Plain sailing

John Batten examines the course you need to follow to enter the seas of perpetual success

Published:  21 November, 2017

I'm not the nautical type, but I know that setting sail without sufficient preparation is foolhardy and the likelihood of you reaching your destination in a timely manner, at an agreeable cost with a healthy profit margin would be highly unlikely.
Why then do we set off into ‘technical repairs’ without preparation, but remain surprised when we meander into fog, or ends up on the rocks... No I'm not sure why either.

Elements for success
How do we avoid the perils? It's quite straightforward. The amazing thing is that the components for a smooth journey can be applied to any repair regardless of vehicle or system. So what do you need?
 

  • Clear business strategy
  • Effective marketing
  • Great front of house skills
  • A business owner who’d like to fix the vehicle first time and maximise long term profit
  •  A technician that cares. Notice I didn’t mention skill. There’s a reason for that…
  •  The right serial tool. A mix of manufacturer and generic works well
  •  The right information. Generic info has a place, just... it’s really manufacturer all the way for me here though!
  •  The correct tooling such as smoke machines, gauges, scopes etc
  •  The right amount of time. Which is not an issue if you have great marketing and a super front of house team
  •  A killer process!


That’s all you need. If we have these, we can fix the car first time, at a cost that’s beneficial to the customer and profit from technical repairs

Easy? No! – Achievable? Yes!
If it’s so straightforward then why doesn’t it always happen? Some of this can be attributed to awareness of the business owner and steps required to move forward. Although more often than not it’s common for a business owner to become entrenched in the day to day mayhem of the independent repairer rather than take a strategic look at the root cause of the issue. Take a high level view and you’ll see the reason is a simpler one; Habit! If we’re to expect consistently positive results (and we’re missing the mark currently) hen we’ll need to take action and change our habits.

If changing our habits was easy then I’d have a six pack, BUT I don’t. Why not?I don’t have a compelling WHY. Your WHY is a reason that drives you towards the desired outcome, the one thing that pulls you towards the intended result and keeps on pulling regardless of the undesirable bumps in the road that challenge your path.  With a strong enough WHY you really can achieve anything!

Ironically the reason that I don’t have a six pack is exactly the same reason technical repairs meander and sometimes hit the rocks. The business owner doesn’t have a big enough WHY.

My Epiphany
Like a lot of independent repairers I spent many years without a WHY. I opened the doors in the morning, we smiled at clients, fixed their cars, put some money in the bank. Sleep, eat, repeat. One snag though; Fixing cars was quite frustrating in some instances as they took me longer than I’d have liked and that hit my bottom line. Not great,  in fact if I’m being honest (which I can be because we’ve been together in this article for five minutes and I think we’ve become friends) it could be pretty crap some days. This was until I was exposed to a new way of thinking. I was a much younger man than I am now, back in the day when pulling codes meant looking at duty cycle (Mercedes in the 90’s if you’re wondering) and acid house was my music of choice. At this point my gaze was firmly fixed on North America. There were some technicians that just seemed to think differently and their “test the living **** out of everything” attitude sat quite well with my OCD nature. This new awareness started a chain of events that continue to this day as I’d just found my WHY! So, my new North Star was ‘diagnostics’. I’m allowed to use that word in this context as back in the day it existed as a sub genre of vehicle repair, and I’m not sure that’s broadly the case today. Anyway I committed time and resources to improve my skill set, regular visits to my ‘diagnostic gym’ revealed skills I’d not realised I had and the ‘fat’ started to fall away with just a hint of a six pack emerging. The really cool thing here though  was I started to fix the ‘technical’ issues rather than just make them better.

Better Isn’t Fixed
A first time fix is crucial. There’s a bunch of reasons why a vehicle returns to your workshop for a second crack of the diagnostic whip and it’ll be down to one of the ‘Elements for Success’ not happening (Points 4-10). The focus of our training program is to STOP cars from returning, while increasing profit along the way.

Picture a red Ford Fiesta. It was tidy enough but the MIL light was on. My client’s complaint was that he’d replaced the catalyst (trade client) as it’d had the MIL light on previously for a P0420 catalyst efficiency code. The vehicle was back with him as the light had re-appeared while his customer was driving a week or two later. I’d been asked to test the catalyst as a new one had been fitted, but I needed to find out a little more first. It transpired that the vehicle had become a boomerang and had a few issues of late. It started with a misfire. An easy enough fix, a new coil had been fitted and the client happily sent on their way. One problem… Three weeks later the vehicle's back with a misfire on the same cylinder. The same test was applied, swapping coils from one cylinder to next. Unfortunately, though the fault did not move from the offending cylinder, further testing revealed that the ECU was faulty as the coil was not being driven. The customer was called and after an awkward “why didn’t you find that last time” conversation a new ECU was fitted and the vehicle restored to good health, or at least that’s what all parties thought. You guessed it, it returned once more.

Technical Evaluation Part 3
So, the vehicle is back in their workshop, the codes are pulled to reveal a P0420 and the client is contacted to be told they have a new fault, to fix this a catalyst is required. A genuine catalyst is advised although the client does not like the quote and requests that the cheaper aftermarket alternative is supplied and fitted.

This work is duly carried out, codes cleared, learned values reset and the customer sent on their way. Well, you know what comes next. The light’s back on once more with a grumpy customer on the phone to my client That’s when the vehicle is brought to me, for the new aftermarket catalyst to be tested. It failed. We’d seen it a few times previously when the aftermarket catalyst is half the size of the original. Our procedure thereafter was nothing magical, we took a look at some serial data, carried out a few tests to ensure the engine systems where healthy and that a new genuine catalyst wouldn’t fail once fitted. Followed by our post fix procedures, we ensured the vehicle was not only better but stayed fixed. With the correct processes in place, and some additional tests carried out when the first coil was fitted, the customer could have been made aware of the impending doom that followed and made an informed choice as whether to continue with the repair or cut and run. It would have also saved the repairing garage some awkward conversations.


My client took the mistakes they made on the chin, with no cost for ‘their mistakes’ to their customer. We’re not here to judge, but to be pragmatic and if you’ve been in this industry long enough and do some honest soul searching you’ll have experienced similar situations to some greater or lesser extent. I’m keen to analyse these events and chart a voyage out of the fog.

The big question is how do we reduce these instances or rule them out completely? It’s quite straightforward. Your business should take a hard look at the ‘Elements for Success’, be honest on where you require improvement and take small but regular steps to achieve them.  You could even come and work out at our ‘diagnostic gym.’

Want to know more?
If you’d like to benefit from the experience that John has and improve your business or technical muscles then call Auto iQ today on: 01604 328 500.

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    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.



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