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.

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  • Immobilisers and (in)security 

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    Immobilisation
    Vehicle immobiliser systems have been developed to protect vehicles from theft. There is a clear need for the security as the risks are very real. Car thefts were far more common prior to their development. Such systems work by only allowing vehicle mobilisation when a key, placed in the ignition switch, is from the unique set authorised to start the vehicle. The following describes a representative immobiliser system and its behaviour during ignition-on and engine-start conditions, just after the car has been unlocked. As we will be discussing potential vulnerabilities, the make and model is not given.

    Component-wise, such systems usually consist of a transponder in the key head, a transponder coil around the ignition switch and an immobilisation control system within either a dedicated immobiliser control module, or another control unit, such as the central electronics module (CEM). The CEM might be hard-wired to an immobiliser indicator in the dashboard or instrument cluster (IC), to indicate the system’s status to the user. The CEM will communicate with the engine control module (ECM) using a CAN bus. Note that, if the CEM is on the medium-speed CAN bus and the ECM on the high-speed CAN bus, then a control module that is connected to both buses, such as the IC, will need to act as a gateway to communications between the two.

    There are usually two stages to the authorisation/start process; the first, a key checking phase, is initiated when the key is placed in the ignition barrel and the second is a start-authorisation phase, instigated when the operator turns on the ignition.
    A typical key checking phase might progress as follows (see Figure 1 for the representative signals): initially the system will be in an immobilised state, indicated by periodic flashing (e.g. once every two seconds) of the immobiliser indicator. When the key is placed in the ignition switch, the CEM energises the transponder coil (e.g. at 125 kHz), which excites the transponder. The transponder responds by transmitting identification and rolling code data to the CEM via an inductive voltage within the transponder coil circuit. The CEM will check the returned data against the stored data to confirm its identity. The CEM might double-check the key identity using the same mechanism.

    The start-authorisation phase proceeds as follows: When the ignition key is turned to position II (ignition on), the ECM detects the ignition supply voltage and sends a start request CAN message to the CEM. If the key is valid, the CEM responds positively, with a code derived from the message contents sent by the ECM. In return, the ECM replies to confirm that the vehicle is in a mobilised state and that it can crank and run the engine. Upon receipt of this confirmation message, the CEM can illuminate the immobiliser indicator (e.g. with a one second confirmation flash) and then turn it off. If the key is invalid, the CEM will respond negatively to the ECM’s start request message, such that the ECM will not crank or start the engine, and the alarm indicator will continue to indicate an immobilised state.


    Insecurity
    The immobiliser’s subsystems could be vulnerable to several types of attack: Key recognition; The key recognition subsystem, consisting of the CEM, transponder coil or and transponder, could be prone to attack if the correct rolling codes could be transmitted in the right way and at the right time. Note that to move the vehicle, the correct mechanical key would need to be in place to remove steering locks etc. Key-less start systems present other sequencing issues (related to direct CAN messaging, described below), which would need to be co-ordinated with the press of the engine start button etc. The biggest vulnerability and simplest way to attack the system is to clone an authorised key.

    Direct access to the CAN bus; If the start-request from the ECM and subsequent immobiliser related messages can be intercepted and the appropriate (algorithmically generated) response codes returned, then the CAN communication system could be used to carry out unauthorised mobilisation of a vehicle. The method would rely on a controllable communication device having a physical connection with the CAN bus. Timing is important (the messages are often expected to be received within a certain time frame) and the genuine responses that would be sent out by the immobiliser controller would need to be mitigated against (e.g. the filtering out of its likely negative response to a start request, that might cause the ECM to immobilise itself).

    Aside from the practical connectivity and the sequencing issues, there is the issue of knowing how to generate the correct response codes to a start request. Although, the codes are observable in an unencrypted network, the relationship between the in and out codes can be extremely difficult to calculate using analytic methods alone and are more likely to be determined from reverse engineering of the control unit’s program files. Aside from the legal implications, the challenge is still great, which is very likely why it has not appeared to have happened.

    Indirect access to the CAN bus; Given the potential difficulties of physically placing a communication device on the CAN bus, an alternative approach is to hijack a device that is already connected. Any internal (software or hardware) system within a connected control module that has access to the controller’s CAN interface might provide a channel through which unauthorised access could be attempted (especially if a vehicle manufacturer has already built-in a remote starting capability).

    It is this type of attack that has been highlighted as a particular concern with the advent of connected vehicles, purportedly presenting hackers with opportunity to remotely control some or all of a vehicle’s functionality. There have been notably few examples of vehicles being hacked in this way and it will be very interesting to see if that changes over the coming years.
    All in all, the challenges needing to be overcome to take advantage of any the three perceived vulnerabilities and to steal a car are great. Quite simply the easiest form of attack is to clone a key. The question is then, what are the motivations for ill-intentioned agents to attack our automobiles and are they likely to want to try to steal a car through attacking the immobiliser system? I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that.


    Information
    There is a further, related, development that has already dawned within our automotive landscape. Our modern motor vehicles are capable of generating significant volumes of personal data regarding much of our travel and lifestyle habits. This information is hugely valuable. Google’s company worth is colossal and their value is driven purely by their knowledge of our online browsing habits (through the use of their web applications). For the most part, we are not always online. Imagine though, if they could collect a raw feed of data regarding our offline habits, such as those we might create when we travel within our vehicles. How much would the company that had access to that data be worth? With that thought, it is clear why tech firms are falling over themselves to tap into our automotive existences.

    Given that all this valuable data is flying around unencrypted vehicle communication networks (much of it is required by engine, navigation, entertainment and ADAS systems etc.), why in their right minds, would the vehicle manufacturers not want to encrypt that data and keep it to themselves? By doing so they would be able to prevent any third parties, including (coincidentally) aftermarket diagnostic tool manufacturers, from having any access to a vehicle’s CAN bus data, without the vehicle manufacturer’s prior consent.

    Now, in that context, wouldn’t it be convenient if the vehicle manufacturers jumped upon the reports of the hackers’ abilities to put lives at risk, so as to justify the encryption of vehicle networks? Conspiracy theory? Maybe. I am susceptible. I once imagined that the large discrepancy between real-world and quoted fuel efficiency figures could have been indicative of an OE-level distortion of engine test results…


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