Truck triage feels like another logical step the industry can take on its hike toward modernization.
By Suz Baldwin

Is your shop swamped? Do you dream of moving things along a bit faster? Maybe it is time for a triage bay. If you are 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 awhile.

A triage bay operates the same way: 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.

We have 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 has 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 is not so much a bay as it is a state of mind. It changes up a shop’s entire workflow by having one person and one bay dedicated to diagnostic work. That is it. That is all they do.

This may seem like an invitation to a bottleneck, but it is 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 is 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 is not. If a repair is not 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?
We want to stress that triage will look a little different from shop-to-shop; it is largely dependent on how many bays and techs a shop may have. The good news is, you likely do not need any specific tools or software beyond what you already use—the truck triage is more about workflow than fancy tools (although those can be pretty nice).

Here is 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. 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 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 going to 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. Bad news is bad news, but your customers would rather hear it all in one go than every other hour.

Is Truck Triage the Way of the Future?
Luke 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 is 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; many of the 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 will not just tell you the code, but they will also tell you what caused it and what other problems might be stemming from it. In time, we will 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. | WA

Suz Baldwin got her start in the automotive industry, writing and editing for several motorcycle and classic car magazines straight out of college. In the years that followed, she has written copy for brands big and small.

This article originally appeared on Fullbay’s blog at
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