How to sustain the diesel repair sector

Whether the government likes it or not, there are still a lot of diesel vehicles on the road, and they need to be maintained to keep them as efficient as possible.

Mike Sadler, Assistant Manager at Denso, has urged businesses (factors in particular) to consider diesel as a means of profitmaximisation.

He said: “Diesel products are of high value, as opposed to commodity products – spark plugs, for example – meaning they can be sold at a higher return and margin, contributing to a positive turnover.”

But regardless of the income potential, there’s the significant obstacle of set-up costs to overcome.

Manufacturer warnings against working on injectors and common rail systems in ‘unclean environments’ has made it largely impossible for regular garages to consider such work, and the limited number of VM-backed specialists that do exist have an arsenal of machines at their disposal for rebuilding components.

SMALL NUMBER

Another reason for the small number of authorised repairers (Denso recognises just five in the UK) is that it has simply become such an involved process to obtain manufacturer backing.

“They need to have a plan, including the isolation of a clean room,” said John Reed, Senior Engineer at Denso UK, adding that “each test bench needs to produce an injector to the standards of Japan”.

That’s no mean feat, either, given that today’s common rail units pump diesel at a rate of 2500 bar, and there’s an official industry-wide tolerance of 0.2 microns for moving parts.

“Things are becoming so complex that some equipment is beginning to be almost unrepairable due to the costs involved for the dedicated test equipment,” Reed said.

Julian Goulding, speaking while Marketing Manager of BorgWarner (now head of sales at Hella Gutmann), thinks that a set-up like this can cost from £50,000 to £100,000, depending on the type of work a business plans to do.

For any firm seeking manufacturer authorisation, though, it’s a very necessary expense. He put it simply: “They have to have the right equipment, training and facilities.”

CLEAN ROOM

A clean room is just one strict requirement placed upon diesel specialists. Former Hartridge managing director Adam Lee said: “Today’s equipment now has to be able to handle nearly 3000 bar; hybrid common rail systems with multiple coils; piezo and smart technology and multiple injection events, and measure tolerances to minuscule fuel delivery quantities.”

It’s a big ask for independent businesses to make so significant a financial commitment to such highly specialised tooling, but Lee said that Hartridge has “focused on making the machines far easier to use with many on-screen prompts and embedded data with simple-to-use access menus, meaning there is not the need for years of experience to become useful”.

This takes some of the pressure off smaller firms, which would struggle to develop a trained workforce alongside building up an appropriate level of equipment.

Thankfully, expanding your existing service offering to cope with newer engines needn’t break the bank.

Goulding said: “There are add-ons you need for Euro 5 and 6, but it’s not a completely new investment.”

But part of the reason for the decline in the number of authorised diesel repairers, he explained, isn’t necessarily the cost, but the practicality of keeping up.

“Quite a few of these places are family-run businesses that haven’t evolved. People aren’t prepared to buy them,” he said. It’s hard, also, to ignore the decline in diesel demand.

Even as VMs shift focus away from diesel, there’s reason to be confident that the second-hand vehicle sector will keep independent specialists afloat for some time.

That’s without mentioning vehicles such as tractors and bulldozers, which will require diesel motors for many years to come.

Goulding summed up: “The market is strong. We’re in a good place to advise firms. It’s not all doom and gloom.”

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