Having just two Isuzu Ute models to work on is ideal for streamlining problem-solving, but muddy and sandy off-roaders are a constant battle.
It can’t be easy as a workshop technician somewhere like BMW or Toyota. Endless different models, engines, gearboxes, electronics – and they’re just the obvious things – means wildly different service requirements, common problems and required parts. Life’s very different at Isuzu Ute. The Japanese brand sells only two models – the D-MAX ute and the MU-X large SUV – which share the same drivetrain (depending on generation) and many components. For Isuzu technicians, it’s very nearly a case of ‘if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.’
The brand’s growth in Australia has been something of a marvel. Last year it shifted over 22,000 utes and SUVs – that’s more than Suzuki and almost as many as BMW – while the MU-X has been the country’s best-selling ute-based SUV for years, trumping Toyota, Mitsubishi and Ford’s efforts. Why? Isuzu’s rugged, reliable reputation strikes chords with caravantowing grey nomads, lifestyle adventurers,worksite labourers, farmers and more.
So life is good right now for Isuzu sales folk, but also its technicians. Simplicity is the reason. “Having only two vehicles to work on is ideal in so many ways,” says Rob Pinnell, service advisor at Caloundra Isuzu Ute on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. “If somebody phones or presents with a problem, you hear the symptom and typically you just think of other times when you’ve been able to solve a similar problem. Having the same driveline really helps streamline problem solving. It won’t be the same way for other vehicles perhaps made in different factories or with multiple drivetrains.”
While an all-new D-MAX ute launched last year (an updated MU-X should follow suit this year), complicating things slightly, Rob still knows he has it good. “Most vehicles coming in (to the workshop) are between 2012 and 2019 model years, meaning one oil filter, one air filter and the like, so picking parts ready for service is simple. All I really need to know is whether it’s a 4×2 or 4×4, manual or auto.”
The modern and bright showroom and workshop were formerly a large motorcycle dealer’s, so there’s ample space for Damian Brockelsby – the only permanent technician on site – to work. Adding more staff is the future plan to service ever-growing Isuzu ownership, but for now additional technicians from Caloundra Isuzu’s former smaller site (as part of a motor group) can be called on for specific jobs or days if workload demands.
“DUE TO THE NATURE OF THESE ISUZUS THERE’S A MIGHTY MARKET FOR DEALER-FIT ACCESSORIES.”
There’s typical capped price servicing work and general repairs, but due to the nature of these Isuzus there’s a mighty market for dealer-fit accessories. While many dual-cab 4×4 utes these days are bought for street showboating, a large chunk of Isuzu owners actually use their vehicles as the manufacturer intended. “Not many D-MAXs are sold without tow bars,” Rob says, “then some require electric brakes. A good measure go for tub liners, bull bars, side-steps if they’re not already standard, and tonneau covers.”
In this region of Queensland nature has provided a perfect playground. There are some superb muddy and rocky off-road tracks, plus giant stretches of sand to enjoy a lifestyle vehicle. All great fun until you have to clean them, of course.
“It’s not uncommon for Damian to take a bash plate off and have his hair covered in sand,” Rob explains. “We sometimes have to educate owners a bit on how to get sand cleaned from the underside. Leaving a sprinkler underneath for a long time, moving it often, is what we tell them.” A fun beach drive can also mean contact with dreaded salt water. “People forget to lift the bonnet and deal with the engine bay,” he says. “They’re scared to clean in there, but spraying fresh water to get rid of the salt is by far the lesser of two evils.”
Even so, Rob says they don’t send customers away in the direction of an underbody car wash before services. “It just comes with the territory,” he says.
“Lots of farmers buy D-MAXs and these end up the worst due to mud. Sand can’t stick to itself over a large area and stay there, but mud can completely cake on and form a giant skin.”
A new challenge is the far more electronically complex D-MAX which will soon be coming into the workshop for first annual services. All come as standard with wireless Apple CarPlay/wired Android Auto, high-res touchscreens, advanced auto emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and eight airbags – all very modern, clever and fancy for these traditional work and lifestyle vehicles. Sadly, that brings with it more things to potentially go wrong, but Rob says they’ve been well trained and are ready for dealing with such issues.
He says he’s thankful the Isuzu 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel has been retained (albeit improved and refined) as this truck-derived engine is a core reason for the brand’s popularity. “It’s a big block for a ute these days,” he says with a smile. “You feel it’s something very solid and reliable, over-engineered and understressed. It’s good to work on an engine that has proved so reliable.”
The personal touch – genuine, not plastered on – is hard to achieve at giant, busy service centres. Rob says being the opposite makes his job so enjoyable. “I often recognise those who’ve been in before, I’ll have chatted to them and remembered their vehicle and what we’ve done to it. I can get to know people. They love that and means they want to come back next time.”
For more information visit www.caloundraisuzuute.com.au