It CAN be done!

Barnaby Donohew has to stick to his guns to track down the ‘simplest’ of faults

By Barnaby Donohew | Published:  10 September, 2018

We all remember certain jobs which test our nerve but ultimately serve to strengthen our capabilities. Proper learning experiences so to speak. Unsurprisingly, these memorable jobs tend to occur when tackling novel technologies or environments which, by their nature, can be unsettling.
    
Some time ago a customer arrived with a MINI having persistent warning lights, instrumentation faults and bearing a new instrument cluster and engine control unit. Mindful that the expensive repair history must have included some seriously ‘in-depth’ diagnosis, I decided to get involved and see what I could do to fix the issues.

Ruling out
A system scan reported various powertrain CAN faults in the engine, ABS and instrument cluster control units, indicating a system-wide communication issue but with no systematic patterns to help isolate the fault. The MINI had a separate diagnostic bus, which thankfully permitted scan tool communication in the presence of a CAN fault. However, CAN access was not available on the diagnostic connector to aid recording of the signals. Instead, an oscilloscope was connected to the engine control unit (Figure 1) to reveal that the wires were unlikely to have shorted together, to Earth, nor to +5V, as the signals from the engine control unit were almost ideal. The fault was more likely due to circuit integrity. After powering down the CAN this was confirmed, as a 120 Ohm resistance was measured between the high and low lines (around 60 Ohms was expected).
    
Subsequently, the customer was called with an update and to authorise further expenditure. The next stage involved pulling the car apart to fully check the wiring and control modules. Plainly, it was unwelcome news.

Added pressures
When conscious that the meter is running, doubt can creep in and you find yourself asking if a wiring fault is too simple, alongside other related questions. This was not a good time for misinformation. The resources available (course notes and workshop information) identified the MINI’s engine control and ABS units as each having a 120 Ohm terminating resistor between the CAN pins. Subsequent measurements determined a resistance of 120 Ohms on the engine control unit but many kilohms on the ABS control unit. Was it faulty? Nerves started to fray. Following a thought process akin to James Dillon's mantra "what would you test next if the part you had just fitted did not cure the fault," basic procedures were recalled.
    
Firstly, on this MINI the terminating resistors actually were in the engine and instrument control modules (all were fine). Next, a series of continuity tests isolated an open circuit on the CAN-H line between the ABS and engine control units. It was located in a well-protected and tiny portion of wire, equidistant between the terminating connectors. Figure 2 shows the damage.
    
The process demonstrated to me how, during stressful situations, it is worth trying to adhere to basic procedures as faults are often straightforward. As it turns out, this would have been good advice for the recent Top Technician practical tasks, which proved a very similar experience – I wish I had listened! For anyone thinking of entering, I highly recommend it.

TT Archives:  Top Technician issue seven 2014 | www.toptechnician.co.uk 

Related Articles

  • The Future’s bright: The future’s… orange 

    We have to confess, Aftermarket's garage visit articles tend to follow a formula. We pick long-established businesses, and as part of the piece we will hear about how they got started, and see where they are now. That's great, but sometimes you want to mix things up, do things differently.   

    How about, for a change, we go and see a business in its very early days, and see how a garage is built from the ground up? Yes, we like that idea. When we found out that 2018 Top Technician Shaun Ferguson-Miller was opening his own business, we knew we just had to be there.

    Fergie’s opened its doors, and unveiled its big, bright and very orange sign for the first time in late February. Based in a converted warehouse on a business park on the outskirts of Thatcham in Berkshire, Fergie’s has been set up as a German marques specialist, catering for drivers of the VAG group output, as well as cars from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
    With Shaun is a small team covering marketing, sales (front of house), finance, and of course Shaun’s area of expertise, all things technical in the workshop. The technical team will grow as the business picks up. All being well, he’s looking to take on two more technicians this year.

    Differentiation
    Starting out is hard, particularly if you are aiming to start at the top, but Shaun was upbeat about the businesses potential: “We’ve had a great start. Each member of the team is very focused on their individual roles and we’re hitting our targets that were set out in the business plan. It’s very early days but we’re all putting in the hours and committed to making this a success.”

    They are getting the customers they want too: "The marketing team are busy behind the scenes. From day one we’ve had a defined focus on who our clients are and we’ve built a marketing plan based around that. We’re very keen to get off on the right foot and build a strong reputation based around outstanding customer service. It’s the part of the business the customer sees and touches. It’ll be our point of differentiation.”

    A new chapter
    Readers may remember that when he won Top Technician in 2018, Shaun was head technician at Millers Garage in Newbury. What a difference a year, and a big trophy, can make: "I have been on a journey over the last three or four years, and have met some great people in the industry. Like they say, It’s good to talk, and my new network gave me a different perspective.
    “I’ve fancied going it alone for a while and it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I started planning at the end of last year, and got the keys for here on 1 January."

    Winning Top Technician was a factor: "I realised that I had to do it this year. If I left it for three or four years, I couldn't advertise that I was setting up, and that I was the winner of Top Technician. It would be old news. I was speaking to a lot of people in the industry about it, and I just decided it was time to go. I set about doing the business plan, looked at what I wanted to do, arranged additional finance on top of the money we had, then set about finding the right equipment to meet our budget.  I started planning in November and into December, got the keys on 1 January, and that was it. From that point we were here full time. This was a warehouse that had been used by a parts supplier. It was just a bare shell. We turned it into this within three months, and opened on 25 February, and we have been open a month now.”

    Shaun was thoughtful for a moment, and then said with a laugh: "When you look back, you think 'how did this even happen?' I still don't know how it happened!"
        
    That was then, and this is now. Let's look at what Shaun has set up: "We have four two-post service ramps, a dedicated wheel alignment ramp, and a Class 7 MOT ramp. We are setting up as an MOT station at the moment too. In the meantime, are working with a local garage that is carrying out the MOTs for us. In return, we are doing their diagnostic work. It’s a system that works well for both of us currently.

    “On the tooling side, as we are a German marques specialist, all the diagnostic tools are for the VW -Audi Group, Mercedes and BMW. We have to have that as a specialist. We have some generic scan tools as well as a backup but, factory tooling is a must.”
    Shaun and the team are thinking long-term. One of the things he wants to create for Fergie’s is a positive working environment. With this in mind, upstairs, we found the bones of a staff lounge: "We’re focused on building a great team and staff retention is a big part of that. Having a great place to work as well as the right culture in the company is really important. You need somewhere they can relax, and eat in comfort.”

    Next door, Shaun has set aside a room for training. Training is really important to Shaun and having the right environment to do that is essential. “When we do training in the evening, they will come up here. Treating the staff right is the biggest thing for me. I want to get great techs here, so they need to be treated well.”

    The staff are not the only ones getting good treatment. Shaun also became a father for the first time last year, and they have found room for a little creche for son Quinn also. We told you it was a modern place didn't we?

    Customers
    Apart from the technical stuff, you always need to remember that a garage business needs customers. When they arrive, Shaun has presentation covered thanks to a comfortable, warm-wood-and-armchairs reception that could be an upmarket high-street cafe: "I initially wanted it to be all white and fresh and clinical, but I had my mind changed and this is so much better. Everyone who comes in says how nice it is, and wants to chill out, read a paper, have a hot drink, they love it. Because we are a little bit out of the way, we wanted to create somewhere people can wait."

    To have them waiting, you need to have them in the first place. With this in mind, Shaun sought out advice: "I did a lot of business training with John Batten at Auto iQ and he has helped me massively. I didn't think advertising was important before I started the business. As far as I was concerned it was all word of mouth. Starting a new business, that is not going to happen though. We are literally at the bottom of a road with no passing trade. I’m too busy in the workshop to give marketing the focus it needs which is why we bought in someone to do this from the start. That and our front of house team are every bit as important as the technical ability we have in the workshop.”

    It's a hard slog starting from scratch, but with a young family, a big vision and a great team, Shaun is on his way: “I am doing long hours at the moment- I am here until 11pm every night. I just want to set everything up, systems, equipment, etc. All of that effort will be worth it in the long run, getting it all right from the beginning. Doing this, I have learnt almost everything in one go, from a business point of view, which is really cool. Luckily my mum is an accountant with a massive company, so she has helped with it as well. With mum's, my wife’s, and my friends support as well as a great team, it was the ideal time, and the ideal recipe. Now we’ve all just got to put in the hours and do the work.”
    We know he will succeed.  


  • Managing a winning team 

    Most businesses need staff to operate effectively and this means that those staff need to be managed. However, what does ‘managed’ really mean and how can the ‘business manager’ also be an effective manager of people?

    A good manager of staff should fully understand the roles and responsibilities of all of their team members, but ultimately, each of those team members should be better at doing their own jobs than the manager could. Secondly, the manager should be able to ‘get the best from the team they have and only change it when all other possibilities have failed’. In summary, the manager needs to know how to structure, manage and motivate his team to optimise their performance.

    Critical
    It is a well-known saying that people don’t quit their jobs, but they quit their bosses, but in reality this means that they left their job because it wasn’t enjoyable, or that their strengths weren’t being used or that they weren’t growing in their careers – and who is responsible for this – their manager.
        
    Recent research showed that 31% would swap their manager if they could and 22% felt that they could do a better job themselves if they were given the chance. Ineffective management not only impacts negatively on staff retention, quality of work and morale, but also on customer service and your company’s image. Not good for either your staff or your bottom line.
        
    The best managers know what they are doing, where their businesses are going and ensure that they have the right people in the critical roles to make it all happen. They then communicate and delegate effectively to their staff who have been trained, supported and motivated to fulfil their responsibilities. Businesses with well managed and competent employees are the best performers and frequently handle problems before they escalate to become real issues.

    Guiding principals
    So what are some of the key guiding principles for good people management?

    1. Build solid and respectful relationships
    Don’t aim to be liked, but aim to earn and keep the respect of your team
    Take time to talk to members of your staff. It will show that you are interested, but it will also be both motivational and allow you to better understand their position and any concerns that they may have. Be confident, strong and professional, whilst remaining transparent, approachable and encouraging.

    2. Strengthen your communication skills
    Your ability to listen and communicate is vital to your success as a manger of people. I don’t just mean your ability to listen and speak on a one-to-one basis, but also your ability to capture people’s minds in order to present your ideas, values and visions as well as your ability to listen and soak up the ideas, values and visions of others; that is true communication. Whether you are speaking with one person, or presenting to a whole audience of people, strong communicative skills are a must.

    3. Actively develop your team and be the team leader
    As you build and strengthen relationships throughout your team, you should begin to identify the individual talents, abilities and strengths of your employees. Knowing this detail will help you develop your team so that everyone is positioned within a role in which they can succeed and excel. Take time to communicate with each employee individually, as quite often employees will be forthcoming about what they see as their strengths and where they aim to be; they may also spark ideas to strengthen your team and its performance as a whole. Sometimes low morale and performance can be due to a lack of support and training. Ensure that your whole team are up to date with regular training appropriate to their role.
        
    To establish what your employees really appreciate and value, or to discover their training and support needs, use surveys, one-to-one appraisals or focus groups to talk through each key area to identify the good points, skills gaps or areas that should be improved. Quite simply, support your team.

    4. Be transparent
    Hiding things from your employees is a recipe for disaster. Remember that you have spent time building relationships with these people, relationships based on respect. As part of that mutual respect you also need to engender trust. By remaining transparent, honest and trustworthy with your employees you will further develop their respect and loyalty.

    5. Take responsibility
    This can often be tough, but is a sign of truly exceptional people management. As the manager, leader or head of your company, all responsibility should end with you. You are accountable for the performance of your employees. Remember failure is not a weakness; it’s an opportunity to learn, strengthen and improve. Take responsibility for your team and they will further respect you for it.
        
    All of these people management principles are important internal management skills, but these will also be seen externally by customers in a variety of both obvious, and not so obvious, ways.

    Perception
    When customers experience your business, whether by telephone, e-mail or physically visiting, their perception will be significantly more positive if they feel that they are being looked after by a well run, well managed business with highly motivated and professional staff. Often it is almost imperceptible how this can be picked up, but for sure, if your staff are not working within a well led and motivated environment, it will be reflected in their attitude to their work and frequently, to your customers in a negative way.
        
    The reality is good managers are not born, but learn the skills as part of learning how to understand people as individuals. Most of us work much better if we enjoy what we are doing. It has been said that the best qualification for running a business is not an MBA or a qualification in accountancy, but in psychology. Ultimately, good managers plan, monitor and review before delegating the work, but they can only do this effectively if their team is working well.
        
    As a small business, it may be a difficult to become recognised as one of the Sunday Times ‘Best companies to work for’, but the same good management practices will still apply.  Work hard with your staff and they will work hard for you.
    xenconsultancy.com

  • Under no pressure 

    Once the news started to spread about my Top Technician win, the phone started to ring with more interesting and challenging jobs, usually ones that have been doing the rounds between other garages without success.
      
     A phone call came from a local parts supplier, a visiting rep was having issues with a DPF. They believed it needed a simple regeneration to get it back on the road and asked if I would be able to do the job. After checking the Blue Print G-Scan, the function for a forced regeneration was available, I believed I would be able to carry it out and booked the job in.

    Basic beginnings
    After traveling from two hours away, the vehicle arrived. The customer was questioned, ‘Why do you require a DPF regen?’ Being a parts rep within the motor trade, her garage visits were frequent; various attempts had been made to resolve the issue. With conflicting advice being given and quotes between £600 - £1200 to fix the vehicle, the customer was obviously confused and unsure about what to do.
        
    The engine management light was on, so the obvious place to start was a scan check for fault codes. The vehicle showed P2002: Particulate Trap Below Threshold.
        
    Viewing the live data for the DPF pressure sensor, key on engine off, displayed a 0kpa pressure reading, a good start for a sensor plausibility check. With the engine running and RPM increased, the sensor reported a suspiciously low-pressure reading, not one I would associate with a saturated DPF. I decided to use the Pico Scope to look at the DPF pressure sensor voltage in real time. After confirming the power and ground circuits to be ok at the three wire pressure sensor, the signal wire was checked. Again key on engine off, 750mv was displayed, a sensor plausibility check and again this was good. Starting the vehicle and increasing the revs revealed exactly the opposite to what I had expected, a negative voltage reading. The voltage should increase as the exhaust pressure increases.

    What’s wrong?
    One area I wanted to check was that the pipes were not connected the wrong way around. I decided to use the Mity Vac to apply pressure to the sensor pipe connected in front of the filter. This showed a positive rise in voltage, further proving good sensor functionality and confirming the pipes to be correctly connected. Connecting the Mity Vac to the pipe after the filter and applying pressure, simulated the negative voltage which was seen when the vehicle RPM was increased, simulating the fault. The sensor pipe in front of the filter must be blocked.
        
    I located the steel pipe that is fitted in the exhaust in front of the filter to reveal soot marks, it had been leaking exhaust gasses. On a closer look it was unscrewed from the exhaust while still located in the hole due to the pipe bracket allowing the slight leak of exhaust gasses. Once the pipe was removed it was clear to see the soot had built up and blocked the small hole in the end of the pipe. I unblocked the pipe, checked to make sure the mounting hole on the exhaust was clear and refitted it.
        
    Using the Pico Scope again on the signal wire, it now showed a positive rise in voltage when the RPM was increased. The live data now showed a small pressure increase, the filter was not blocked. With all fault codes cleared, an extended road test was carried out, the pressure reading stayed low throughout and no fault codes reoccurred confirming the fix, the vehicle did not require DPF regeneration.

    With no parts required to fix the vehicle the repair cost was far lower than the customer expected due to the previous attempts. The vehicle was returned to the customer who was surprised by the
    outcome of the repair and relieved by the associated costs.



    TT Archives:  Top Technician issue nine 2016 | www.toptechnician.co.uk

  • WIN with WhoCanFixMyCar.com 

    Aftermarket readers have the opportunity to win a year’s free membership with WhoCanFixMyCar.com. That’s unlimited quoting on the site for a full 12 months, as well as 30 days free support from a dedicated account manager to help you get the best out of your membership.

  • All the things YOU could do…  

    If you had a little money, how would you spend it to improve your business? Maybe you’d buy the latest ADAS calibration kit, or subscribe to an workshop management system?

    Okay, now let’s think bigger. If you were given all the money you had ever invested in your business and could start it again from scratch, how would you gear it up to attract customers and make it profitable? Would you build something like
    your current business, or would it be totally different?

    Why do I ask? Because the world changes quickly, which means our businesses are rarely set up exactly as we need or want, and we must make frequent spending decisions. We must work out how to prioritise our spending, to ensure we always offer the things of greatest worth to our customers; i.e. we maximise our value proposition.

    Last month, we sought to understand our typical customer (a private vehicle owner). We saw that they have functional, emotional and social tasks to complete (jobs). These jobs have either good results (gains), or bad outcomes, risks and obstacles, related to their undertaking or failure (pains). For example, taking a car to the workshop is an extreme pain for a typical customer because it makes it more difficult for them to complete their more important jobs (e.g. commute to work or navigate the school run).

    This month, we’ll use the things we learned about our customers to design our value proposition; We’ll use a repeatable technique to ensure our businesses offer the things our customers need and want. The result will be a value (proposition) map, or value map for short.

    Value mapping
    Anything that helps our customers get their jobs done will have value. Therefore, our products and services must aim to help them complete their jobs. If these products and services then eliminate a customer’s pains, they are pain relievers, or, if they produce gains, they become gain creators. By stating the ways in which our products and services create gains and relieve pains, we can communicate their potential benefit to our customers. Hence, by putting a list of our products and services together with the lists of their respective pain relievers and gain creators, we create a guide to the worth of our business to our customers. That is, we make a value map.

    Of course, not all our products and services, and their subsequent pain relievers and gain creators, are equally relevant to our customers; some are essential, whilst others are merely nice to have. We can use these differences to help our decision making: by ranking the items in our value map in their order of relevance to our customer, we can see which can be ignored, and which can be prioritised.

    Figure 1 shows example items that might be within an independent workshop’s value map, ranked in order of relevance to a private-vehicle-owning customer (a value map is targeted at a specific customer segment). As with the creation of a customer profile, there is no ‘right’ answer; this one is based on my half-thought-through assumptions, and previous business experiences. Yours might differ. Hence, we must derive and tweak our respective value maps accordingly. Ultimately, each of us would use business metrics (e.g. profit ratios and customer satisfaction ratings) to tune our value propositions to the max. But that’s a task for another time.

    Products and services
    We saw before that customers don’t like to waste time at a workshop; they want to go through their lives with the minimum of hassle. They crave convenience. Therefore, courtesy cars, a handy location (covered under ‘community-orientated’ services in Figure 1), extended opening-hours, while-you-wait servicing, or pick-up and returns (either vehicle or customer) all represent high value offerings. We don’t have to offer them all - they’re included in Figure 1 for reference. Likewise, online bookings and related management systems simplify engagement, bring convenience, and enhance value.

    Have you ever heard a customer say they like messy and dirty workshops and technicians? I haven’t. That’s because we attach value to our health and safety: If your premises and staff are well presented, they will project professionalism, and your customers will reach their desired emotional state of feeling safe. Even better, properly motivated, well-equipped and trained staff will increase the likelihood that your customers are safe and secure. As safety fears are powerful motivators and manipulators, we must use our expertise to help our customers assess and manage their exposure to risks. They will then be in control and feel in control of their safety.

    Not all customers will be seeking to cut costs all the time, but certainly all of them will want to control their costs. There are ways a business can help customers manage this aspect of their lives: clear terms of trade and fee structures; well-managed engagements with expert advice; warranted parts and labour; and a range of payment methods such as easy-pay solutions, touch-less, or credit card services.

    Surprisingly, some customers want to look after their vehicles. Primarily, this helps them feel safe and secure, minimises the risk of disruption to their lives (from breakdowns), and protects the value of their vehicles. A good service history represents monetary value in this sense. This means we should be offering, high quality parts and labour, and OE-aligned servicing and repairs.

    Pain relievers
    It might suit your ego to think all your customers visit your workshop because of your skill, expertise and professionalism, or your friendly welcome and great (i.e. free) coffee. However, pure convenience can be the decisive factor when some customers choose where to take their vehicles: you’re around the corner; you had a spare courtesy car; you’re open; you were prepared to look at it there and then; you had the part in stock etc. Whilst this reflects the significant value these pain relievers offer to all our customers, it is the case that some of those who value convenience above all else are not able to see the worth of your other products and services. If they don’t understand that your conveniences come at a cost, then point them elsewhere. You will never please them. Nothing has the potential to sour a relationship like an unexpected bill: When my head was buried in an absorbing diagnostic job, adequate communication was sometimes an issue for me. My ‘solution’ was to swallow the costs, to avoid upsetting the customer. This was neither a solution nor a sustainable business strategy. What I really needed was the best preventative medicine of all: Great communication.

    It should be no surprise that there are far more pains than gains in our value map: Servicing and repair workshops are all about pain relief; we are either trying to eliminate a current pain, through diagnostics and repairs, or carrying out preventative maintenance to avoid a future pain. Because this is our reason for being, customers find it intolerable to think our actions have caused them unnecessary inconvenience or costs. Nowhere is this more obvious than when we try to ‘help them out’ -  Every time we ever tried to help a customer to control costs (i.e cut costs), by fitting a cheaper part or trying a less expensive solution, it always backfired. Every single time. Can you guess who suffered the consequences? It always paid us better to ensure the car was fixed when it left the workshop. ‘Try it and see’ tends to translate into ‘you are going to be really cheesed off next time I see you’, It also counted that we supplied quality, parts and labour.

    Gain creators
    When properly delivered, our products and services will help our customers have the following: An easy-life; a car that holds its value and works properly; peace of mind; a sense of feeling special at our premises; and the information from our sound advice to make good decisions.

    However, for some of us, the ultimate convenience is to not have to engage our brain, so if we really want to take our value proposition to the next level, we must be highly proactive and perform our customers’ thinking for them: e.g. by sending MOT and service reminders, with easy to process ‘calls to action’ so that they are only a click away from being sorted. Then, at the allocated time, we would pick-up their vehicles from their homes to take them to the workshop, leaving a replacement vehicle in their place. I know plenty of businesses that do this. And they are successful.

    Money, money, money
    There are many servicing and repair options available to private vehicles owners: Independent workshops, fast-fit chains, main-dealer workshops, mobile technicians, chancers, etc. Next time we’ll see how other business types deliberately tweak their offerings (value maps) to fit specific customer segments. We need to learn to be equally deliberate and well-informed about our investment decisions. What if we don’t? Well, we might waste all our money, and lose all our customers. Which isn’t always funny, even in a rich man’s world.


    https://automotiveanalytics.net

Most read content


Search

Sign Up

For the latest news and updates from Aftermarket Magazine.


Poll

Where should the next Automechanika show be held?



Facebook


©DFA Media 1999-2019