Vehicle technology has expanded at an accelerated rate. Technicians working on these cars and trucks have tuned their skills to match the challenge. Advanced, diagnostic equipment follows to keep up the pace.
Which brings us to the question that has surfaced among industry leaders: What is the new world order when it comes to diagnosing vehicles — of any age?
Should trained techs jump into the deep end and use their advanced tools to diagnose an issue? Or is there some basis to "old school" theory, initial testing, then break out the cutting-edge stuff?
Why bring this up? Because this new-style diagnostic procedure of going straight to the oscilloscope may cost — not only the consumer but the tech and repair shop as well.
Money flow into the cash till equates to a prosperous business, but when a shop reimburses its customer for a misdiagnosis, "eats" parts because of an uncompleted estimate due to a bad equipment procedure, the business breakdown begins.
Now, the consumer questions past repairs and seeks second opinions. Most likely the customer is lost ... revenue reduced ... less food for the family table.
During a recent internet discussion regarding a diagnostic issue, a respected online site hosted the problem-child vehicle discussion.
The vehicle was experiencing an elusive misfire. The tech with the misbehaving vehicle had broken out his digital oscilloscope from the start, relying upon the time/voltage-frequency data it produced.
But he had questions about the waveforms. Many listening online voiced their professional opinions to what created this misfire pattern.
This banter regarding system values went on for days. In the end, the hosting technician announced that his customer was considering vehicle replacement instead of repair.
Everyone has heard that "time is money." So, how much time needs to pass before a customer loses faith in his shop and his vehicle and considers vehicle replacement?
Could the digital tools and their numbers turn the techs' bias, ignoring the fundamentals? Possibly. It depends on the combination of training and equipment experience.
Could a deficiency in either area cost a shop to lose a job or its diagnostic integrity amongst their customer base? Definitely.
Delphi Technologies senior technical trainer Dave Hobbs said that he would go the traditional route, first, looking for the obvious. His next step would be to review spark, fuel, borescope, etc.
"Then, maybe, cylinder pressure transducer waveforms next," Mr. Hobbs said. "That's my 'Foghorn Leghorn' approach. But lots of my 'Egghead Junior' buddies would do an in-cylinder transducer test right after verifying complaint/pulling misfire DTC.
"The 'Egghead Junior' teachers of transducer waveforms show too many variations of the same, basic wave, so many different things that the average tech who isn't using one (oscilloscope) daily can't solve anything but the most obvious of problems," Mr. Hobbs said.
"(Well-known diagnostician) Rusty Flake knows and loves his ATS 8-channel scope so much that he connects it first thing to any diagnostics — even at the very beginning of a no start. That works well for him, but he's not the average tech by any means."
So, should the average tech drop new-equipment tools? Obviously, not. He or she is going to need them moving forward in dealing with today's cars and trucks.
But there is a good lesson learned by the tech who dove straight into the wave pool and almost drowned by lack of foundation, training and experience, time that he could not charge. Customer confidence wanes while waiting for a diagnosis.
In the mid-1980s, I had a professor in college — Ray Crimmel — who was a retired NASA engineer. We lived scopes when scopes weren't cool.
Among voltage drops, opti-electronics, digital, building boards … there was one thing he always emphasized: the "visual."
He relived the Apollo I story — which he was involved in before and after the fact.
Mr. Crimmel explained we should always expect — and to look beyond — the false-positive. He would reflect how the space program technicians altered their methods after finding the cause of the "spark" in the Apollo fire: a ¼-inch stray socket that fell out of someone's tool bag.
A visual methodology was instituted with extra steps for the remainder of the Apollo program. Mr. Crimmel used to tell us to remember the history, because it tends to repeat itself at the most inopportune times.
And, that "old school" method is the preferred routine of techs just starting out in the field. With personal tool money tight, it's the digital multi-meter — a less expensive, basic form of the oscilloscope — that is one of their first, big-purchase tools.
Newbie tech Ron Grant uses his DMM on a regular basis, along with some other cost-conscious devices.
"I have a scanner that reads codes, live data, freeze frame, monitor test," the freshman tech said. "Then, I have a separate scanner to check batteries; another for key programming, throttle body reset. I love diagnostics, figure out the problem, even though I'm not doing the repairs."
Mr. Grant said that he wants to get involved with programming, too. But realizes that he needs more experience; money to purchase the advanced equipment; and, most of all, training.
How many classes does it take to get the proper training to use the latest, greatest piece of diagnostic equipment — correctly? It's never-ending for the automotive technician. Guaranteed. And, it parallels with the pace of OE developments.
But techs need the proper training, starting yesterday. And, none of that "YouTube University" stuff.
Nationally recognized corporations that are immersed in the industry understand the needs of a qualified, trained support network in the bays. Those videos and webinars start with testing foundations.
Then, courses of advance tech and the advance tools needed to accurately diagnose tomorrow's car and trucks. Building on that foundation.
Merging Mr. Crimmel's history lesson — with tech training on advanced, diagnostic procedures — is key to getting your customer's Level 2 or 3 vehicle back on the road.
You cannot have one without the other in a successfully run repair center — keeping techs' plates full of opportunity.