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

Related Articles

  • No Smoking! 

    There’s nothing I love more than picking up an automotive magazine and reading a good case study. Occasionally they may be talking about a specific fault you’ve seen before. Sometimes as you’re reading through the symptoms and evidence you can’t help but make your own diagnosis and see if you were right.
        
    The most engaging ones for me are when it’s not a common fault and you follow the diagnostic process of the writer. I find I always gain ideas and tips from a lot of these articles which assist me in improving my diagnostic success rate. In my previous articles I’ve emphasised the importance of training, whether it be in the classroom or via CPD. Another key thing is to learn from our mistakes and recognise our weaknesses. If we don’t do this, how do we improve?

    Patterns
    Over the years we have developed a good reputation for diagnostics which regularly brings in new customers. So when someone phones and says “I’ve got a light on and I’ve been told that you’re the man to see,” we have to make sure we get it right. When that sentence is closely followed by “my local garage has replaced some parts but the light has come back on,” we can quickly guess what’s coming next; “Can you fix it? I’ve already spent hundreds, how much is this going to cost me?” We’re not guilty for the previous garage’s failure to diagnose the fault but if we agree to take on the job we are compelled to get it right and so we should be. When you do get it right, is it necessary to stick the knife in the other garage’s back? Of course not! We always try to be positive and stick to explaining why we were successful with the repair rather than why the other garage failed. At this point you’ve already won the customer’s confidence in you.
        
    So we learn from our mistakes and we can also learn from other people’s mistakes. With this in mind, over the last few months I’ve looked for a pattern in why misdiagnosis seems to occur. The obvious answer here is lack of training and skill but the frustrating thing with a lot of these jobs is if the technician had just stopped for a minute and thought about it, they probably would have found the fault.

    Information
    I’ve picked a handful of the last few jobs where this is the case and I’d like to share them as case studies.
        
    The vehicle in question: 2012 Ford S-Max 2.0 Diesel. The customer’s complaint: Engine malfunction light on and lack of power. Previous work carried out: New genuine Ford mass airflow sensor fitted.
        
    As always, we gathered as much information as possible from the customer. A key piece of information here was that the vehicle starts fine with no light on and performs normally until you accelerate hard or go uphill. He said his local garage plugged it in to their computer which told them it was the mass airflow sensor. They replaced this but it didn’t fix the fault.
        
    We read the DTCs from the powertrain control module (PCM) and then road tested the vehicle to confirm the fault. The DTC was ‘P00BD-00 Mass or Volume Air Flow “A” Circuit/Range Performance – Air Flow Too High’ Yes, that’s a bit of a mouthful but there is an important clue in there. In this case we cleared the code just to make sure it returned when the symptom occurred which it did.
        
    At this point there are several ways to go dependent on what you have access to.

    Option one:
    Log in to manufacturer’s technical portal and check for any bulletins relating to this code and maybe even download test procedures for it.

    Option two:
    Create your own test plan which should include inspecting and testing all components and systems that are linked to the engine air intake system.

    Option three:
    Load the parts cannon, aim and fire until the light stays out.

    Someone has already tried option three  so let’s forget that. We don’t all have option one but I highly recommend having it in place as it can be extremely useful and save a lot of time...   

    ...We chose option two.

    Sensors
    As we were already on road test it was an ideal time to look at some PCM serial (live) data. We opted to look at the mass airflow sensor (MAF) and boost pressure sensor/manifold absolute pressure (MAP) sensors signals. Most diagnostic tools will give a ‘desired’ and ‘actual’ reading of MAP. Desired is the reading the PCM is requesting and expects to be seeing and actual is what is actually being measured. This regularly proves to be very handy when diagnosing any air/boost related faults. Straight away we could see that when you tried to accelerate, the actual boost pressure was considerably lower than the desired pressure. There are many possible causes of low boost pressure. We tend to start with a pressurised smoke test to the induction system. This is
    a very effective way of finding both internal andexternal leaks.
        
    We connected the machine directly after the nice shiny new mass airflow sensor (See Image 1 and Image 2), and within a matter of seconds we could see smoke coming from the intercooler area. A closer inspection revealed a split in the intercooler hose. A new hose was fitted and the vehicle was retested which verified a successful repair. I would love to be writing all about measurements taken with oscilloscopes and lots of technical stuff but it simply wasn’t necessary here.
        
    Could the previous garage have fixed this one (see Image 3)? More than likely, yes! A thorough visual inspection to the induction system would have revealed it without the smoke machine due to the amount of oil residue around the hose.

    Experience
    The clue was in the DTC all along – ‘Air Flow Too High.’ It could mean that the air flow sensor is faulty and is reading too high but it’s important to stop and consider what could make the reading too high. In this case simply too much air flowing through it because it’s leaking back out the other side. Experience gives you the understanding of the PCM’s logic in what would make it flag that fault code. It’s also a fair point to ask why the DTC said “boost pressure too low.”
        
    Experience has taught us that different manufacturers have different ways of saying the same thing and that is why I emphasise on reading the fault code carefully. For the same symptom some manufactures may use the fault code text ‘boost pressure too low,’ ‘boost pressure negative deviation,’ ‘turbine under-speed,’ the list goes on but this one: MAF/MAP correlation incorrect”’(seen on Land Rover) hits the nail on the head! The logic within the PCM relies on tables of pre-set data for comparison. It knows that if the engine speed ‘X,’ if the air mass entering the engine is ‘Y’ then the manifold pressure should be ‘Z.’ There is a set error tolerance either side to allow for slight deviation and when this is exceeded. For example, when air is passing through the mass airflow sensor but escaping before the manifold, then the DTC is set and as in most pressure related faults the engine power is reduced (see image 4).


  • 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.


  • part two: A FINE PENSION MESS and how to avoid it  

    Pensions auto-enrolment, the government’s drive to have everyone saving towards their retirement is just over five years old and recently, this last February, completed its rollout. However, while it might be the end of the rollout as far as the government is concerned, for businesses, the process is never-ending as the obligations continue… forever.
        
    Ignoring the rules and failing to meet the obligations can lead to very painful penalties being imposed by The Pensions Regulator.

    Don’t fall foul of any changes to the rules
    The government has done a pretty good job of improving the rules as they go along, even though they may seem rather onerous at first. Nathan Long, a Senior Pension analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, explains more about how firms can be caught out by the law.
        
    Nathan says that there “is a ruthless determination to ensure auto-enrolment remains successful and the government recently made recommendations as to future changes to the legislation.”
        
    The two key changes for employers are that staff will need to be automatically enrolled from age 18 as opposed to 22; and contributions will accrue from the first pound of earnings, whereas currently the first £5,876 can be excluded.
        
    Nathan says the changes are great for pension savers, but will impact on some sectors more heavily, especially those that employ large numbers of younger people: “These recommendations will not only mean people retiring with more income, it means they will have greater control over leaving work. In fact, someone with average earnings could increase their pension pot at retirement by over £60,000.
        
    “Increasing the reach of auto-enrolment is great for the long-term retirement prospects of the nation but adds yet further costs for businesses. The government is clearly mindful of this alongside the ongoing Brexit uncertainty and so opted for a long implementation period, with the changes not due to be rolled out until the mid-2020s.
        
    “Even so,” reckons Nathan, “it is widely recognised that 8% contributions are not enough for a comfortable retirement, with a growing consensus that contributions of 12% are more appropriate – the government has also recommended reviewing the minimum contribution levels from April 2019. Small businesses in particular should be alive to the very real risk of increased costs coming down the tracks.”
        Empirical evidence is showing larger employers driving higher levels of understanding and engagement amongst their staff by embracing workplace financial education programmes. Nathan thinks that smaller businesses may struggle to offer these services: “A possible solution to improved engagement could lie in allowing staff to be able to select where their auto-enrolment pension contributions are paid if they already have their own pension plan.” There would still be a company appointed provider for anyone that doesn’t choose, however anyone who has truly got to grips with their pension planning could continue to contribute to their preferred plan. The responsibility would then be on pension providers to engage their customers in order to retain their business.

    Nathan thinks this solution need not add more administration for employers: “In the same way that you require an employee’s bank account details, so you can pay their salary, simple details of pension provider and policy number could allow correct payment of pension contributions. The technology to enable this already exists, it simply must be adopted for this revised purpose.”

    To finish
    The key message for employers of any size is that auto-enrolment is an on-going exercise and crucially requires on-going compliance with any rule changes. First up will be the contribution hikes in 2018 and 2019, but employers need to keep their wits about them. Whilst it may seem The Pension Regulator is out to get small businesses, actually the opposite is true and its website is a great source of information for businesses of all shapes and sizes: www.thepensionsregulator.gov.uk

  • Detecting the opportunity: ADAS  

    Vehicles are being equipped with advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) in increasing numbers. It is predicted that by 2020, more than 40% of new vehicles will have at least two types of  ADAS system fitted as standard.

  • Part two The good and THE GREAT  

    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)
    the following:
    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.



Most read content


Search

Sign Up

For the latest news and updates from Aftermarket Magazine.


Poll

Where should the next Automechanika show be held?



Facebook


©DFA Media 1999-2018