. Fortunately, these tools don’t come at a high cost and will quickly make up for the expense in the number of services they allow your shop to offer. It may be a slight change in approach or procedure to remove underbody splash guards with a Triple Square, but in practice, there isn’t much difference between physically removing or installing parts.
Where there is a major difference, though, is with the vehicle’s computer software. Basic code readers will spit out fault codes, but without a guide, they don’t provide much information beyond ‘something is broken.’ Fortunately, with a device dedicated to that specific vehicle make, you can dive in much deeper to find a clear path to the problem. As an example, the Schwaben Professional Scan Tool line of diagnostic computers (as well as some offered by Autel and Bosch, for example) is designed for exactly this reason. Devices like these will perform full system scans that direct you to the exact fault, cause of the fault, and allow you to access individual systems and functions within the vehicle’s computer. Without such a device, diagnosis and even regular services can be difficult if not impossible.
More than just simply reading codes and diagnosing problems, this type of device is also necessary for coding, clearing adaptations, and even performing basic services like brake pad replacements. Many modern European vehicles use an electronic parking brake, for example, which requires computer input from a program or device to retract that brake.
With a diagnostic device that acts as both a roadmap to completing a job as well as the tool that allows you to finish it correctly through necessary coding or clearing, the most difficult hurdle for a service shop is avoided. In truth, there isn’t much that differentiates European vehicles from anything your shop isn’t already accustomed to. Sure, there may be slightly different suspension design, or maybe more disassembly needed to perform in-depth services, but they aren’t fundamentally alien. The engine still needs air, fuel, and spark, the suspension still needs shocks, springs, mounts, and bushings, and the car is simply held together with nuts and bolts.
For all those specific procedures, there are technical documents and service guides readily available. Any competent technician, familiar or completely foreign to European cars, can reasonably expect to transition from Domestic or Asian vehicles to Audi, Volkswagen, BMW, MINI, Porsche, or Mercedes-Benz without much difficulty. All they need is a trusty diagnostic device and a few additional sockets and bits to start wrenching. That, and a reliable source for parts and expert advice.
EXAMPLES OF EURO CAR SCAN TOOLS
Schwaben Professional Scat Tools
Autel ADS625, Autel MaxiCOMM mk808, Bosch ADS625
Our thanks to parts and tool source ECS Tuning, Wadsworth, OH and Dave Warner, Exotic Motorwerks, Scottsdale, Arizona, who specializes in high-end Euro vehicle service for their tips and advice in this article.