Qualified Automotive Electricians vs 'Specialists'

There are a growing number of aussie businesses now selling automotive electrical products such as warning lights, lightbars and flashing beacons to Australians all over the country. The biggest common denominator with these new businesses is that their 'high quality' installations are NOT being carried out by Qualified Automotive Electricians, instead they are being performed by in-house 'specialists' or low bidder vendors who are no more qualified then an employee or contractor with a pair of side cutters and electrical tape.

In this episode, we'll look at why so many of these new businesses have poped up, how to pick the good from the bad, and things to look out for if are thinking about using an installer who is not a qualified automotive electrician.

In the last 10 years there has been a huge influx of aussie businesses trying to get into the emergency vehicle lighting market. This influx can be partially attributed to the recent explosion of self employment, that is 'people wanting to work for themselves because they think there is unlimited earning potential in running your own business', and honestly, most of them end up unpleasantly surprised by just how wrong they are and close up shop within a few years. - If an installer closes up shop, there goes your warranty!


Ok, so why is everyone selling emergency lighting all of a sudden? Well there are three factors that contribute to this; Firstly is the false ideal that automotive electrical unlike general electrical doesn't need any formal training to carry out, and that anyone with a pair of side cutters that knows 'red is positive' can fit equipment to a vehicle. Secondly, is the assumption that emergency lighting products don't need to be certified to any standard, so you can just buy up untested products from China and resell them with fancy Australian sounding brand names stuck to them on shiny little stickers and people will believe they are quality. Thirdly, is the desire to obtain lucrative government contracts, and do as little as possible while collecting a payday.

Now the problem with all this is that Joe Average startup business (shopping from China and importing 'super great' products) is NOT a Qualified Automotive Electrician, and as a result while they might claim to be a 'lighting specialist', he (or she) has likely never had any formal training in how to work in automotive electrics, they just figure they know everything there is to know about vehicle electrical systems, and what can go wrong, its just two wires right?

So, here's where it gets interesting. That Joe Average startup business, when they lay hands on your band new ute, car, van or truck's electrical system to install those fancy new flashing lights you just bought, well they have likely just voided part (or sometimes all) of your new car warranty. See, vehicle manufactures these days don't even like Qualified Automotive Electricians touching their 'still under warranty' vehicles, they want you to bring it to them to look at, because lets face it, they built it so they know how to fix it. However, that said, provided the Automotive Electricians you use is qualified, the manufacturer usually cant object to third party carrying out work to the same standard that they would do themselves.


Right. now lets say you go down the road to Joe Average startup business and have him fit these new flashing amber lights you just bought for your ute. Now after he's done this installation for you, a few days later, for some unknown reason, suddenly your ute won't start. So you tow your vehicle back to where you bought it and the dealer has a look for you under your warranty. While looking, the technician from your dealership notices that someone has tapped into the ignition circuit, so he traces the wire. Turns out, in order to run your new flashing lights and have them turn off with your key, Joe Average startup business 'specialist installer' wired them into the only place he could get power from easily in your make of vehicle, which was direct from the ignition harness. Sounded like a good plan at the time, except he's tapped the wrong line and he's overloaded the circuit. Its blowing fuses, and the ECU is throwing a fault light.

Returning to collect your ute, the dealership now hands you a bill that covers the towing cost, the fee for diagnostics, a new ECU module, and the notice that says your new car warranty is now invalidated. All because you let Joe Average carry out a installation job that they aren't qualified to do, in a vehicle they aren't trained to work on.

So now you're angry, you've got an invalided new car warranty, and a bill for $700 in your hand. So you go back to Joe Average and file a claim against their liability insurance to cover your repair costs. Within a few days you find out that Joe Average's insurance provider didn't realize that Joe Average wasn't a qualified automotive electrician and the insurer won't cover individuals or businesses who do not hold current industry certifications. Joe Average has now has their insurance cover invalidated and refuses to pay you out.

This story is actually based on something that really happened. The most fightening thing is that this kind of thing still happens and customers are getting left holding the short end of the stick.


6 Things you can do to ensure you're getting a quality product and service

  1. Never use an installer who sells automotive lighting unless they are a Qualified Automotive Electrician. Its easy to spot those who are qualified because they will usually offer more services then just 'flashing lights for your ute'. Look for other services they provide like general automotive electrical services that cover things such as alternators, air conditioning, and electrical repair. Never buy from eBay.
  2. Look for history, things like how long have they been in business, and what their origins are. If they don't come from an Automotive Electrical background, its unlikely they are qualified.
  3. Ask the question. Simply asking the question 'Are your installations carried out by Qualified Automotive Electricians?'. If the answer is anything other then a 'Yes', then its probable that they are unqualified and just a self proclaimed lighting 'specialist' just trying to secure a sale from you.
  4. Make sure they have experience in installing emergency lighting. Just because they know HOW doesn't mean they are GOOD at it. Plenty of automotive electricians are qualified to install lighting, but have so little experience in that area the installs are not very cleanly done.
  5. Look for a Qualified Automotive Electrician who isn't insanely busy. High turn over installers tend to rush jobs in order to get more done in a day. If you are going to be waiting more then a day or two for a slot, assume they are too busy to do the job right.
  6. Beware of businesses who JUST list mobile numbers. If the installer is a mobile automotive electrician, yes a lot of them will favor a mobile number but MOST of these businesses will have a workshop or office number you can call. Mobile numbers and PO boxes are an easy way for businesses to hide who they are.


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