A tale of woe and hope

Barney Donohew aims to debunk the mysteries of diagnostics

Published:  01 June, 2016

Consider the following scenario: A vehicle breakdown lands on a garage over the weekend period (another Sunday lunch disturbed). The work wasn't needed but the vehicle's owner is a long-standing customer within the local community and he needed a loan car, so who else would he call?

The diagnostic specialist is available on Friday afternoon but that's too late for the customer. With initial optimism, the garage's technicians start to poke around and incrementally, but unwittingly, the job consumes time, the total cost of which is never recovered.

Trying hard

A vehicle scan for diagnostic trouble codes provides scant reward: all the hand-held scanner returns is an obscure code with the helpful description "unknown fault". Being five years out of date, the garage's fault code books are of little use. Googling the trouble code doesn't help as it seems to correspond to any one of a dozen faults. It just depends which forum post is to be believed.

Besides, having the correct trouble code is pointless: other than with a digital multi-meter how else would the garage carry out any component testing? They don't possess an oscilloscope or even basic measurement equipment such as a fuel pressure gauge.

The conscientious technicians become increasingly frustrated with the complexity of this new breed of vehicle. It's not their fault, they haven't been encouraged to attend a training course since completing their apprenticeship, let alone be supported in any other continuing professional development.

Parts are thrown at the vehicle, all to no avail, until a split intake pipe is accidently discovered whilst yet another MAP sensor is being fitted. [So it was the "lean mixture" fault code a couple of the forum posts mentioned!]. The customer will be pleased. It's a shame all that time and those unnecessary parts can't go on the job card. The business will have to take the hit for that little lot.

The workshop owner is close to breaking point. These last forty years have been a long slog and the costs of "fixing" the latest vehicles have hurt the business. What are the imminent prospects and choices? Either close the doors with little to show for the years of effort or invest double the yearly workshop turnover in diagnostic equipment and training in the hope that the situation can be turned around?

True story

Desperate stuff isn't it. Well that's how my family's business was operating just over ten years ago. Actually it was worse: at that time there were no computers within the business, so even access to "Google-diagnostics" would have seemed like having the latest workshop information to hand...

Why do I care to share this story? Firstly, even now, it is clear that the issues it presents still resonate: i.e. the need for relentless investment in equipment, technical information and training. Secondly, to provide a context for what I hope will be a useful series of articles based on the experience of turning the business from a technological wasteland to a thriving enterprise with diagnostic excellence at its heart.

"Oh no, not another voice imploring me to spend, spend, spend on equipment etc." No, not quite. "Okay, so you're just going to freak me out with in-depth articles explaining how an obscure trigger function on your oscilloscope recently saved your diagnostic bacon?" No, not for now.

What's it about?

The lessons I wish to share with you and that have been the most painfully learned are not those concerned with specific technical knowhow. Instead they are matters connected with the nature of the diagnostic process and how to integrate them effectively within a business to ensure that it doesn't just get-by but becomes successful.

First, we need to demystify and understand the various steps within the diagnostic cycle: there are many examples demonstrating what not to do but, in my mind, very few that clearly describe and make sense of the entire process. Secondly, we need to define a measure of success and to understand how you might use it to prove that your diagnostic investments and processes are working.

I have a bee in my bonnet about how little valued are diagnostic technicians. This attitude is found regularly amongst customers, often amongst workshop owners and sometimes even amongst the technicians themselves.

By bringing clarity to the subject I hope to show the real value of a good diagnostic technician: such as with the appropriate resources, how their ability and accountability during test evaluation requires a level of skill and responsibility way beyond that of any other employee within a workshop.

Once your diagnostic processes and technicians are both understood and trusted their value increases dramatically. So too does the value of your business and your ability to charge appropriately for its diagnostic work.

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