Dec 10, 2021

The Truck, The Tech, and The Triage: A Quick Guide to Triage Bays

The Truck, The Tech, and The Triage: A Quick Guide to Triage Bays

Is your shop swamped? Do you dream of moving things along a bit faster?

Maybe it’s time for a triage bay.

If you’re like most of us, the word triage calls to mind various medical dramas featuring absurdly attractive doctors determining which patients in the disaster-of-the-week need attention now, and which can wait a while.

A triage bay operates the same way: absurdly attractive diesel technicians diagnose a truck’s problems and figure out what to do and how fast they can do it. When operated correctly, it can really boost a shop’s workflow—which is critical to maintain, especially in this era of parts shortages.

The Fullbay team has been fascinated by the idea of a triage bay since we first heard about it. We spoke with Jeremy Mohler and Luke Todd of The Service Company about their triage bay and how it’s changed the way they work.

What is a triage bay, and who needs one?

Before diving into the beauty of the triage bay, let’s take a look at what happens without one. A customer brings in a vehicle with a check engine light. Your shop already has a bunch of trucks that need work, including two that are waiting for parts. You take the truck, promising to look at it as soon as you can.

Unfortunately, “as soon as you can” might be tomorrow, which is not what the owner or fleet manager wants to hear.

“People want their stuff looked at,” Jeremy says.

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear: a triage bay isn’t so much a bay as it is a state of mind. It changes up a shop’s entire workflow—something we obsess over at Fullbay—by having one person and one bay dedicated to diagnostic work.

That’s it. That’s all they do.

This may seem like an invitation to a bottleneck, but it’s actually not. By devoting a person and a bay to diagnostics, shops can find out what is wrong with a vehicle much sooner. Then they and the owner or fleet manager can make an educated decision about what to do next. Downtime means money out of a manager’s pocket, which is something everyone wants to avoid.

That’s the real beauty of the triage bay. A skilled diagnostician can determine an issue and whether that issue is enough to down the truck. Often, it’s not. If a repair isn’t critical, Jeremy says, the truck may be able to go back to work while the shop orders parts. Once they arrive, the truck can come back, get fixed up, and get back on the road.

How does a triage bay work?

All this sounded pretty cool to us, so we asked Jeremy to outline the triage process. We want to stress that triage will look a little different from shop to shop; it’s largely dependent on how many bays and techs a shop may have. The good news is, you likely don’t need any specific tools or software beyond what you already use—like we said, truck triage is more about workflow than fancy tools (although those can be pretty nice).

Here’s how triage operates in Jeremy’s shop:

  1. A truck arrives with a complaint and goes to the triage bay.
  2. The diagnostic tech will look at the complaint and perform a check-in inspection.
  3. The diagnostic tech writes up what they need and prices the parts.
  4. Authorization time! If the owner has pre-authorized the work, great; otherwise the shop needs to get in touch.
  5. The parts manager orders the necessary parts.
  6. If they have the parts on hand, they may fix the unit immediately; if not, it will head out into the lot to wait.
  7. Once the parts arrive, the truck heads in and gets the necessary repairs and maintenance.

How does a triage bay benefit a shop?

Because the triage bay most heavily impacts the workflow, a shop that executes correctly on it may see some pretty impressive increases in efficiency—a well-run triage bay might even help your shop reach triple-digit efficiency.

A triage bay also lets you maximize the space you have. “We only have so much facility at all times,” Luke says. “If you use [your bays] for a parking garage, you’re gonna run out of room.” By getting trucks in and out (whether “out” is back on the road or in the lot to wait for parts) quickly, you’re ensuring your repair bays are open for, you know, actual repairs.

In addition, the dedicated diagnostics tech that accompanies a triage bay can find all kinds of stuff during their initial workup of the vehicle. “If that’s your job,” Jeremy says, “you get wrapped up in what you’re doing. If you see a bad sensor, OK, what else is wrong? The diagnostic tech sees everything else attached to the bad sensor.”

That means you figure out everything that needs fixing in one go. It also means fewer of the dreaded back-and-forth calls with a customer. You know the kind we mean:

“Hey, we found this problem.”

“Hey, it’s us again. We found something else.”

“Heyyyyy um you know that truck you dropped off? Well…we found something else…”

Bad news is bad news, but trust us—your customers would rather hear it all in one go than every other hour.

Is truck triage the way of the future?

Luke thinks it is. He believes the additional electronics on trucks, as well as the ever-expanding range of alternative fuel vehicles, mean a talented diagnostician in a triage bay will be more important going forward. Still, he would be surprised to see it happen quickly. “Running a shop is hard,” he says, and the organizational requirements around setting up a triage bay can seem pretty daunting.

Still, there’s plenty of good reasons to have one. “Trucks are getting more complicated,” he remarks, stating that diagnostic work is a skill unto itself. Jeremy agrees with him; a lot of techs can hook up a JPRO and tell you what a code means, but a real diagnostics tech can dig deep into a vehicle. They won’t just tell you the code; they’ll tell you what caused it and what other problems might be stemming from it. In time, we’ll probably see more techs specializing in diagnostics, which will likely contribute to more shops adopting triage bays.

Overall, truck triage feels like another logical step the industry can take on its hike toward modernization. We’re eager to see what’s next for this method of operation—so if your shop has a triage bay, or if you’ve been thinking about operating one, let us know!

Suz Baldwin