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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    In part one, we looked at the start of the ‘diagnostic process.’ The first steps were customer questioning, confirming the fault and knowing the system and its function. These help the technician to build the ‘big picture’ necessary to repair the vehicle correctly.
    In this article we will look at the next four steps.

    Step 4: Gather evidence
    It is easy to overlook this step as many technicians think of it as the overall ‘diagnosis.’ However, once the technician understands the system, gathering evidence will provide key information. This step is normally best carried out with the use of test equipment that does not mean the dismantling of systems and components.

    Many technicians have their own favourite tools and equipment but this list can include (but not limited to)
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    Scan tool – It is always best practice to record the fault codes present, erase the codes, and then recheck. This means codes which reappear are still current. Remember that a fault code will only indicate a fault with a circuit or its function. It is not always the component listed in the fault code that is at fault

    Oscilloscope – An oscilloscope can be used for a multitude of testing/initial measuring without being intrusive. Some oscilloscope equipment suppliers are looking at systems within high voltages hybrid/electric vehicle technology. The waveforms produced by the test equipment can be used when analysing the evidence and may indicate that a fault exists within a system. An understanding of the system being tested will be necessary to understand the information. This may even include performing sums so all those missed maths lessons at school may come back to haunt you. It may take time to become confident analysing the waveforms, so be patient

    Temperature measuring equipment – This can include the use of thermal imaging cameras. Most systems that produce energy/work will also produce some heat. The temperatures produced vary from system to system. Examples include everything from engine misfires to electrical components, as well as air conditioning system components and mechanical components such as brake and hub assemblies. The possibilities are endless and results can be thought provoking.

    Emission equipment – By measuring the end result, an exhaust gas analyser can show you if the engine is functioning correctly. The incorrect emissions emitted from the exhaust help indicate a system fault or a mechanical fault with the engine

    Technical service bulletins – Many vehicle manufacturers produce technical service bulletins (TSBs) that are generated by a central point (usually a technical department) from the information that is gathered from their network of dealers. Some of these may be available to the independent sector either through the VM or through a third party – It’s always worth checking if these exist. They may indicate a common fault that has been reported similar to that the technician is facing. Some test equipment suppliers may provide TSBs as part of a diagnostic tool package

    Software updates – Many vehicle systems are controlled by a ECU. Most vehicle manufacturers are constantly updating system software to overcome various faults/  customer concerns. Simply by updating the software can fix the vehicles problem without any other intervention of repairing a possible fault. This is where having a link to a vehicle manufacturer is vital in repairing the vehicle

    Hints & tips – Most technicians will have a link or access to a vehicle repair forum where they can ask various questions on vehicle faults and may get some indication of which system components are likely to cause a vehicle fault

    Functional checks – Vehicle systems are interlinked and typically share information using a vehicle network. The fault may cause another system to function incorrectly, so it is vitally important that the technician carries out a functional check to see if the reported fault has an effect on another system. By carrying out this check the technician again is building the big picture

    Actuator checks – Most systems today are capable of performing actuator tests. The technician can perform various checks to components to check its operation and if the system ECU can control the component, often reducing the time to the diagnosis, by performing this task the technician can identify whether it is the control signal, wiring or component or it is sensor wiring. This function can be used in conjunction with serial data to see how the system reacts as the component functions

    Serial (live) data – The technician can typically review a vehicle system serial data through a scan tool. Having live data readings to refer to can help you review the data captured. Using actuator checks and viewing the serial data can also help the technician to identify a system fault

    Remember to record all the evidence gathered so it can be analysed during the next step in the diagnosis. We can’t remember everything. If the technician needs to contact a technical helpline they will ask for the actual readings obtained recoding the data gathered will help.

    Step 5: Analyse the evidence
    Analysing evidence gathered during the previous steps can take time. The technician needs to build the big picture from all the evidence gathered during the first few steps. You need to analyse the information gathered, and decide on what information is right and wrong.

    This step may rely on experience as well as knowledge on the product. You should take your time – don’t be hurried. Time spent in the thinking stages of the diagnosis can save time later. Putting pressure on the technician can lead to errors being made. It may be necessary to ask the opinion of other technicians. If the evidence is documented it may be easier to analyse or share between others.

    Step 6: Plan the test routine
    After analysing the evidence gathered it’s now time to start to ‘plan’ the best way to approach to the task or tasks in hand.

    The technician should plan their test routine, decide on what test equipment should they use, what results are they expecting, if the result is good or bad  and which component should they test next.

    Document the plan – this enables you to review decisions made at this stage in the next step. The technician may not always get it right as there may be various routes to test systems/components. The test routine may have to be revisited depending on the results gathered during testing. Documenting the test routine will provide a map.  Also, don’t forget to list the stages, as this is something that could be incorporated into an invoicing structure later.

    The technician should indicate on the routine what readings they expect when they carry out the system testing. This can be generated by their own knowledge/skill or the expected readings may come from vehicle information which they have already sourced. If the information is not known at the time the test routine is planned, then the test routine may highlight what information is required and what test equipment is needed. You shouldn’t be afraid to revisit the plan at any time and ask further questions on which direction the tests should take. If the plan is well documented and the technician becomes stuck at any point, they can pause the process and revisit later. Also the information can then be shared with various helplines that support workshop networks.

    Step 7: System testing
    The technician then follows their pre-determined plan, if it is documented they can record the results of the test(s) as they follow the routine.

    Many technicians tend to go a little off-piste when they get frustrated. Having the routine documented can keep the technician on track and focused on the result. If the routine is followed and the fault cannot be found the technician may have to go back to the analysing the evidence or planning the test routine. The technician shouldn’t be scared of going back a few steps, as I said previously analysing the evidence takes practice and can be time consuming, not to be rushed.
        
    Summing up
    Remember to follow the process. It is easy to be led off track by various distractions but don’t try to short circuit the process. Some steps may take longer than first thought to accomplish than others. Some distractions may be outside of your control, and it may be necessary to educate others. Practice, practice, practice. Refine the process to fit in with your business and its practices, the business could align its estimating/cost modelling to the process, being able to charge effectively and keeping the customer informed at each stage of the process.

    Coming up...
    In the next article I will be looking at the next four steps which are; Step 8: Conclusion (the root cause), Step 9: Rectify the fault and Step 10: Recheck the system(s). 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 succeed in Top Technician or Top Garage in 2018.



  • Ignite your interest in ignition  

    This month’s subject was prompted by a recent conversation with a colleague in Australia. The conversation included an invitation to a technical festival in October, where it was said that ignition would be one of the subjects of interest. Many years ago, when I began developing our training programme, ignition was a subject of primary concern when diagnosing gasoline
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    This is a complex subject often not fully understood and often overlooked. Its vital importance recently became apparent in our workshop, when we were presented with two Audi rs6 engine failures. One failure has yet to be investigated the other suffered piston failure due to combustion faults.

    The increasing complexity of homogenous and stratified fuelling, split injection delivery and variable valve timing geometry has placed critical responsibility on ignition performance. Often within the diagnostic process there is no serial evidence of an ignition problem, or that what evidence is available is incomplete especially at the early stages of failure. The process has not changed in over 30 years;  You must scope it.

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    I accept that both circuits have a shared responsibility at the point of induction where energy within the primary is transferred into the secondary. The physical challenge is the method of accessibility. With static or direct ignition it is often not possible to connect to the coil primary circuit, leaving the option of induction as the method of measurement. The primary will always have a power and switched ground, so current measurement using a suitable hall clamp is always possible.

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    You must also understand that the performance of the injector, cylinder turbulence, and mechanical efficiency forms part of the combustion process. Intake air temperature, pumping losses and fuel quality all affect the burn process. Let’s begin with the tool I distrust the most! Serial data is a good first look – there is some very useful information such as cylinder misfire count, ignition timing individual timing retard data, air intake temperature and exhaust temperatures. There may also be additional data on burn time and primary charge time, but I don’t trust or rely on it.

    So, out with my Pico scope. Connectivity can be a challenge, over the years we have built our own probes, however, if the manufacturers can run a circuit there you can scope it. There is a simple logic process.  Begin with burn time, look at the duration and slope it – It should be roughly parallel with the horizon.

    A rising line confirms a difficult transition of energy across the electrode. Lean combustion, glazed plug, cylinder pressure, plug performance. Cylinder turbulence.

    A falling slope represents the opposite condition; low cylinder pressure, fouled or shunting plug circuit, small plug gap. The burn profile should be relatively smooth, a turbulent burn path confirms difficult in cylinder conditions. It can and does point to injector fuel delivery problems especially if a sharp rise at the end of the burn time is present.

    You may appreciate now just how vital scope evaluation is.

    Primary current path confirms good power supply and the performance of the power transistor in its ability to switch and hold load to ground. Note the rise time characteristics and the off switch, under shoot here is a good indication. If you can, observe primary voltage. Note the slow rate on load, it’s the slow rise in voltage during coil charge time, a problem here will affect current flow so go for current first its easier to understand. Remember one of my core diagnostic rules; If it moves, gets hot, or applies a load measure current!

    Coil ringing is the inverted energy returned into the coil secondary. With no path to ground,  it gradually gets weaker, converting its energy to heat. Expect 2/3 rings in current systems. If the coil windings are compromised in any way a reduction in inductance will follow. The rings will disappear, ignition energy may still be present but a reduction in value will result. Be warned this condition will never be known if not scoped and critical engine failure often follows.

    Firing line voltage can only be measured accurately in primary to be honest. Expect the following values:; Conventional rotating ignition 50v, wasted spark ignition 40v, direct ignition30v; Plus or minus 5 v on all values. The problem with exploring this with a coil probe is that the probe attenuation is not known, so its difficult to scale.

    I hope this helps. It is a very complex subject , often neglected and overlooked.

    Just before I go here is a challenge; How many information systems, VMs especially, don’t give these four  vital statistics? So how do they know if there is a problem?




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