Plenty of shop owners complain about the incredibly fast pace of new automotive technologies. Those shops are often uncertain as to where to focus their efforts, training and investments. We’ve all heard it said before, “It’s too hard to hit a moving target.”

Kirk Holland offers a solution; he brings the target(s) right to your shop’s doorstep.

While most brick and mortar repair shops measure themselves in terms of square footage or by number of bays, Kirk’s shop might be more appropriately measured in cubic feet of cargo space and the number of vans in his fleet. You see, Kirk’s business is mobile; you won’t find his shop – or need to – because it finds you.

Gladney Automotive Solutions provides mobile diagnostic and programming services to local collision centers, OE dealerships and mechanical repair shops. Gladney serves within a tight, 60-mile radius of College Station, Texas with its expert, ASE Master Certified technicians performing the latest high-tech diagnostics and repairs, up to and including recalibrating all the brand-new, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).

The Team

Originally from Waco, Texas, Kirk has been an automotive technician in Bryan/College Station since 1994. It was there in College Station that Kirk married his wife, Stephanie; and where they currently are raising their daughters Taylor and Margaret, along with their young son, James.

In the more than two decades of Kirk’s automotive career, he has earned certifications as a Master ASE Certified Technician, L1 Advanced Level Diagnostic Specialist, L3 Light Duty Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Specialist, I-CAR Certifications and become LSID Certified for security services with NASTF.

To help keep current, Kirk attends training conferences like Automechanika, World Pac Expo, AAPEX/SEMA, CARS and VISION KC (last 12 years). His ongoing training also includes I-CAR courses and more than 30 WorldPac Training Institute (WTI) classes to stay current with the latest diagnostic and programming techniques.

Kirk has also served on the local high school automotive advisory committee for the last six years, helping them obtain National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation (NATEF) certification; he also serves as a National Automotive Service Task Force (NASTF) committee member for the last four years. Recently, he was appointed by the NASTF board as the co-chair for the Service Technology Team.

Gladney Automotive Solutions delivers its cutting-edge diagnostic and repair services from 8 a.m. until 5 or 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturdays and Sundays are reserved for family and researching the latest vehicle repair information. Any off-hours accommodations made to customers or vendors are typically handled by Kirk so that he can personally maintain those business relationships and his employees/colleagues can enjoy their time off.

Two vans and a truck comprise the Gladney Automotive Solutions fleet. Each vehicle is fully stocked, fully equipped and driven by a Master Certified Technician. While Kirk pilots one, employees David and Travis travel about town in the others.

David Hofstetter earned his bachelor’s degree in automotive technology at Southern Illinois University (SIU), and has earned several I-CAR Certifications. David’s continuing training includes attending WTI courses as well as CAN Connect and VISION KC conferences. David is an expert in ADAS calibration services and electrical connector repairs.

Travis A. McAlister, III earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and has been serving the local automotive industry for almost a decade. Travis’s continuing training includes attending CARS and VISION KC Conferences. Travis specializes in providing licensed locksmithing, key programming and replacement services.

Targets

Beside the fact that each van has thousands of dollars’ worth of black and white calibration targets tucked behind the seats – there is yet another reason that Gladney Automotive Solutions finds itself in a target rich environment. The College Station area is compact enough and has enough collision centers, OE dealerships and mechanical repair shops to keep all three techs and their vans busy all day. Only the outer ring of their 60-mile service area causes any real travel time concerns, as most business is concentrated in-town. Each tech can expect to service an average of one car per hour. And, that doesn’t mean driving to eight or ten locations per day. Some jobs are done more quickly than others and often times, there are two or three cars needing their services at the same shop or business.

When it comes to dollars and ‘sense,’ key performance indicators are quite similar between Kirk’s mobile business and your brick and mortar shop. Car count, gross profit, tech efficiency and cost of goods comes to mind. “I have as much or more dollars invested as does a regular shop,” remarked Kirk. “The main difference is that I spend those dollars to buy OEM equipment and OEM information subscriptions; and the regular shop might spend those dollars for shop equipment or a lift that lasts for 10-15 years. But it costs me thousands of dollars every year to keep my subscriptions constantly updated.”

Information

Having THE most current and up-to-date service information is key to Kirk’s success. Gladney Automotive Solutions succeeds because they have made the investment in the tools and information that other shops just aren’t ready for. Almost every car that Gladney Automotive Solutions works on is a late model vehicle. Typically, they are working on a newer, low mileage car that has been involved in a collision. Neither the collision shop or the repair shop has the tools or the service information to understand the pre and post repair scan data. But, guess who does? And, when fault codes are found, Kirk and his team have probably already accessed the information, diagnosed the problem, repaired the vehicle, verified the repair and cleared the codes for cars you may never have had in your shop before. Your scan tool(s) may be current through model year 2015, because those are the vehicles you typically see in your shop. Gladney Automotive Solutions has OEM tools current through the 2020 model year.

Perhaps your shop earned the opportunity to sell tires and perform an alignment on a very new vehicle with all the latest safety system bells and whistles. If you are lucky, your Hunter Alignment System informed you that the alignment cannot be completed until all the affected safety systems are calibrated. Odds are, you might need a safety system calibration. Referencing OE service information and performing or outsourcing that calibration is required before you can call your customer and let them know the job is complete.

Maybe you installed a replacement component that requires programming, have a customer that needs a key or found a damaged wiring connector during diagnosis. Instead of towing your customer’s vehicle to the OE dealer and having it sit there for days while in a rental vehicle, Gladney Automotive Solutions pulls up to your shop in their van, accesses the OE repair info, completes the repairs on-site in a matter of minutes or hours, for a fraction of the cost at the dealer. That’s the Gladney Automotive Solutions business model. 

ADAS Assistance

Designed to provide safety and comfort while driving, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are ever more common in newer vehicles. To help professionals recalibrate these sophisticated active safety devices, there are several requirements. OE information, OE tools and targets, good lighting, lots and lots of room; and, the patience and willingness to follow all processes perfectly.

Kirk said, “If you understand basic geometry, and follow each process step-by-step, then you can successfully recalibrate an ADAS system.”

“However,” Kirk warned, “Almost anybody can – but not everybody should – work on these safety systems. There are no shortcuts, and the liability is great. It’s only a matter of time before a shop shortcuts a safety system calibration, someone gets hurt, and criminal charges are filed.” Kirk admitted that he gets good money for completing repairs that are not all that hard.

Sometimes, what IS hard – is finding the room needed to perform the calibrations. Firstly, most shop floors or parking lots are not level enough to provide accurate readings. Lighting must be even across the entire working area. And, sometimes the area required can be as large as 40ft wide and 50ft long for setting up the targets. Typically, only collision centers and some OE dealerships have such large, open working areas. Even then, the tech might spend a lot of time sweeping the entire floor area so that the targets can be rolled-out or placed level on the floor. When necessary, Gladney Automotive Solutions gets creative in finding the correct space. Sometimes, they will pick up a vehicle and drive it to another location for repairs.

Remember Kirk’s comment about geometry? Sometimes, the critical tools used during recalibrations aren’t targets and laser beams, they are measuring tapes, lengths of string, plumb bobs, white cardboard and brightly colored masking tape. Some of the OE-sourced target stands are sections of PVC pipe. Kirk always uses OE tools and equipment. Some targets and tools are available in the aftermarket. However, Kirk warns about aftermarket tooling and the liability when something goes wrong and someone asks if OE-specific tools were used along with OE information and procedures to recalibrate a critical safety system.

Each ADAS recalibration performed includes complete documentation of their thoroughness. Kirk is prepared with documentation and receipts for each OE tool and OE information subscription used. And, he can provide a copy of the I-CAR training certification covering a particular safety system. Each vehicle is driven before and after repairs so that the tech can verify operation of the system independent of any fault codes. The Gladney Automotive Solutions receipt for the repair includes information describing the OE tool(s) and parts used, along with a time and date stamp. Further documentation includes a photo of the calibration set-up, along with a printout of pre and post calibration specifications, and pre and postrepair module(s) scan results indicating a successful calibration. Note that the captions for calibration setups in this article also include info describing the OE tools and kits used in the repair.

Other Services

Having the tools and expertise to recalibrate safety systems has led to Gladney Automotive Solutions ability to perform other services desired by traditional repair shops. Having the most up to date aftermarket and OE scan tools along with access to OE information helps Gladney techs diagnose the newest of vehicles on the road and/or those with the most complex repair strategies. This is also where lessons learned from ADAS repairs come in most handy. Following a standard diagnostic approach, step by step, and verifying each step along the way, each and every time, ensures that nothing gets overlooked. “Having the latest tools and info won’t help shops or techs who take shortcuts,” Kirk reminded us. “Checking mundane things like battery voltage and fuel quality every single time is a critical part of the process. Even if you just saw your doctor yesterday, he will listen to your heart and check your blood pressure again today. It’s that mentality that makes for a complete diagnosis.”

On board in each of the Gladney Automotive Solutions vans are hundreds of OE and OE-style electrical connectors. Why? Because virtually every diagnostic fault code repair procedure includes checking the integrity of a system’s electrical circuit. Often, damaged or otherwise compromised electrical system connectors are found. They typically have or know where to get the newest available connectors and are experts at replacing them. When it comes to collision repairs, repairing rather than replacing an electrical wiring harness can make the difference between an insurance company’s decision to repair a car or having it ‘totaled.’

“Sometimes, people do want their collision-repaired car back,” Kirk said. “If a new wiring harness costs the insurance company $2500, and we can repair the old harness for a couple hundred dollars, then we are heroes to the insurance company, the collision shop and the vehicle owner.”

Gladney Automotive Solutions vans also have a R1234yf A/C service machine on board. Kirk’s team has already worked on hundreds of 2019 model vehicles this year. Often, the same front-end collision damage that caused the safety systems to be compromised, caused required A/C system repairs. “Most shops have not made the investment in tools, technology and repair info to address the new R1234yf refrigerant systems because they just don’t see enough new cars yet, but we do,” explained Kirk.

Another ‘new’ vehicle technology expertly addressed by Gladney Automotive Solutions is locksmithing, key programming and replacement services. In today’s cars, a key is more than just a key. It is a critical and often expensive component of the vehicle’s security system that requires tools like a license to work as a locksmith, NASTF access to OE vehicle security information, a Keyline 994 key-cutting machine and an ample inventory of key blanks and key fobs for the newest of vehicles. Being able to provide a line of OE-like replacement keys and fobs saves customers and shops hundreds of dollars when replacing this small, but critical item. OE dealers and car rental companies are Gladney Automotive Solutions biggest customers for this service. Kirk won’t come out and unlock your car behind the bar in the middle of the night, but if your shop loses, damages or misplaces a customer’s key, he is ready, willing and able to help.

Different Model, Same Challenges

Kirk’s different business model offers many of the same rewards and challenges as those in any brick and mortar shop. Whereas a typical shop may have made a decision to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a wheel alignment system, Kirk made the decision to make a similar investment in safety system calibration targets.

Kirk has chosen a business-to-business model, but a customer is still a customer. Kirk spends the same amount of time and effort (maybe more) educating shop owners and helping them understand the value of his services - as you do with your retail customers. Cars are still cars, and they always present unique diagnostic challenges. Some jobs are inexpensive and quick fixes. Or, a dynamic recalibration process can require multiple trips behind the wheel to finish the calibration sequence and complete the repairs. Those jobs can be worth a thousand dollars and take up most of the day. Starting to sound familiar?

Kirk learned about hard work and its rewards while spending his youthful summers on his extended family’s farm in Louisiana. Those lessons and his passion to learn carry him through every business day and every weekend. “I have bad days when I feel like I couldn’t fix anything,” commented Kirk, “but you stick with it, put in the work and when you finally get it and fix what nobody else was able to fix, you feel awesome!”

And folks, that attitude and work ethic gets delivered to your doorstep with a phone call to Gladney Automotive Solutions. What’s next for Kirk and the Gladney Automotive Solutions team? “We’ll see how long this ADAS recalibration phase lasts,” he said, “the technology and repair process might mature in the next ten years and maybe by then we’ll be on to the next new thing.”