There’s no substitute for experience

John Batten explores what it takes to give your business the competitive advantage

By John Batten | Published:  01 September, 2017

Our industry is in a constant state of flux; new technology and changing customer behaviour are impacting our organisations, and ultimately the financial success of your business.

Our industry is in a constant state of flux; new technology and changing customer behaviour are impacting our organisations, and ultimately the financial success of your business. This pace of change can sometimes feel overwhelming, right? So far, nothing that you haven’t heard before. But what if I was to tell you there’s a straightforward, inexpensive, and effective way of gaining a competitive advantage. Interested? The answer is simple. Read on.
Read on. Read on.


Learn faster!
There are plenty of wise words from business theorists who suggest that “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. ”However, acquiring radically different skills whilst continuing to perform your job is often met with resistance; too difficult, too expensive, too time consuming. It also requires a willingness to become a novice again which in itself can be off-putting. It’s when things appear too difficult that I turn to Dr Seuss, that well known children's author, of ‘Cat in the Hat’ fame ,as he often has words of wisdom that sit well with my own take on business best practice for automotive repairers. I call it Diagnostics by Dr Seuss!


It’s better to know how to learn than to know
Kids are relentless in their urge to learn and master new things. As parents we encourage our children to learn, experience and be curious and yet these are traits, as adults, we often don’t practice ourselves. As business owners and technicians we need to become more curious. Curiosity drives us to try something until we can do it, or think about something until we understand it. Retaining this childhood drive can make us great learners.

We need to emulate childhood qualities; we need to learn the art of learning. This can start, very simply, by asking “How…? Why…? I wonder…?” Then take just one step to answer the question you’ve asked yourself; read technical information, watch a video, join the right discussion forum, try that extra test.


The more that you read, the more things you’ll know. The more that you learn the more places you’ll go
In our industry there is no shortage of information: Manufacturer technical information, technical bulletins, videos, articles and training courses. All of it  is very accessible and a lot of it free or low-cost. But ask yourself this question: how often are they used as a standard part of the diagnostic process in your business? When it comes to the art of diagnosis I’m a huge fan of process. Reading plays an enormous part in this as we can’t fix it if we don’t understand it.

One of my clients recently posted a fix in our forum, showing just how important the art of reading in diagnosis is.
Jay is 21 years old and is an enthusiastic young technician. While he may not regularly pull a fix from thin air, as a more ‘experienced’ technician might, he has learned the value of our 15 step diagnostic process and how research can reduce diagnostic time while increasing the ‘first time fix’ rate.

On this particular day Jay had a Jaguar XF to do battle with, the customer complaint being that the infotainment display was blank. Not perturbed by the lack of familiarity with the brand, Jay set about his process. Having obtained the relevant customer information, confirmed the fault and pulled a bunch of ‘no communication’ network codes, he decided that research was the order of the day. He headed off to the manufacturer’s website to spend £13.20 on the required information to research the network topology.

Jay discovered that the vehicle’s issues were all related to the MOST network. Having read how the MOST network functions (he didn’t know before), he decided that using a MOST loop to bypass the individual control units on the network should be at the top of the many tests on his diagnostic plan.

Jay discovered that when the phone control module was bypassed, communication was restored on the network, which in turn bought the infotainment display to life. Further testing confirmed the phone control module was at fault and its replacement along with the post fix elements in the diagnostic circle, completed the repair.


Sometimes the questions are complicated but the answers are simple
Often, when we become proficient, we rarely want to go back to being seen as not good at other things. We want to play to our strengths. Learning to do something new can be very daunting. Feeling slow, having to ask ‘dumb’ questions, needing step by step guidance again and again. This is so frustrating! The answer is to sit down and get started. Simple does not mean easy.  But if you are determined to show up and do the reading, do the research and do the practice, then you will ultimately succeed.


Process and research vs. experience
To get ahead you need to learn, to learn you need to be curious, to be curious you need to ask questions, to answer the questions you need to read! Repeat continuously, and you’ll have the straightforward, cost-effective competitive advantage I promised at the top of this article, regardless of your experience.


Want to know more?
Find out more about how John can help your technicians succeed and you business achieve its potential by visiting www.autoiq.co.uk or calling Auto iQ on 01604 328 500.

Related Articles

  • The good and the great 

    Being part of Top Technician for the last few years, I have seen many technicians succeed and develop new skills. Typically all are good rounded technicians and have great knowledge, but what makes the difference and makes the good into the great?
        
    It’s not just that they are lucky. The difference is that a great diagnostic technician will have a well-defined diagnostic process (or procedure) that they stick to every time.

    Process
    Some technicians start their diagnostic procedure with a well laid-out and defined process that they have normally learnt, often from training courses. As with any new process, it starts slowly as theory is put into practice until it becomes natural.
        
    Many technicians typically revert ‘back to type’ during the early stages, as their older method seems to make the diagnostic process shorter. As a result they believe it could make them more money. Yes, in the short term they may be right. However, normally in the longer term a well-defined diagnostic process proves to be infallible especially when the fault is difficult to diagnose or a vehicle that has been to several garages and the fault is still apparent.
        
    Many technicians also try to shortcut the process, taking out some of the steps that don’t seem to help in finding the answer. Sometimes a simple fault is made more complex by the technician overlooking the obvious in the second or third step, jumping from step one to step four because that’s where they feel comfortable. In this series of articles I’ll be covering the 10 steps that make up a well-planned, well organised, tried and tested diagnostic process. Use the process and refine it within your business, it works.
        
    Many businesses use a similar structured process and base their estimating/costing model on it
    as well.

    Meaning
    Let’s start at the beginning, with the meaning of diagnosis. Most technicians will look at the word and think it only relates to a computer controlled system and they have to use a fault code/scan tool to be able to diagnose a fault. This is not the case. Diagnosis can relate to any fault, whether that is electrical or mechanical. Therefore, the diagnosis can relate to an electronic fault by the malfunction indicator lamp (MIL) indicating a fault exists or a mechanical fault that exists within a clutch operating system.
        
    The meaning of diagnosis is: ‘The identification of a fault by the examination of symptoms and signs and by other investigations to enable a conclusion to be reached.’
        
    Or alternatively: ‘Through the analysis of facts of the fault, to gain an understanding which leads to
    a conclusion.’
        
    Both can relate to various professions.
        
    With this in mind, what have celebrity chef Paul Hollywood, your doctor, the green keeper at the local golf course and a automotive technician all  got in common?
        
    They all use a diagnostic process within their profession. Paul Hollywood is often seen as a judge within baking competitions. He uses his experience and process to perform a diagnosis on why a bread is not cooked correctly.
        
    Meanwhile, a doctor uses a diagnostic process to find an illness. A green keeper uses a diagnostic process to determine why the grass does not grow as green as it should, while a automotive technician performs a diagnostic process to find the fault on a vehicle.

    Let’s begin to go through the steps of the diagnostic process.

    Step 1: Customer questioning

    Being able to question the driver of the vehicle of the fault is always a very important part of the diagnostic process. Using a well-structured and documented series of questions can determine how the fault should be approached. Many experienced technicians do this part very well, but when a business becomes bigger, the customer’s information on a fault can get lost  when passed between the receptionist and the workshop.
        
    A document can be developed to perform this task, and is often the solution here.
        
    A customer has often seen a ‘warning lamp’ on the dash. They can only remember that it was an amber colour and it looked like a steering wheel. The document shown has a variety of warning light symbols that they can simply highlight to let the technician know of the MIL symbol and in the circumstances that the fault occurs (driving uphill around a right-hand bend etc).
        
    Much of the diagnostic process is about building a picture before the vehicle is worked on. Trying to fix the fault by jumping to step 4 or step 5 can often neglect what the customer has to say. One of the last steps in the diagnostic process is to confirm that the fault has been correctly repaired and will not occur again (‘first time fix’). How can the fix be successfully tested if the circumstances where  the fault occurred are not replicated during the final stages of the process?
        
    The MIL illuminating again (recurring fault) when the vehicle is driven by the customer is not always as easy to fix a second time, as you need to fix the vehicle fault as well as fix the customer, who has been forced to return.

    Step 2: Confirm the fault
    Some technicians just seem to take the fault highlighted as by the job card (or similar document) and diagnose the fault without first confirming, which can take some time to complete. This step might involve a road test to confirm that the fault exists. The apparent fault may be just a characteristic of the vehicle or the receptionist/customer may have explained the fault to be on the other side of the vehicle.
        
    Therefore, it is imperative that the technician confirms that the fault exists and the situation that the
    fault exists within, all providing additional information on building
    the picture before actually working
    on the vehicle.

    Step 3: Know the system and its function
    In order to fix a vehicle fault(s) a technician will first need to understand how the system works. If a technician doesn’t know how the system works how can they fix it?
        
    Don’t be shy or foolish and indicate that a technician knows everything (even on a specific manufacturer brand). Every technician sometimes needs to either carry out new system training or just have a reminder on how a system works.  
        
    With all the systems now fitted to a vehicle, it’s not surprising that a technician cannot remember every system and its function especially to a specific vehicle manufacturer or the model within the range. A technician may just need to remind themselves on the system operation or fully research the vehicle system.
        
    Most vehicle manufacturers will provide information on how a particular system works and how that system integrates (if applicable) with other systems of the vehicle. Spending some time researching the system can pay dividends in terms of time spent diagnosing the system and it is also educational. System functionality can often be learnt from attending training courses but if these are not available the information can be sourced from various other sources such as websites.
        
    External training courses can provide additional benefits especially discovering how a system operates and understanding its functionality and how the various components work. They will also allow the technician to focus on the specific system without the distraction of customers or colleagues.
        
    Once the system is thoroughly understood, the technician may be able to make some judgements as which components are ok and those which may be faulty and affect the system operation.

    Refine
    Just to recap on the three diagnosis steps covered in this article, these were:
    Step 1: Customer questioning
    Step 2: Confirm the fault
    Step 3: Know the system and its function

    Remember to follow the process and don’t try to short circuit it. Some steps my take longer to accomplish than others and some may be outside of your control (it may be necessary to educate others). Practice, practice, practice. Refine the process to fit in with your business and its practices, align your estimating/cost model to the process to be able to charge effectively.

    Next steps
    In the next article I will be looking at the next four steps which are seen to be:
    Step 4: Gather evidence    
    Step 5: Analyse the evidence
    Step 6: Plan the test routine
    Step 7: System testing

    The last article in this series will indicate the final three steps and how to fit them all together in order to become a great technician and perhaps win Top Technician or Top Garage in 2018. Go to www.toptechnicianonline.co.uk to enter this year’s competition. The first round is open until the end of February 2018.
        
    Every entry is anonymous so have a go!

  • technologies of electric and hybrid vehicles  

    In the previous two issues, we looked at the way batteries store energy. We could in fact compare a battery to a conventional fuel tank because the battery and the tank both store energy; but one big difference between a fuel tank and a battery is the process of storing the energy. Petrol and diesel fuel are pumped into the tank in liquid/chemical form and then stored in the same form. Meanwhile, a battery is charged using electrical energy that then has to be converted (within the battery) into a chemical form so that the energy can be stored.

    One of the big problems for many potential owners of pure electric vehicles is the relatively slow process of
    re-charging the batteries compared to the short time that it takes to re-fill a petrol or diesel fuel tank. If the battery is getting low on energy, the driver then has to find somewhere to re-charge the batteries, and this leads to what is now being termed ‘range anxiety’ for drivers.

    Whilst some vehicle owners might only travel short distances and then have the facility to re-charge batteries at home, not all drivers have convenient driveways and charging facilities. Therefore, batteries will have to be re-charged at remote charging points such as at fuel stations or motorway services; and this is especially true on longer journeys. The obvious solution is a hybrid vehicle where a petrol or diesel engine drives a generator to charge the batteries and power the electric motor, and for most hybrids the engine can also directly propel the vehicle. However, much of the driving will then still rely on using the internal combustion engine that uses fossil fuels and produces unwanted emissions. The pure electric vehicle therefore remains one long term solution for significantly reducing the use of fossil fuels and unwanted emission, but this then requires achieving more acceptable battery re-charging times.

    Charging process and fast charging
    Compared with just a few years ago, charging times have reduced considerably, but there are still some situations where fully re-charging a completely discharged electric vehicle battery pack can in take as long as 20 hours.  It is still not uncommon for re-charging using home based chargers or some remote chargers to take up to 10 hours or more.

    Although there are a few problems that slow down charging times, one critical problem is the heat that is created during charging, which is a problem more associated with the lithium type batteries used in nearly all modern pure electric vehicles (as well as in laptops, mobile phones and some modern aircraft). If too much electricity (too much current) is fed into the batteries too quickly during charging, it can cause the battery cells to overheat and even start fires. Although cooling systems (often liquid cooling systems) are used to help prevent overheating, it is essential to carefully control the charging current (or charging rate) using sophisticated charging control systems that form part of the vehicle’s ‘power electronics systems.’

    Importantly, the overheating problem does in fact become more critical as battery gets closer to being fully charged, so it is in fact possible to provide a relatively high current-fast charge in the earlier stages of charging; but this fast charging must then be slowed down quite considerably when the battery charge reaches around 70% or 80% of full charge. You will therefore see charging times quoted by vehicle manufacturers that typically indicate the time to charge to 80% rather than the time to fully charge. In fact, with careful charging control, many modern battery packs can achieve an 80% charge within 30 minutes or less; but to charge the remaining 20% can then take another 30 minutes or even longer.   

    Battery modules
    Many EV battery packs are constructed using a number of individual batteries that are referred to as battery modules because they actually contain their own individual electronic control systems. Each battery module can then typically contain in the region of four to 12 individual cells.  One example is the first generation Nissan Leaf battery pack that contained 48 battery modules that each contained four cells, thus totalling 192 cells; although at the other extreme, the Tesla Model S used a different arrangement where more the 7,000 individual small cells (roughly the size of AA batteries) where used to form a complete battery pack.

    The charging control systems can use what is effectively a master controller to provide overall charging control. In many cases  the electronics contained in each battery module then provides additional localised control. The localised control systems can make use of temperature sensors that monitor the temperature of the cells contained in each battery module. This then allows the localised controller to restrict the charging rate to the individual cells to prevent overheating. Additionally, the localised controller can also regulate the charging so that the voltages of all the cells in a battery module are the same or balanced.

    One other problem that affect battery charging times is the fact that a battery supplies and has to be charged with direct current (DC) whereas most charging stations (such as home based chargers and many of the remote charging stations) provide an alternating current (AC). Therefore the vehicle’s power electronics system contains a AC to DC converter that handles all of the charging current. However, passing high currents through the AC to DC converter also creates a lot of heat, and therefore liquid cooling systems are again used to reduce temperatures of the power electronics. Even with efficient cooling systems, rapid charging using very high charging currents would require more costly AC to DC converters; therefore, the on-board AC to DC converter can in fact be the limiting factor in how quickly a battery pack can be re-charged. Some models of electric vehicle are actually offered with options of charging control systems: a standard charging control system which provides relatively slow charging or an alternative higher cost system that can handle higher currents and provide more rapid charging.

    Home & Away
    One factor to consider with home based chargers is that a low cost charger could connect directly to the household 13-amp circuit, which would provide relatively slow charging of maybe 10 hours for a battery pack. However, higher power chargers are also available that connect to the 30-amp household circuits (in the same way as some cookers and some other appliances); and assuming that the vehicle’s AC to DC converter will allow higher currents, then the charging time could be reduced to maybe 4 hours operate (but note that all the quoted times will vary with different chargers and different vehicles).

    Finally, there are high powered chargers (often referred to as super-chargers) that are usually located at motorway services or other locations. These super-chargers all provide much higher charging currents to provide fast-charging (as long as the vehicle electronics and battery pack accept the high currents); but in a lot of cases, these super-chargers contain their own AC to DC converter, which allows direct current to be supplied to the vehicle charging port. In effect, the vehicle’s on-board AC to DC charger is by-passed during charging thus eliminating the overheating problem and the high current DC is then fed directly to the battery via the charging control system.

    In reality, the potential for re-charging a battery pack to 80% of its full charge in 30 minutes or less usually relies on using one of the super-chargers, but battery technology and charging systems are improving constantly, so we
    will without doubt see improving charges times for
    newer vehicles.  

  • Knowing me, knowing you  

    Since retirement, I’ve found my Dad reflecting on his time in the motor trade; all the memories, good days, bad days and everything in between.

    The one thing he misses is the customers. Not the work, the vehicles, or any other aspects of the business – okay, maybe he misses some of the trade contacts, but this article isn’t about them. We were lucky, we had more than our fair share of fantastic customers, but we also had others that would make your blood boil. And the problem with the latter is that they breed feelings of ambivalence towards customers in general. I’m fairly confident in guessing that you will know what
    I mean.
        
    Why is it then that a proportion of the people that we deliberately lure towards our businesses provoke these mixed feelings? Well, I think it’s all about expectation. More specifically, the conflicts that arise when there is a difference between what we expect to happen and what actually happens. Some of these conflicts might be avoided by different approaches to communication. Sometimes there are more fundamental issues at stake; maybe the fit between the business and the customer just isn’t right?
        
    We’ll return to this idea of fit in a subsequent article as it cuts straight to the heart of our respective business propositions but before we do that, it will help if we understand better both ourselves and our customers. We’ll begin with the troublemakers…
    our customers.
        
    Is everyone going to be a suitable customer for our business? No, so we need to identify those who could be. For those of us with workshops, it should go without saying that our customers should be vehicle owners (which we’ll loosely take to mean as anyone that has an interest in the successful functioning and care of a vehicle). We can subdivide this group in to private vehicle owners, fleet owners, leasing companies, etc. (note how these groups will have their own more specific interests). Other subgroups might be created using assumed-wealth (poor or rich), make of vehicle (as might be relevant to manufacturer dealerships or independent specialists), or customer and workshop locations (rural or urban) etc. Selecting parameters for such breaking up is never easy; however, once segmented in this way, we are better able to characterise specific customers. On that path lies the understanding
    we seek.

  • Fighting technology with science  

    I am sure all diagnostic technicians out there will agree vehicles are becoming ever more difficult to diagnose. Two obvious reasons include the increase in networked systems, and difficult accessibility.

    The first step is to conduct a non-intrusive serial evaluation. This method often provides insufficient information to progress directly to a repair solution. What if the problem is a non-monitored component, or possibly a non-monitored component causing a negative reaction in a monitored component? Sounds confusing, then you will appreciate the following diagnosis and repair review.
    Here is a conundrum: What has a vibration at around 100hz got to do with a EGR fault?  

    The vehicle in question is a 1.4 16v mk4 Golf 1J chassis. The vehicle history is very well known to us as it was owned by our staff member, Annette. She had it well maintained for many years despite its 125,000 miles.

    It had a minor serial error relating to EGR flow. A new OE valve was fitted many years ago without success. The vehicle performed extremely well so we ignored it. The vehicle passed into my ownership several weeks ago. My intention was to prepare it for my partner’s two sons as their first car. Totally new OE brakes front and rear, four new Goodyear 185/65/14 tyres… anyone spotted an anomaly yet?

    Rear wheel bearings re-packed with grease, all fluids replaced. New OE exhaust system. The car drives superbly. Brake balance differential 1%! Perfect emissions. I decided to use the car for the Pico NVH-WPS course held during a weekend in November. On the Saturday we conducted several tests to confirm the mechanical efficiency of the engine.

    The primary test, following a battery status and health check, was a relative compression test conducted in the Pico diagnostics platform. It’s very quick with only the battery connected to channel 1.

    The result was excellent, all cylinders returning a differential of 100%. Let’s digest this for a moment, this does not confirm good compression or correct valve timing. It’s simply a balance of voltage drop whilst cranking the engine. You know what, a bad result here always indicates a serious internal engine problem.

    Testing
    We then discussed the issue of pumping losses and how this can be addressed with throttle control, variable valve timing and lift, and not forgetting cylinder cancellation! This progressed to dynamic compression tests on the engine using WPS. The results were excellent showing good pressure differential (note I don’t call it vacuum as there is no such thing) suggesting efficient cylinder and
    valve seal.

    The day ended with a prep talk on the advantages of noise and vibration monitoring. Sunday began discussing the information required for manual data entry into NVH platform. This includes PIDs, notably engine speed via a Mongoose serial interface. All the gearbox and differential ratios were entered together with the tyre sizes. Did you spot the anomaly yet?

    Basically, the software can now calculate frequency and speed against noise and vibration signatures across all engine, gear selection, and wheel speeds. Remember frequency HZ x 60 = RPM.

    RPM div 60 = HZ. Down the road we went several times sticking weights everywhere to demonstrate different vibration signatures. Due to the quality tyres and general smoothness of the car there was very little vibration to look at.

    However, on closer inspection there was a vibration concern around 100 HZ. Apply the maths and you get 6,000 RPM. The engine E1 was around 50HZ! 3,000RPM and there was a E2 vibration, so whatever it was had to be  engine  ancillary related. Further inspection using a roaming microphone to pin point the noise confirmed a very noisy serpentine belt idle pulley bearing. This is where the shock on my part and the realisation of the incredible value of applying science and physics to an everyday problem pays off. I decided to conduct the repair myself the next day, stripping the front end exposed a fractured timing belt guide and badly impregnated timing belt tension pulley. The broken half of the guide was hovering inside the timing cover I guess just waiting to do its worst!

    Pic pulleys
    Several pulleys were singing like canaries despite no previous and obvious audible noises. So, three hours later and a total front end rebuild with OE parts, including water pump, we have an even sweeter engine. So, what else did I find? My original training was as a precision engineer specifically in engine remanufacture so instinctively I don’t strip out timing assemblies until I have checked the original position. It was one tooth out on the crankshaft!

    Humming, I think timing out, manifold pressure will change, it’s a MAP sensed load system, so EGR is calculated from an algorithm based on throttle, map value and EGR control ratio, with feedback.

    Eventually we discover the historical problem of a seemingly innocuous EGR DTC. In conclusion by recording vibration from the driver’s seat frame, yes, I do mean from inside the car,
    we pin point a potentially engine critical fault.

    A mechanical non-monitored component affecting a monitored sensor value! One last thought – the anomaly! The standard tyre specification for a Golf 1.4 1J IS 185/80/14. I deliberately wanted more responsive high-end tyres. The speedo is almost 10mph out, not a bad idea for two 24/25-year olds.

    Want to know more?
    If you want to get on the NVH bandwagon, email Annette @ads-global.co.uk or call 01772 201597.

  • New Year – Fresh perspective 

    Into 2018, John looks at the steps you need to take to make your workshop more efficient, while obeying the Laws of Diagnostics


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