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A brick wall of new technology

Andy Brooke, Managing Director of Maverick Diagnostics, compares a VW Golf Mk 6 and a VW Golf Mk 8 to demonstrate the huge technological leap from 2010 to 2020 and the brick wall an aftermarket garage will face if they don’t adapt to the changes.

When our field-based team visits workshops around the UK, they see businesses staying profitable by working with a range of aftermarket tools and sometimes having to outsource jobs when they are stumped by complex repairs or protected components.

The limitations of working like this will only worsen once the next generation of cars starts entering the workshop, increasing the pressure on independent garages to stay profitable and competitive under the looming presence of the local dealer.

The Volkswagen Golf has been in production since 1974, and so far, VW has made 35 million vehicles (not including the Caddy van and variants), so most UK workshops will have repaired or serviced a Golf at some time.

The Golf Mk 1 was seen as the spiritual successor to the Volkswagen Beetle – simple to work on, robust, cheap parts and above all, as a campaign said in the 1980s, ‘if only everything in life was as reliable as a Volkswagen,’ although many would argue with this when talking about later Golfs.

Over the last 10 years, the technology in a standard car has moved on rapidly. There is a substantial technological difference if we compare the 2010 VW Golf Mk 6 with the 2020 VW Golf Mk 8.

The Golf Mk 8 is yet to enter the majority of aftermarket workshops. During the last few years, the independent workshop has faced many challenges, including parts, chip, and labour shortages, leading to low supplies of new cars to fuel the aftermarket workshop.

Many lease terms have been extended, and a 2019 Volkswagen Golf Mk 8, now on a 3 or 4-year lease, will only come into an independent aftermarket workshop in late 2023 and 2024.

The Golf Mk 8 is a fully digital vehicle. It has the same platform as the VW EV ID3/4; in other words, it has the same bells and whistles as an EV semi-autonomous driving vehicle with all systems controlled by a touchscreen. In technical terms, the network infrastructure on the vehicle, i.e. the electronic bits,

is all very high-end; it has security gateways, CAN FD and component protection on every module, which allows only genuine parts to be used. However, as with all brand-new technology, the Mk 8 has had quite a few reported “interesting” software issues, usually involving its self-driving and automated braking systems and the telematics modules.

I experienced this personally in an early Mk8. In a 30-mile- an-hour zone, the vehicle reported the speed limit to be a hundred miles an hour, and lots of other fun and bizarre braking issues until a full software update was carried out.

VW says every Mk 8 has needed updates, and more software updates are yet to be realised. As soon as the warranties on these vehicles expire, they will go out into the aftermarket, and like a lot of contract lease vehicles, they won’t have undergone any software updates. This is very concerning as most aftermarket garages will not have the means to carry out updates and may be stuck with problems they don’t understand and in systems they are not trained to deal with.

As a workshop owner, at this point, you might be saying to yourself “It’s not my problem; I’m not going to see these cars”. But it’s not just the Volkswagen Golf we’re talking about here; it’s pretty much everything from 2020 and some brands from 2017. The reality is that you can’t carry on fixing 15-year-old cars forever. Customers change their cars, and you need to change to keep your customers.

The diagnostic tooling required…

Most workshops will be aware of VCDS VAG Com, commonly known as VAG Com. VCDS is a powerful piece of software in the right hands and, more importantly, when Mr Uwe Ross of Ross-Tech designed it in 1999, he envisaged it as a free update for life – making it the people’s software for the people’s car. Unfortunately, because of component protection and gateway issues, the VCDS can only carry out a few functions on the Mk7 and no functions are listed for the Mk8. In fact, on their excellent Wiki page, there are no functions listed for development. If Ross-Tech cannot do it, many aftermarket tools will be in trouble with the security gateway aspect of these new vehicles.

Seemingly, Chinese tool manufacturers are defeating gateway problems by using OEM software in the background and routing it to their handsets. Like in the past, I’m sure this sketchy loophole will be closed by vehicle manufacturers, e.g. SCN coding on Mercedes vehicles shut down in 2020.

Some workshops have switched to using ODIS, Volkswagen’s genuine software, which requires dedication and training. These workshops are already aware of the brick wall in technology they are heading towards. Unfortunately, most workshops are not prepared to invest in following this diagnostics path.

At Maverick Diagnostics, we see two types of independent workshop owners. The first type will ignore the problem, hope it goes away, and will send new cars to someone down the road or possibly back to a main dealer. This approach is not a good business model and is unsustainable. The second type wants to invest, be trained, buy the right equipment, do the jobs themselves, and retain customers.

Whatever type of garage you decide you are, as a minimum, you will need to identify the problems with these vehicles and have some basic training on the systems they are involved in.

So how does the aftermarket climb over this brick wall of technology?
A straightforward approach works for the most successful aftermarket garages in the UK. Invest sooner rather than later, get some training, look at decent technical data systems and get an expert support partner to help you on your diagnostics journey.

If you would like to find out more on the subject, watch:

Maverick Diagnostics’ latest Live Q&A session – High-tech cars – are you facing a brick wall?

About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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