Glowing, going, gone!

Top Technician 2017 winner Karl Weaver has joined Aftermarket’s growing roster of expert contributors. Here, he sees the light thanks to a glow plug

Published:  17 February, 2018

I decided to share this case study for my first article because what I expected to be a simple job turned into something a little more complex and gave me an opportunity to study a and learn about a system that until now I’d probably taken for granted.

We were presented with a 2010 Skoda Fabia 1.6 TDi by a car dealer who had recently taken it in part exchange. The engine management was light illuminated, however with no other symptoms. The previous owner told the dealer that the MIL had been on for around a year and her local garage had failed to repair it. It had also recently been recalled for the ‘Dieselgate’ VAG emission software update. The dealer told the customer there were DTCs stored for the glow plugs and that they needed replacing to which she declined as she was sure they had previously been replaced. We already had a reasonable amount of vehicle history to start with, and were ready to take a look.

Voltage and current
A code read revealed DTCs for all four glow plugs being open circuit and a glow plug module communication fault. A quick inspection of the engine revealed that the glow plugs were not that old and also there was a new glow plug module fitted, plus an old one found in the boot.

While checking the resistance of the glow plugs may tell us something, measuring the voltage and current with an amps clamp paints a much clearer picture. The oscilloscope was connected and the ignition was cycled. The screen capture revealed a healthy 12 volts for around 10 seconds then pulsed at random, however there was zero amps flowing (on all glow plugs). It was clear the plugs had gone open circuit for some reason so they were removed for inspection. It was then we noticed that the heater plugs fitted were rated at 4.4 volts, so now we know why they burnt out! Could they be the wrong glow plugs? Could it be the wrong control module? We checked and found the part numbers were correct.

At this point it was crucial that we understood exactly how the system is wired and how it should operate. By studying a wiring diagram we were able to plan how we were going to test the system (see image 1). Starting with the power supplies and ground, it is always best to test a circuit in its normal environment which means we really need the current load of working heater plugs. If we were to fit new heater plugs at this point there was a high risk of them being damaged which is expensive so we substituted four headlamp bulbs instead. The fuse rating for the circuit was 50A so with a quick bit of maths we calculated the current required for four bulbs was safe. The main live feed, ground and ignition switched live were all good so we moved on to the two communication wires that link directly to the PCM.  

If the PCM can log individual codes for each glow plug then we know that it must have a two-way communication system. Scoping both wires with the module connected and disconnected showed us that there was clearly a command signal from the PCM and although it was random and rather messy (see image 2), the glow module responded directly by activating the glow plugs at the same rhythm.

The second wire had totally different digital signal which had to be the feedback to the PCM. The noise and irregularity of the command signal was clearly an issue so we checked the wiring back to the PCM and with the aid of the good old-fashioned wriggle test the fault was identified as a poor connection in the PCM harness connector. The connection was cleaned and the system retested which revealed a much healthier scope pattern and the communication DTC was cleared (see image 3).

Reliable repair
At this point we could have fitted new glow plugs but to save unnecessary expense we wanted to make sure it was a reliable repair so we decided to monitor the system with the faulty glow plugs still installed and the leads connected to the bulbs. We started by monitoring all four glow plug voltages on the oscilloscope. Using the scan tool to activate the glow plugs showed us that the 4.4 volts is achieved by pulse width modulation at a duty cycle of around 13% with a frequency of around three times per second. What was more interesting was that all four plugs were individually triggered in a sequence (see image 4) so there is never more than one glow plug energised at any one time. The logic behind this is that it makes a substantial reduction in power consumption.

Our next test was to observe the control strategy of the PCM from a cold start and warm-up phase. The objective here was to ensure that there was no software related issues. From the point of key on there is a 1.5 second supply phase to heat the plug as fast as possible then temperature is maintained by the 13% duty control.

Decade box
Of course, after a period of time, once the engine starts to warm up the system turns off and the communication wires go quiet. If you want to test it more than once then you’d have to wait for the engine to cool so to save time we connected a decade box in place of the engine coolant temperature sensor and by observing the coolant temperature in serial data on the scan tool we were able to select a variety of resistances that would represent low temperatures and fool the PCM into commanding glow plug activation.

The decade box has proved to be an extremely useful tool really is a must in any diagnostic technician’s tool box. It is great for substituting in place of certain sensors and components to check the integrity of a circuit or to observe an ECU responding to a variation in signal (resistance).

The final test was an observation of voltage over current on one glow plug. The other interesting thing we noticed was the simplicity of the digital feedback signal. By unplugging each glow in turn you could see the pattern in the signal change and when all were connected and working it was a regular pattern.

Summing up
Clearly more time was spent on this job than necessary and the labour charge remained fair. In a busy workshop it is hard to find spare time for these situations but my point is that sometimes sacrificing a lunch hour or staying behind for half an hour gives an opportunity to learn so much which can only aid you in speeding up diagnostic time and process on future jobs.

Winning the Top Technician 2017 competition was unexpected. It has not only introduced me to some very inspiring, like-minded people, but has also taught me you can never have too much training, whether it’s self-training like in this instance or on a professional training course. There are some fantastic training companies offering a variety of courses available now. Also, some of the best and most respected all regularly write for Aftermarket!  





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     However, my personal feelings are more complex. Humans has evolved over many thousands of years by overcoming and controlling a multitude of challenges. It has enabled our brain and cognitive functions to develop to incredible levels. Imagine then, being trapped in an autonomous container with absolutely no functional requirement. What will you do by way of brain stimulation or choices. I accept traffic jams are worst than toothache, but driving is a socially shared experience. Think of the simple activities that release endorphins, such as cycling and walking. Why? because of the brain stimulation and cognitive responses, a form of achievement.

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    Credibility
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    It has been suggested that our home environment would be improved as our car could drop us off and then park its self in a less congested place, so if you live in central London your car could end up in a South Downs village. On a more sinister note, if an autonomous vehicle faced with an inevitable collision from a oncoming car, would it mount the pavement and choose the mother with a pram as the better survivable outcome for its occupants?

    The very best qualities of life always come back to interaction, be it with other people, pets or machines, what next? When do machines decide we are the redundant component? Disagree, or debate, but don’t accuse me of not embracing technology, I have spent my life trying to master it.






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