With EVs, ‘threat of shock is very real'

With EVs, ‘threat of shock is very real’

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Working on an electric vehicle isn’t just a matter of popping the hood, disconnecting a few cables and burying your head and hands inside. There’s safety involved as well, as service technician Julio Hernandez knows.

Hernandez, a platinum-level service technician, is the first EV-certified technician at Rick Case Hyundai Davie in a Fort Lauderdale suburb. His brave new world requires precise training to avoid damaging a vehicle and, by extension, risking a service technician’s life.

“What we need to worry about are the hazards of the car,” said Mark Perry, the dealership’s service director. “If you are clocking 240 volts, it could kill you. There are big rubber gloves we have to wear. There is a safety helmet with goggles to protect them. We have a set of insulated tools.

“The threat of shock is very real.”

It’s not just brands such as Tesla that are electrifying around the globe. Mainstream automakers including Hyundai, Kia, Ford and General Motors also are producing EVs. And these manufacturers realize the need to train their dealership service technicians.

Global inspection company Dekra North America predicts electric and hybrid vehicles will account for 32 percent of the U.S. automotive market by 2030 and 45 percent five years later.

The company offers practical training in the field, including high-voltage training for vehicle manufacturers in the U.S. The course structure is customized for the automaker’s specific needs and offers training on:

  • Finding and identifying high-voltage parts.
  • Working safely within the confines of the part locations.
  • Determining whether a vehicle’s power has been discharged.
  • Discharging procedures.
  • Using personal protective equipment.
  • Maintaining appropriate safety equipment.
  • Following proper first aid and emergency procedures.

The training begins with the basics: components, such as capacitors; the battery itself; measurement instruments; PPE; and legal regulations. The company focuses on the risks of high-voltage EVs and the safe behavior required while working on or near them.

Additionally, the course teaches how to find a fault within the battery and how to handle and repair damaged and wrecked high-voltage vehicles.

Hyundai spokesperson Miles Johnson said “no one should touch an EV unless they’re at least certified on EV safety.” Hyundai mandates an online course for all techs on a certification path.

“We take safety very seriously and won’t certify dealers to sell or offer warranty service on EVs unless they’ve completed this course,” Johnson said.

The company has additional requirements for servicing EVs, including several layers of in-person training.

Much of Hyundai’s training is safety-related.

“It’s about making sure people won’t hurt themselves [or the vehicle], and the best way to do that is in person, working side by side with an instructor on these high-voltage systems in a safe environment,” he said.

Service technicians at Kia dealerships must be trained similarly. Before taking high-voltage courses, technicians must complete five web-based training classes. These are followed by five days of instruction on electrical diagnosis using Kia tools at a Kia training center.

“The two-day High Voltage Technologies 1 course provides an overview of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, including high-voltage components and systems,” said James Bell, Kia’s director of corporate communications. “In the two-day High Voltage Technologies 2 course, technicians apply what they learned to complete hands-on practical activities.”

Kia requires all participating dealerships to have at least two certified technicians.

Ford is another mainstream brand being proactive with EV certification. As with other dealerships, Ford franchisees must be EV-certified before selling and servicing EV models.

“The training is specific to the battery and the high-voltage components of the battery, and that’s why we are requiring that certification, said Elizabeth Tarquinto, manager of technical support operations at Ford.

“If they are going to be able to do any work on the battery itself, they must take this class. It’s from a safety perspective, mainly,” she said.

The program involves a mixture of web-based and classroom lessons at one of 40 Ford training centers across the country.

“We want them to have hands-on experience with the battery,” Tarquinto said. “We are even utilizing some augmented reality technology to do some of this training. From there, technicians can move to advanced electronics and high-voltage training.”

Ford maintains 10 technical support operation managers across the U.S. to support field service engineers and its training department.

As the rollout of EVs hasn’t been as fluid as hoped because of supply chain issues plaguing nearly all manufacturers, servicing has taken a slower approach.

“We will adjust it to our volume, but right now, we are requiring at least one certified technician per dealership that sells our EVs,” Tarquinto said. “Of course, if you are servicing hundreds of electrical vehicles, you will need more than one technician.”

Hernandez, the Hyundai service tech, said there will be more and more EVs on the streets in the coming months and years, and some of those vehicles will come to his service bay.

“Working on these vehicles will require more experience because of the electricity involved,” he said. “I never thought that to be an automotive tech, I would need to train like a power company lineman.”

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