How can you test what you can't see?

John Batten shows how you can never be complacent about skills, as you always need to be ready for what might come through the door

By John Batten | Published:  30 April, 2018

Life as a business owner can often be as challenging as it is rewarding, in fact overcoming these challenges is half of the reward for many, especially when it comes to accurately diagnosing the undiagnosable.
    
Many businesses build a reputation locally on the fact they’re able to find faults that others can’t. This acts as a point of differentiation, which is great. Developing this reputation in your locale can pays dividends, as customers become less price focused when they know why you’re different to your competition.
    
What a great place to be. Your customers love you because you’re effective in your diagnosis and you get paid well for doing this. What’s not to like about that? Not a lot!

Sounds great but…  
 
If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. Easy? Definitely not, but then anything worth achieving never is. Here’s the deal though – It’s not difficult either, although it does take some deliberate thought on the part of the business owner. The kind of technical success that’s required for a reputation like this is within the grasp of all garage owners; It just takes the commitment to change and a willingness to plan for the change required.

The owner is clearly responsible for the health and continuing success of their business, but with so much demand on their time creating a technical team to differentiate your business from your competition is not always at the forefront of their mind.

The best time to plant a tree…
Was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. As proverbs go that one hits the mark when it comes to developing anyone within your business. The question is, where to start?
    
Skills analysis is a good a place as any. What skills do your technical team currently possess? Do you have a team of technical superheroes today and just need to turn on the marketing tap to increase your bottom line numbers? Or do you have a hero in the making and need to take a look at the training required before you buy them a cape? If you’ve a hero in the making then that’s great! There’s nothing more satisfying for a technician and the business owner when they embark together on a symbiotic journey of development. The technician will feel invested in and the owner will have a stronger team and be able to promote their newfound skills increasing efficiency and profit. A win-win for everyone!
    
So you’ve got your training plan in place and the technical skills of your team are moving in the right direction. Time to put your feet back up on the desk? Not quite. Continued success means that not only do you need to be able to efficiently repair what’s in your workshop today, but see what’s coming over the hill and ensure you have the skills and equipment for tomorrows car park.

I’m sure you’ve heard diesel fuel being called into question as a long term option for powering our vehicles and that we’ll all be driving dodgems (or some other electric vehicle) as the future of motoring. But is there an alternative that has both a foot in today and an eye on tomorrow? Oh yes, I’d almost forgotten… It’s petrol. More specifically gasoline direct injection (GDi).

The ‘new old’ technology
GDi has been with us for some time and in reasonable quantities since the early noughties. This means there are bucket loads of these vehicles in your workshops daily. Not only that, but manufacturers are looking at the benefits of taking rail pressure in excess of 500 bar and how this may help with emission reduction. What does this mean for you? Well. If your not sure how to effectively diagnose these vehicles then there’s no better time to learn. Plus it’s probably here for some time to come. With that in mind it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my technical article this month is a 2L GDi Audi A3.

No time to hesitate
The customer complaint on this vehicle was a rough idle and hesitant pick up on light throttle. Following my own mantra, I started Johnny’s 15-step diagnostic process with a thorough questioning of the client whilst experiencing the issue with them. It was indeed ‘stumbly’ (believe it or not that is a technical term – in my world anyway) and I followed this with a look at fault codes and inspected serial data. There was nothing to write home about here, neither was there with the tests for mechanical integrity or ignition diagnosis. So where does that leave us? Just fuelling.

Under pressure
With just fuelling left as the option for our hesitation low and high-pressure systems were evaluated and again no fault found, that just left injection quality or quantity.
    
GDi Injectors differ from manifold injectors not only in their position (GDi injecting straight into the cylinder) but also in their electrical characteristics. The high current driver (10 Amps, see figure 1) enables fast multiple injections not dissimilar to that of solenoid diesel injectors. All injectors were inspected electrically and again no fault found. We were fast running out of test options for fuelling... What to do?

How can you test what you can’t see?
We had seen similar issues before and figured I’d try and identify a dribbly injector (there I go getting all technical again) prior to its removal from the cylinder. We ran the engine and stopped it, isolated the breather system and removed a spark plug, then tested for HCs in each cylinder waiting for a drip and a rise in HCs. What did we find? Nada, Zilch, Nothing! There was nothing for it the injectors would have to come out and be tested.    
    
It just so happens were fortunate enough to have a Carbon Zapp test bench in the training center. This gives us the capability to test GDi injectors at high pressure. It’s a cool piece of tech that runs the injector through an automated test plan, giving a pass/fail report on the injection characteristics. After testing each injector I was delighted to find one
of these was defective and the fault found.
    
If you’d like to see the injector being bench tested then head over to www.autoiq.co.uk/blog where you can watch a video. So there we go another car fixed, and I’m sure this happens in your workshop on a daily basis. But here’s a question for you: Do you have a program of technical development to help your team work efficiently? And can you differentiate your business from those around you? If it’s a yes to both then brilliant, you’re set for the future! If not then give me a call at Auto iQ on 01604 328500 and I’ll be only too pleased to help your business develop a plan for your continued success.




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    Add to that a more uncertain legislative environment resulting from rules not quite keeping up with the technology coming in, and you’ve got yourself a whole host of issues that the entire industry needs to stay on top of if it is going to continue to offer a sterling service to customers.

    Let’s look at electric vehicles. For Tom Harrison Lord from Fox Agency, the b2b marketing company specialising in the automotive sector,  Automechanika Birmingham offered a troubling glimpse into the future:  “This summer’s Automechanika Birmingham was entertaining and enjoyable as ever, but it also exemplified a worrying trend in the motor industry today. With the advancement of electric vehicles, there are going to be some rapid and stark changes ahead. The automotive aftermarket, however, seems to be burying its head in the sand.”


    Access
    The key, as it has been in the past, is access. In this case, the right to be able to repair vehicles. Think that’s all sorted? Perhaps not:  “The rise of the electric cars and vehicles is something that could hit the automotive aftermarket hard – in particular, independent garages.

    “Many, if not all, electric vehicles invalidate their manufacturer warranty if essential work is carried out on the electrical systems by someone other than the main dealer. What’s more, many cars with batteries, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, have warranties on the electrical components lasting up to ten years.

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  • 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).


  • THE WINNER TAKES IT ALL... 

    Workshop owners need to think hard about investment decisions. With that in mind, I’ve used my last two articles to look at a business management tool called value proposition design, which can help us to work out where to spend our cash.
        
    We saw that it involves understanding our customers’ needs, which we do by identifying the jobs they want to achieve, and the positive and negative factors associated with them, respectively known as gains and pains. We then looked at how a business can identify products and services that might help customers complete their jobs, which, in turn, will either create the customers’ desired gains or relieve their undesired pains. These gain creators and pain relievers provide benefit to customers. Thus, investments in the right products and services increase our value proposition.
        
    Our investment decisions are usually complicated by the fact that they can represent a chicken-and-egg situation: Money is needed to support the creation and delivery of products and services, yet profitable products and services are needed to create money (at the very least you will need to show that you will have good profitability if you are borrowing to fund your investment). As such, there are two measures of success of our value proposition: Whether it provides real value to our customers and whether it can be deliverable within a sustainable business model.
        
    This article introduces a concept known as fit, which is the extent to which a company’s offerings match the needs of its target customers and are delivered within a sustainable business. Fit, therefore, represents the yardstick by which the success of a value proposition is assessed.
        
    There are three levels of fit of a value proposition to a customer (segment) profile:

    Problem-solution (‘on paper’)
    If we take the value proposition discussed in my last article and check it against the customer segment profile created in the preceding article, we can check their fit. We do this by going through the pain relievers and gain creators one by one and checking to see whether they match a customer job, pain or gain. We can physically visualise this degree of fit by putting a check mark on each one that does (see Figure 1).
        
    In this example, we have used our experience to the identify some jobs, pains and gains that customers might care about, and then created a value proposition to try to address them. However, at this point, we do not have any material evidence of the potential success of these products and services, gain creators or pain relievers. I.e. the fit is only evident on paper. The next step is to find evidence that customers care about the value proposition, or to start over designing a new one, if it is found that the customers don’t care.

    Product-market (‘in the market’)
    Once your products and services have been made available to customers, you will soon see whether they provide value to your customers and gain traction in the market place: customers are the ultimate, most ruthless, judge and jury of your products and services.
        
    When assessing product-market fit, it is important to check and double-check the assumptions underlying your value proposition, i.e. have you correctly identified and prioritised the relative importance of the customer’s jobs, pains and gains? Have you provided things that customers don’t care about, and will you have to amend your value propositions, or start again?
        
    Business model (‘in the bank’)
    Your business model is the way your business is geared up to generate revenue and burn cash whilst you are creating and delivering a value proposition to your customers.
        
    The search for business model fit involves reaching a state where you have a value proposition that creates value for customers (products and services they want) and a business model that creates value (profit) for your organisation. You don’t have business model fit until you can sustainably generate more revenues with your value proposition than you incur costs to create and deliver it.

    Context
    The potential value of our products and services, and the associated gain creators and pain relievers, doesn’t just depend on their match to the customer’s jobs, pains and gains. It also depends on the circumstances in which they are offered; i.e. their value is dependent on context.
        
    For vehicle owners, an example might be the value of breakdown services. Have you ever signed-up for these from the hard-shoulder of a motorway? You’ll notice that you don’t get much of a discount. Those offers that you might have seen on the internet beforehand will suddenly seem pretty good value. These differences are because the breakdown service companies know full well that the perceived value of their services depends on context!
        
    As such, businesses must identify the contexts in which their products and services will be offered. For example, a customer’s priorities will differ depending on whether they are broken down, have an expired MOT, need a replacement bulb in night time driving conditions, or are just booked-in for scheduled servicing etc. It is possible that each context might require its own value proposition.

    Focus
    For a customer having a given set of jobs and associated pains and gains, there are many ways a business might design a value proposition to achieve a fit. This is certainly true in our industry, in which there are many competing types of service and repair provider. Each has tweaked its value proposition to suit a given type of vehicle owner or context:

    Independent workshops, often offering a large range of products and services as a kind of one-stop-shop to the ‘general’ motorist, usually aim to generate sufficiently high revenues by inspiring maximum loyalty from customers and trying to meet all their needs under one roof. These businesses require constant investment to provide the services necessary to keep-up-to-date with changes in motor vehicle technology and face a continuous challenge to monetise the value of every additional service.  Many diagnostic (or recalibration) services are still not well understood by customers, and workshops have to work hard to educate them, so that they can ‘appreciate’ their value. Convenience must also play a relatively significant part in their value proposition.
      
    Fast-fit operations are all about convenience: Their customers can get in and out fast, without any notice, and, hopefully, with the minimum of disruption to their lives. The businesses require large stock inventories to ensure that there are no supply-related delays. By concentrating on only the fast-moving (the most commonly needed) products, these businesses can remain highly scalable and profitable: although they limit the scope of their products and services, to reduce costs, their sales volumes allow them to retain considerable buying power. Their customers love the convenience and prices they can offer given the buying power (and increasing integration with the parts supply chain) that the larger fast-fit chains have. Main dealers, I think, rely more on social or emotional pains and gains to draw in their customers (e.g. think about the image they work hard on purveying or the potential manipulation of customer perceptions of safety, both driven by presenting themselves as the most qualified to work on a given make of vehicle). They need to work hard to offer convenience (e.g. courtesy cars, rapid turn-around, customer/vehicle pick-up or drop-off etc.) as their dealerships, geographically-speaking, are relatively sparsely distributed amongst the population. Some vehicle owners (ironically, those most likely to buy their next vehicle from a dealership) will also be concerned with the resale value of their car and may seek to maintain a full dealer service history to try to maximise its value.
        
    Following the above, broadly-defined, categories of businesses, there comes specialists, offering a smaller range of products and services to increasingly niche customer segments or contexts: e.g. independent specialists (single-make specialists combining aspects of both the independent workshop and main-dealer value propositions), diagnostic specialists (as with breakdown and recovery specialists, when you need them, you need them – and they should charge accordingly), component-repair specialists (e.g. transmission specialists).
        
    Then there is the remaining plethora of value propositions available to vehicle owners: breakdown and recovery services (apart from their normal role helping those in distress, I’m sure they would agree that they also play a role in repairing vehicles for those that place no value whatsoever on preventative maintenance…); mobile technicians (perhaps offering the ultimate in convenience in certain contexts?); and, my favourite, the chancers (that bloke in the pub who once changed a side-light and now thinks he can charge an equally stupid idiot to fit a new timing chain for them…).

    Future
    We’ve seen from the above that a stack of value propositions is competing for our vehicle-owning customers. As such, our value proposition design work and derived knowledge, can inform a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis of our business. So far, all these competing businesses have managed to co-exist and thrive within an industry that is set-up to offer value to private vehicle owners. However, take a look at Figure 1 again – what might be arriving in the future that could represent a threat to not only an independent workshop but the entire sector? How about Vehicle-as-a-Service (VaaS), a.k.a. car-on-demand? This single value proposition removes an awful lot of the hassle of vehicle ownership (equivalent to automotive morphine…) and provides many gains. In fact, it is so disruptive that it removes/changes the very nature of the customer segment; vehicle ownership becomes almost redundant. Should it be a surprise that one of the few barriers to widespread adoption of VaaS (the convenience of making short, necessary, journeys, e.g. to pick up milk when nearby shops are closed) is being addressed by a company that is seeking to provide VaaS: i.e. Amazon whom are also developing drone delivery systems?
        
    When it comes to the ultimate value proposition, may be there can be only one.
        
    I’ll leave that thought with you.


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