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Interview with Hybrid Specialist and Owner of Luscious Garage Carolyn Coquillette

CarolynThis month, the first hybrid that was available in the US, the Honda Insight, celebrates its 14th birthday. As hybrids reach the age in which they fall out of warranty, many consumers are left wondering where they should repair and service their cars beyond the dealer. Hybrid vehicles require a different skillset, tools, and knowledge of a technology that is still new. Jill Trotta, ASE-certified technician, consultant, and automotive professional on RepairPal’s Automotive Professionals Team and Carolyn Coquillette, hybrid specialist and owner of Luscious Garage in San Francisco discussed how hybrids fit in with independent repair shops.

Jill Trotta (JT): Thanks so much for speaking with us, Carolyn. The hybrid space is such a new and fascinating space. What would you advise a shop owner who is considering working on hybrid vehicles?

Carolyn Coquillette (CC): A lot of owners go to the dealership, but there are always those that don’t go, for various reasons. There is market relevance to pursue those cars as potential business.  Anywhere there is a hybrid, there is a need for service.  And when there is a need for service, there is a need for competency.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. What hybrids are in your market?
  2. Do you want to service them?
  3. Are you competent?

It makes sense to focus on the makes you already work on.  If you work on Hondas, then Honda hybrids are an obvious next step.

JT: Part of my job in certifying shops is to have a conversation with every shop to learn about the things that they can and cannot do, and hybrids always come up. We are looking into asking more hybrid questions in our certification process. Hybrids require specific qualifications and skills and it’s my job to determine if the shop actually meets those abilities before I can certify them as a hybrid repair shop. What do you suggest for shops who want to be hybrid-certified?

CC: Because this is such a new technology, sometimes you have to do other things that go beyond traditional hybrid certification. For example, you can spend time reading books, participate in forums, or buy a hybrid for the shop to repair. The good question for you to ask, Jill, is “What have you actually seen?”

You are caught in a middle ground because there is really no hybrid certification and the caliber of a shop is always hard to judge. That’s where third-party websites like RepairPal can be so influential. Third-party evaluations and consumer reviews testify for competency and commitment to learning.

JT: What do you consider the minimum requirements for someone to competently work on hybrid vehicles?

CC: I don’t want to say factory scan tool and factory information, but I want to. In other words, if a car comes in and has trouble codes, can you pull them? If all you have is a hammer, then every problem you have is a nail. That’s a metaphor for scan tools. If you don’t have the right tool, you assume that’s not the problem. It’s very important on hybrids since they are not OBD-II generic. You need the tool that has factory level capability. When we are talking hybrids, we are often talking Toyota since it’s the vast majority of the market. The Toyota scan tool is very approachable. You can sign up for Techstream Lite from the Toyota website for around $1,100 for the subscription that includes a download of the software. Then you buy the USB to DLC cable called a Mongoose and you are ready to go. So for around $1,500, it is very accessible.

JT: Where do you think are the best places for shop owners to get information?

CC: iATN has a lot of information on their website (members-only access I believe) and that’s good for the basics. The best training is working on one yourself whether it’s your own or the shop’s hybrid, and then just playing around with the scan tools.

JT: What qualities do you look for when you have someone join your team? 

CC: Maturity, honesty, intelligence. I look to see how well they can read a diagram and I look at their level of professionalism. None of these things are hybrid-specific, and usually I prefer someone to have little or no experience so we can train them.

JT: Why did you get into hybrids?

CC: I was just really passionate about the technology. I found that the usual things, timing belts and maintenance services, felt like a routine and I wanted to do something different. Hybrids are a whole new system that’s computer-based and I found it to be very elegant and exciting. I think that’s why a lot of technicians became interested before hybrids were available to mainstream consumers. They are cool and it’s rare to see something that was a true departure from the traditional car. 

JT: What is your favorite hybrid?

CC: I am a Gen 2 Prius fan. I think it’s a really good vintage. The car is simple and the new one is more complicated. When things are more complicated they are more expensive. I think the Hyundai and Kias are very interesting and have the potential to grab a lot of the market because the cars are packaged so well, but I just don’t see that many of them on the road.

JT: Thanks so much Carolyn. We appreciate you taking the time out of your busy shop schedule. 

CC: It’s always great to speak with you guys.

 Carolyn Coquillette is a master technician and owner of Luscious Garage in San Francisco, CA.



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