The days of shotgun diagnostics are long gone

Diagnostic tester for car

Vehicles have changed a lot over the course of the last 30 years. What was once a largely mechanical device on wheels has developed into a multilevel high-tech computer on wheels.

The industry has battled often to keep up with changing technology, and as a result there is now a skills shortage in diagnostics and troubleshooting.

Problem analysis and diagnostics in the motor industry have become highly sophisticated and specialised. Most technicians and workshop owners are fully aware of this but, unfortunately, the average motor vehicle owner is not.

This is where the diagnostic process starts – with the vehicle owner.

It is the responsibility of workshops to educate their customers about the diagnostic skills and equipment required to identify and resolve tricky issues. It’s all about communicating effectively and setting expectations about the time and cost involved with the modern automotive diagnostic process.

Can you just have a quick look at this?

While times and technology change, people often stay the same. Many motorists still believe they are entitled to a free quote following a five-minute inspection every time they bring their car in for repair. Unfortunately for them, days of ‘can you just have a quick look at this?’ are long gone.

Other trades and services, such as plumbers, lawyers or doctors, are always careful to charge for their time – even when providing inspections, quotes, advice and estimates – so why should an auto mechanic be any different?

Unfortunately, our State of the Nation research this year has shown us that almost half of all workshops are still only charging for diagnostics sometimes, and more than one in ten never charge.

This represents an enormous missed opportunity for workshop owners to be bringing in extra income by simply charging fairly for their time, equipment investment and expertise.

Complex cars require complex diagnostics

With the sheer number of electrical components and electronic circuits in a modern vehicle, technicians need to understand electrical theory and circuits. Electrical and electronic diagnostics are impossible without the correct diagnostic equipment, vehicle data and information, but this is not always easy, or cheap.

Very few workshops can be so generous that they can afford to charge only for labour and throw in the huge investment on diagnostic equipment or data for nothing.

If you don’t already, you should seriously consider passing these costs on to customers when dealing with any repair job that demands diagnosis, research, or data access.

Typical electrical test equipment required for fault diagnosis can include scan tools, electrical connector test equipment, digital multimeters, and oscilloscopes, and there are many other specialised tools and equipment.

Charging for diagnostics, quotes and estimates is not a ripoff

A shotgun approach to vehicle repair is no longer possible. Without a systematic fault-finding diagnostic sequence or procedure, a technician has little chance of fixing a modern vehicle in a timely and cost-effective fashion.

It’s high time we shook off the impression that charging for diagnostics, quotes and estimates is somehow “ripping people off”. If workshops want to remain viable in the face of increasingly technologically complex vehicles, we need to get comfortable with billing customers for the time, investment and expertise needed to correctly diagnose and repair their cars.

Capricorn Service Data can help

Powered by Auto Data, Capricorn Service Data is free to all members and has service information on more than 34,000 vehicles. This includes manufacturers’ service schedules, service illustrations, repair times and, most importantly, an estimate calculator.

Capricorn Service Data is provided through a third party service provider and is subject to terms of use that can be located at

This article was published 28/10/2022 and the content is current as at the date of publication.