Plain sailing

John Batten examines the course you need to follow to enter the seas of perpetual success

Published:  21 November, 2017

I'm not the nautical type, but I know that setting sail without sufficient preparation is foolhardy and the likelihood of you reaching your destination in a timely manner, at an agreeable cost with a healthy profit margin would be highly unlikely.
Why then do we set off into ‘technical repairs’ without preparation, but remain surprised when we meander into fog, or ends up on the rocks... No I'm not sure why either.

Elements for success
How do we avoid the perils? It's quite straightforward. The amazing thing is that the components for a smooth journey can be applied to any repair regardless of vehicle or system. So what do you need?
 

  • Clear business strategy
  • Effective marketing
  • Great front of house skills
  • A business owner who’d like to fix the vehicle first time and maximise long term profit
  •  A technician that cares. Notice I didn’t mention skill. There’s a reason for that…
  •  The right serial tool. A mix of manufacturer and generic works well
  •  The right information. Generic info has a place, just... it’s really manufacturer all the way for me here though!
  •  The correct tooling such as smoke machines, gauges, scopes etc
  •  The right amount of time. Which is not an issue if you have great marketing and a super front of house team
  •  A killer process!


That’s all you need. If we have these, we can fix the car first time, at a cost that’s beneficial to the customer and profit from technical repairs

Easy? No! – Achievable? Yes!
If it’s so straightforward then why doesn’t it always happen? Some of this can be attributed to awareness of the business owner and steps required to move forward. Although more often than not it’s common for a business owner to become entrenched in the day to day mayhem of the independent repairer rather than take a strategic look at the root cause of the issue. Take a high level view and you’ll see the reason is a simpler one; Habit! If we’re to expect consistently positive results (and we’re missing the mark currently) hen we’ll need to take action and change our habits.

If changing our habits was easy then I’d have a six pack, BUT I don’t. Why not?I don’t have a compelling WHY. Your WHY is a reason that drives you towards the desired outcome, the one thing that pulls you towards the intended result and keeps on pulling regardless of the undesirable bumps in the road that challenge your path.  With a strong enough WHY you really can achieve anything!

Ironically the reason that I don’t have a six pack is exactly the same reason technical repairs meander and sometimes hit the rocks. The business owner doesn’t have a big enough WHY.

My Epiphany
Like a lot of independent repairers I spent many years without a WHY. I opened the doors in the morning, we smiled at clients, fixed their cars, put some money in the bank. Sleep, eat, repeat. One snag though; Fixing cars was quite frustrating in some instances as they took me longer than I’d have liked and that hit my bottom line. Not great,  in fact if I’m being honest (which I can be because we’ve been together in this article for five minutes and I think we’ve become friends) it could be pretty crap some days. This was until I was exposed to a new way of thinking. I was a much younger man than I am now, back in the day when pulling codes meant looking at duty cycle (Mercedes in the 90’s if you’re wondering) and acid house was my music of choice. At this point my gaze was firmly fixed on North America. There were some technicians that just seemed to think differently and their “test the living **** out of everything” attitude sat quite well with my OCD nature. This new awareness started a chain of events that continue to this day as I’d just found my WHY! So, my new North Star was ‘diagnostics’. I’m allowed to use that word in this context as back in the day it existed as a sub genre of vehicle repair, and I’m not sure that’s broadly the case today. Anyway I committed time and resources to improve my skill set, regular visits to my ‘diagnostic gym’ revealed skills I’d not realised I had and the ‘fat’ started to fall away with just a hint of a six pack emerging. The really cool thing here though  was I started to fix the ‘technical’ issues rather than just make them better.

Better Isn’t Fixed
A first time fix is crucial. There’s a bunch of reasons why a vehicle returns to your workshop for a second crack of the diagnostic whip and it’ll be down to one of the ‘Elements for Success’ not happening (Points 4-10). The focus of our training program is to STOP cars from returning, while increasing profit along the way.

Picture a red Ford Fiesta. It was tidy enough but the MIL light was on. My client’s complaint was that he’d replaced the catalyst (trade client) as it’d had the MIL light on previously for a P0420 catalyst efficiency code. The vehicle was back with him as the light had re-appeared while his customer was driving a week or two later. I’d been asked to test the catalyst as a new one had been fitted, but I needed to find out a little more first. It transpired that the vehicle had become a boomerang and had a few issues of late. It started with a misfire. An easy enough fix, a new coil had been fitted and the client happily sent on their way. One problem… Three weeks later the vehicle's back with a misfire on the same cylinder. The same test was applied, swapping coils from one cylinder to next. Unfortunately, though the fault did not move from the offending cylinder, further testing revealed that the ECU was faulty as the coil was not being driven. The customer was called and after an awkward “why didn’t you find that last time” conversation a new ECU was fitted and the vehicle restored to good health, or at least that’s what all parties thought. You guessed it, it returned once more.

Technical Evaluation Part 3
So, the vehicle is back in their workshop, the codes are pulled to reveal a P0420 and the client is contacted to be told they have a new fault, to fix this a catalyst is required. A genuine catalyst is advised although the client does not like the quote and requests that the cheaper aftermarket alternative is supplied and fitted.

This work is duly carried out, codes cleared, learned values reset and the customer sent on their way. Well, you know what comes next. The light’s back on once more with a grumpy customer on the phone to my client That’s when the vehicle is brought to me, for the new aftermarket catalyst to be tested. It failed. We’d seen it a few times previously when the aftermarket catalyst is half the size of the original. Our procedure thereafter was nothing magical, we took a look at some serial data, carried out a few tests to ensure the engine systems where healthy and that a new genuine catalyst wouldn’t fail once fitted. Followed by our post fix procedures, we ensured the vehicle was not only better but stayed fixed. With the correct processes in place, and some additional tests carried out when the first coil was fitted, the customer could have been made aware of the impending doom that followed and made an informed choice as whether to continue with the repair or cut and run. It would have also saved the repairing garage some awkward conversations.


My client took the mistakes they made on the chin, with no cost for ‘their mistakes’ to their customer. We’re not here to judge, but to be pragmatic and if you’ve been in this industry long enough and do some honest soul searching you’ll have experienced similar situations to some greater or lesser extent. I’m keen to analyse these events and chart a voyage out of the fog.

The big question is how do we reduce these instances or rule them out completely? It’s quite straightforward. Your business should take a hard look at the ‘Elements for Success’, be honest on where you require improvement and take small but regular steps to achieve them.  You could even come and work out at our ‘diagnostic gym.’

Want to know more?
If you’d like to benefit from the experience that John has and improve your business or technical muscles then call Auto iQ today on: 01604 328 500.

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    Car sales were down 5.7% in 2017, with diesel vehicles seeing one of the biggest drops according to annual sales figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).).

  • 888... Lucky for some 

    With this month’s focus in Aftermarket on cooling, I thought a look at how technology has affected one of the oldest systems of the internal combustion engine. For illustration, I have chosen the Volkswagen Auto Group’s en888 engine, built in Mexico, Hungary and China hence the 888 insignia; It is their lucky number.

    Its one of Audi’s high-performance variants. Its fitted in my Seat Cupra 2ltr, producing 400bhp with stock mechanicals. So, what are the benefits of advanced cooling systems? Heat derived from combustion, transferred by conduction and convection into cooling and the environment is in effect wasted energy. Controlling and where necessary containing it improves efficiency, not forgetting reductions in emission pollution.

    Efforts
    They have made stringent efforts in the mechanical design of the 888 to achieve savings in efficiency. Reducing engine weight, minimising internal friction, increasing power and torque, current with fuel economy initiatives.

    The cylinder block wall is reduced from 3.5mm to 3.00mm. Internal friction is reduced with smaller main bearing journals, revised timing chain design, incorporating a dual pressure lubricating system. The balance shaft has roller bearings, piston cooling jets further improve thermal stability. The jets have PCM mapped control, while extra oil cooling is provided adjacent the filter housing, close to the activation solenoid and twin oil pressure sensors.

    The engine can theoretically reach Lambda 1 from cold within 20-30 seconds.

    Further technical innovations include reduced oil level, reduced tension force in the auxiliary chain mechanism, down shifting achieved with variable valve lift and twin scroll direct mount turbo design.

    Advances
    You will now appreciate that it is no longer possible to separate mechanical design, power delivery, emissions, and all-round efficiency, treating cooling as an afterthought.

    Take the cylinder block design, which possibly has the biggest advances reserved within the cylinder head and coolant control module (water pump). The exhaust manifold is housed completely within the cylinder head casting. This ensures very effective conductance of heat. The emphasis is now on increase, maintain, reduce, thanks to an advanced dual valve PCM controlled coolant control module. The module is mounted at the rear of the engine block, belt-driven with a cooling fan to keep the belt cool.
    By manipulating the two rotary valves, flow and temperature can be effectively controlled within very carefully controlled limits. The rotary valves are manipulated by a PWM 1000hz motor with SENT position feedback (single edge nibble transmission), a method used by the latest air mass meters.

    Heat transfer into and from the turbo is much more efficient due partly to the direct mount and integrated cooling galleries surrounding the exhaust tracts.

    The piston to wall clearance has been increased, with a special coating on the piston thrust side complimenting a direct gudgeon pin to rod contact, the DLC coating removes the need for a bearing bush.

    The cylinder head porting incorporates ignition sequence separation, thus ensuring preceding exhaust pulses do not impede the energy from the current. This in combination with advanced turbine design further improves torque range and downshifting. Cooling control priority is applied to the occupants, then the transmission, further reducing frictional losses.

    Complexity
    Although not directly related to the cooling system, a dual injection system is fitted with its main function being emission reduction. Cold start is provided with three direct injection events, followed by port injection warm up. These systems do not run in tandem. Two thirds of the load range is controlled by port injection, with full load above 4,000 rpm delivered by induction stroke direct fuel delivery.

    From a practical point of view, previous low-tech tasks like replacing coolant components and bleeding now requires electronic support through the serial interface. Using the correct antifreeze is now essential if premature corrosion is to be avoided. As a warning, capillary coolant invasion within wiring looms is well known in some French and GM vehicles, as some of you will be aware.
    It is also worth mentioning that Volkswagen has modified the software controlling cooling in some of their diesel vehicles as part of the emission recall programme.

    Predictably due to their complexity, I can foresee cooling systems being neglected during routine servicing , so expect to see faults as these systems age in the pre-owned market.


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  • Part Seven: Electric and hybrid vehicles  

    Over the past few months, we have looked at battery and electric motor technologies of electric and hybrid vehicles,
    as well as looking at the advantages and disadvantages of batter power compared to fossil fuel power.  
        
    Irrespective of whether a vehicle is powered solely by batteries and an electric motor or whether the vehicle is a hybrid that has the addition of a petrol engine for propulsion and
    re-charging the batteries, the vehicle will require a sophisticated electronic system to manage and modify the electrical energy. In effect, the vehicles have an electrical management system that is often referred to as the ‘power electronics’.

    Controlling electric motor speed and power
    The obvious task of the power electronics system is to control the speed and power of the electric motor so that the vehicle can be driven at the required speed and achieve the required acceleration. As mentioned in a previous article, with Alternating Current (AC) motors the motor speed is regulated by altering the frequency of the 3-phases of alternating current. For light load cruise driving, the current flow provided by the battery pack to the electric motor might only be in the region of a 70 or 80 amps or less, but when the vehicle is being driven under high load conditions, the current requirement will be much higher. Therefore the power electronics can allow higher current flows to be delivered to the electric motor, with some reports quoting as high as 1,800 amps for brief periods on some Tesla vehicles during hard acceleration. However, the power electronics system will monitor currents and temperatures of the electronics, the batteries and the electric motor to ensure that overheating and damage do not occur. As an additional function, the power electronics systems will also control the cooling system (often a liquid cooling system) for the electronics, the batteries and the motor to help maintain acceptable temperatures.
        
    Because most modern electric motors fitted to electric and hybrid vehicles are alternating current motors, the power electronics system must convert the direct current supplied by the battery into alternating current. The power electronics system therefore contains a DC to AC inverter.

    Battery charging from a home charger or remote charging point
    For pure electric vehicles the batteries are re-charged from home based chargers or remote charging points (and this is also true for many later generations of hybrid vehicles). The battery charging must be carefully controlled to prevent overheating and damage, therefore the power electronics system contains a charging control system to regulate the charging rate (voltage and current). Most charging devices provide alternating current, therefore an AC to DC converter forms part of the power electronics system to enable the batteries to receive direct current.
        
    Note that for rapid charging (especially with lithium based batteries), the power electronics system can regulate the charging rate so that the batteries re-charge up to about 80% capacity relatively quickly (perhaps within 20 to 30 minutes with fast chargers), but to prevent overheating and damage, the charging rate is then significantly reduced for the remaining 20%
    of charge.

    Battery charging from an engine driven generator
    Most mass produced hybrid vehicles use an internal combustion engine that can propel the vehicle, but the engine also drives a generator that can re-charge the main high voltage batteries. While the engine is running, the power electronics system again controls the charging rate; and again, the output from the generator passes through the AC to DC converter. Note that the power electronics system will be linked to or integrated with the engine management system, which will allow the power electronics to cause the engine to start and generate electricity if the batteries are low on stored electrical energy.
        
    Because the electric motors fitted to electric and hybrid vehicles can usually function also as generators, when the vehicle is decelerating or braking (or coasting), the electric motor can therefore be used to help re-charge the batteries. The electrical output from the motor/generator will vary with speed; therefore the power electronics system must control the charging rate to the batteries. As with home/remote charging and charging with an engine driven generator, because the motor/generator produces an AC current, the generator output must pass through the AC to DC converter.

    12-Volt battery charging
    A 12-Volt electrical system is still used for electric vehicles, but because there is no engine driven alternator, the 12-volt battery is charged using power from the high voltage system. The power electronics system contains a DC to DC converter that converts the high voltage of the main battery pack down to the required voltage for the 12-volt battery. The charging rate for the 12-volt battery is also controlled by the power electronics system.

    Additional functions of the power electronics system
    As mentioned previously, modern electric vehicles (and hybrid vehicles) will be fitted with cooling systems to maintain the temperatures of the batteries, the electronics and the electric motor. Pure electric vehicles are more likely to be fitted with liquid cooling systems due to the higher currents required for the electric motor that is the only source of propulsion, whereas with hybrid vehicles that also use an internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle generally have less powerful electric motors and therefore often make use of air cooling. However, whichever system is used for cooling, the cooling system can be controlled by the power electronics system to regulate the amount of cooling being applied; note that with liquid cooling systems, the control can also apply to the electric cooling pumps that force the coolant to flow around the cooling system.
        
    Another cooling or heating related function of the power electronics system is to ensure that the battery temperature is at the optimum temperature for charging (and for discharging when the battery is providing electrical power). Batteries charge much more efficiently and faster if they are at the optimum temperature of typically between 10 and 30ºC (or slightly higher for some lithium batteries); but the charging rate should be lowered for lower temperatures; and for many consumer type lithium based batteries, charging is not possible below 0ºC.
        
    Because vehicles are equipped with a cooling/heating systems (for driver/passenger comfort as well as for controlling vehicle system temperatures), the power electronics system can switch on an electrical heater (that would form part of the cooling/heating system) when the batteries are being charged. Therefore, if the vehicle is being charged from a domestic based charger or remote charging station and the ambient temperature is low or below freezing, the battery cooling/heating system can raise the battery temperature to ensure charging take place at the fastest possible rate.



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