Small Steps = BIG Results

John Batten gets philosophical talking systems, processes and the potential of ‘desk diagnostics’ to change a businesses for the better

By John Batten | Published:  01 December, 2017

There’s no doubt about it-  the technical challenges that face an independent workshop grow daily and this has the ability to not only affect the commercial performance of the business but also the morale of those at the sharp end.

There’s nothing more frustrating for a technician and business owner than watching the minutes, turn into hours and possibly hours turn to days  as a resolution to technical repairs sometimes remain elusive… It almost makes you ask the question “Why do we do take on this kind of work?”

Do we need in-house therapists? Is it all doom and gloom? Far from it! In fact with the right attitude and the tools to assist, reducing everyone’s stress levels and improving the situation for all involved is incredibly straightforward. There’s even a challenging argument for making this type of work an integral part of your business and with practice turning this into your unique selling point (USP). Once you have the reputation for being the business that fixes all those ‘difficult’ cars you’ll be amazed how that can positively affect, with a little marketing savvy what you’re able to charge for all your repairs. How can I be so certain? We did this within our own business and we’ve been helping others do the same for many years.

System addict
So what’s the secret? Systems; nothing more than the robustness and repeatability of your fault finding system. Great businesses are just combinations of great systems. Systems to find new customers, systems to convert them, systems to complete the repairs to the same high standard day after day. I guarantee that you already apply systems to all sorts of repair work in the day to day running of your business. Take a service for example. How successful would a service be if every time that work was carried out each individual element was processed in a random order? Sometimes the oil drained first, sometimes the brakes inspected first or just for the hell of it why not change the cabin filter first. It stands to reason that items would be missed and the time to complete a service would undoubtedly take longer. Now I know you’ll be using a system for servicing, so the BIG question is do you have a robust system that you or your technicians apply to each fault finding mission? If you nail those jobs day after day and the answer to that question was a resounding “yes” then you can stop reading now. If not then stay with me and I’ll give you some tips you can use immediately.

Philosophy for technicians
Confucius I’m not, but he did have a point when he said; “Life is really simple, we insist on making it complicated”. This is a statement that resonates with me. As a younger technician I often made the path to a solution more complex than it needed have been. Now I’m no philosopher, but with increased experience, mostly gained from every job that fought back, I have reconsidered the techniques I applied for diagnosis. My Eureka moment was when I swapped frustration for pragmatism. Rather than kick myself in the derriere when I perceived a job had taken too long I’d take a step back and consider what I’d do differently next time. The decision to consistently and honestly evaluate my system of diagnosis was a game changer with an return on investment (ROI) way higher than any tool I’d ever bought. You just can’t beat those hard won lessons you teach yourself.

I recalibrated my thought process, pushed frustration to one side and embraced those jobs that challenged my current diagnostic system, safe in the knowledge that I’d always fix it and the time I invested now would pay dividends time and time again as I improved my system for the long term. After all this is a marathon, we’re part of not a sprint. The best lesson I learned also happened to be the hardest one to implement as it involves reading. Now if you’re like me you’d rather be doing than reading. I hate to break this too you but if you want an easier life then you’ll have to make ‘desk diagnostics’ part of your system, sooner rather than later. I could give endless examples of how this has paid dividends over the years for myself and those that I have trained but a vehicle that presented itself this week typifies ‘desk diagnostics’ quite nicely.

That elusive quick fix
I stumbled across this repair by accident. I’d left our training centre and was walking through the workshop next door. The lads had finished their tea break and I was on the hunt for biscuits. Between me and the tea room though was a Seat Leon that just happened to have my friend and all round ‘super tech’ James sat in the driver seat with ODIS (the VAG diagnostic system) on his lap. This was a situation that proved more enticing than the tea room; the biscuits would have to wait.

The customer had outlined that the vehicle had a warning message displayed on the media display. It said “Fault: Vehicle lighting.” A visual inspection of the vehicle bore no fruit as all lighting systems were found to be operating correctly and no fault codes were present in any vehicle system. So the car thinks it has a fault but we can’t find one! Should we perhaps starting changing the bulbs hoping that matching ones will fix the issue? Or is it time for ‘desk diagnostics’?

Silver Bullet City
I’m not a fan of silver bullets. Looking for that ‘quick fix’ can be detrimental to a technician's long term development. That being said there is always a middle ground and knowing when to look for one is half of the skill required. So where do we go for our silver bullet to fix the Leon? Do we post a question on a forum? Call a technical helpline? Phone a friend? You could but there is a much more robust and methodical route. This is where ‘desk diagnostics’ meets Silver Bullet City. It stands to reason that the manufacturer knows more about the vehicle they produce and service daily than anyone else. They just happen to incorporate all their silver bullets in one place and call them ‘Technical Product Information’ or TPIs for short. How did we get our hands on this diagnostic gold dust? Nothing more than a couple of clicks within ODIS. A little reading revealed that this was a known issue and the fix required was a software flash. The current software on the Leon was checked to see if it had been carried out already. It hadn’t. The update was applied, the relevant post-fix processes carried out. The message was no longer displayed and the vehicle returned to the client. In this example a little reading bore fruit. Not only that, but it happened in a timely manner, without frustration for the business owner, technician or customer. A winning situation all round.

An honest appraisal
Here’s the thing; It wasn’t always this easy. It takes a little pain before you realise that change is required. We need a reason to change. It took a change in perspective and a pragmatic approach for me to change the system I used for diagnosis, as well as a commitment to constant re-evaluation. Once that’s in place everything else is pretty straightforward it’s just a case of taking small steps each day.

The steps that you need to take will be individual to you and your business. Take a pragmatic look at those ‘problem’ jobs and add a little more ‘desk diagnostics’ to the mix, you may unearth your own answers on what to do differently next time. What’s the worst that can happen?

Want to know more?
If you’re not sure that you have the foundation to self assess, or you’d like to benefit from the system for diagnosis that we’ve developed then call John on 01604 328 500. Alternatively if you’d like to see how using ODIS can give your business the advantage it needs then take a look at this video link: www.autoiq.co.uk/odis1

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  • Spin the wheel 

    I have been asked several times about ABS wheel sensors. Like many other components, the technology is changing. The changes reflect the expansion in integrated chassis dynamics.

    Just imagine how many functions require wheel speed and rotational differential data.

    ABS, dynamic stability, hill start, audio volume, navigation, self park, all wheel drive, active steering assist, electronic handbrake etc. Sharing this data on a high speed can network ensures very accurate vehicle motion dynamics.

    Older variable reluctance sensors (VRS) rely on a coil generating an alternating voltage when rotation occurs. The problem is they are not directional sensitive and cannot report motion at very low speed. Air gaps were critical as they affect signal amplitude. They are often referred to as passive sensors. So, the introduction of digital or active sensors was inevitable.


    Principles
    How do we tell them apart? Active sensors require a voltage supply from the ABS PCM, with a ground or signal return. They operate with different principles of signal generation; hall, and magneto resistive. Pure hall effect sensors will switch between the supply potential voltage and ground. Magneto resistive sensors operate on the principle of current and voltage change in response to a change in magnetic induction. This change can be introduced in several ways reflected in wheel bearing and sensor design. Smaller sensors with integrated magnetic field rings are now the norm. Developed by NTN at their Annecy facility they are called encoded bearings. A small ring mounted at one end of the bearing carries a series of north south poles. These have now been replaced by dual encoding, two sets of magnetic rings with a unique offset. This enables the abs module to determine direction of rotation.


    Subtle differences
    There are two very subtle differences in the digital outputs. They can be called pull up or pull down. The sensor supply voltage will be slightly lower than battery voltage this is due to the different internal resistance values. However, it will be around 10.5/11.5v.

    The ground or return signal value will vary between 0v or 1.4/1.8v. You could have a sensor or circuit fault; let me try and explain the subtle differences, and how to prove which is which. Remember the golden rule if in doubt compare a wheel circuit that works normally.

    First unplug the sensor and measure both circuits in the loom. With no load applied the supply voltage should jump up to NBV

    Next check the ground circuit if its true ground then it’s a pull-down type and the signal will be on the power line, and may only be around 200mv

    If a small voltage exists then it’s a pull up type and the signal will be on this wire not the supply. The digital signal will be very small when the wheel rotates. It could be small around 200/400mv, or as high as 0.5/1.8v, depending on the manufacturer variant

    Common sense would dictate the serial route is easiest, however how would you determine an intermittent fault? It could be a faulty sensor, faulty encoder, or a circuit error. The only way is using a scope. Should we measure voltage or current though? Both change in the circuit. Unless you have a very special current clamp, go for voltage and select a AC coupling.

    The specific question I am often asked is current measurement, well I can tell you in a pull-down circuit its around 7-15 ma with a 400mv voltage change. The pull up type will produce around 6/13ma with 0.2/0.35mv.     However, these voltage values can vary due to the value of the two parallel internal sensor resistors these are normally 1.4k ohms, with a much higher resistor in the meg ohm range, within the ABS pcm.

    I hope this helps. The pico image was taken from a VW Golf 1.4 TSI. The easy bit is replacing the wheel sensors. Ever since metal housings were replaced with plastic they never corrode in the housings
    do they…?


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