The secret behind Top Technician: Process

John Batten lifts the lid to show you the secrets behind Top Technician, and the route to a first time fix in 20 minutes

By John Batten | Published:  27 June, 2019

I guess it’s just human nature to want to take a peek behind the door that says ‘Private, Members Only’. What could be so special, and what are we missing out on? It’s with that in mind that I’m writing this article. In the next four minutes I’ll reveal what goes on behind the scenes in the Top Technician technical tests, and what it takes to diagnose a vehicle in 20 minutes. You’re going to love it!

I first became involved with Top Technician as a judge in 2008, I was hooked from the start as it epitomised everything I loved about the industry. Watching dedicated technicians work progressively through each technical test was a thing of beauty. Not knowing who would win, as so few points separate most entrants, would keep me on a knife edge throughout the day.

Here’s the deal though; While this is a competition, the skills used to win are exactly the same skills that need to be displayed in your workshop every day. These skills ensure your diagnosis happens in a timely manner, and you can bill all of your diagnostic time. Not only that; Anyone considering taking a Diagnostic Technician or Master Technician assessment needs to display the same skillset. There’s a blueprint for diagnostic success, and if your follow it then you’ll progress in leaps and bounds.

What’s in a technical task?
There are a few core skills that a technician should possess, so each technical task is designed so that a competitor can display the following:

  1. A logical and methodical procedure
  2. Core understanding of a common system
  3. The capability to gather information and understand it
  4. Quickly rule out what’s good, and focus on what’s bad
  5. Complete a core range of common tests specific to the fault
  6. Confirm the fault/s
  7. Accurately document the process


It’s a straightforward process, the real challenge is the time limit. To nail each task and score full points in only 20 minutes requires a technician that does not have to stop and think about the process. There’s not enough time to think. You only have time to act.

Ready, steady, go!
Over the last couple of years some of the technical rounds have been held at Auto iQ – my training centre. I’m akways keen to create a relaxed atmosphere when training, and put everyone at ease. It’s just what we do. However, the relaxed happy-go-lucky demeanor of each contestant disappears when the words “You have 20 minutes to complete your task, please start,” exit my mouth. A technician at this point becomes a focused diagnostic sniper with only one thing in his sights; finding the solution to the fault.

On this occasion I was judging a rough-running petrol engine on a Vauxhall. A standard range of tools and test equipment were at each technician’s disposal, as was I just in case they needed some assistance, were they not familiar with a particular user interface of a tool. The technician could also request tooling was it not in plain sight. So, there I am eagerly awaiting a technical superstar. Let’s take a look at the route one technician took on this sick Vauxhall.

Process, process, process!
There are many routes to timely diagnosis but each should use a logical process. This process was indeed logical. See what you think.

 The job card was read to ascertain the problem at hand. “Customer reports car lacks power up hills” was the main item of concern. Unfortunately the customer was not contactable to ask further questions

A quick visual inspection was undertaken and nothing of note found

The vehicle was started and the tech found it to be running rough. It could be described as an unhealthy stumble. He noted that it clearly had a misfire

There was no hesitation at this point and GDS (GM’s on-serial tool) was connected to the vehicle

45 seconds later and fault codes we’re in hand. P0404 (misfire cylinder 4) and Pxxx (injector 4 control circuit malfunction). Codes were documented and the tech swiftly moved on

 Serial data was the next port of call, and it was straight onto misfire counters. It was clear that the codes were pointing to the correct cylinder as the cyl 4 counter had non-stop activity with all other cylinders at zero. Now this is where it gets a little more interesting as this tech took a route that was out of step with the other contestants. He didn’t go straight for the injector

He requested a 2000 amp clamp and proceeded to carry out a relative compression test. Cranking speed was good and all current draw was equal. He noted that the likelihood of a mechanical fault would be low

Next a spark gap tester was used. While secondary ignition could have been scoped it would have sapped time due to the system this vehicle used. It was a sensible choice given the circumstances. Spark output on cylinder 4 was found to be sufficient to consider the problem was elsewhere At this point the technician was swiftly ruling out the good (or at least less likely options), and honing in on the possible causes remaining. Just one thing. He only has eight minutes remaining.

 An oscilloscope was now used. A low current clamp was applied to the common injector power supply while the switched side of the injector was inspected on each of the four cylinders. There was much pondering, timebases and vertical scales we’re changed while all elements of the various channels were compared between good and bad cylinders. All injectors (including cylinder4 with its fault code) were clearly being switched on and off, so why the misfire? As a judge I’m not sure what was louder. The cogs going round in the tech’s head or his heartbeat! We had 180 seconds left. Would this guy find the fault? With a sudden burst of action the pondering ceased and more tools were requested

A pressure transducer was applied to the fuel rail (manifold injected vehicle). A timebase was selected so that one cycle of all injectors was displayed. This test was the key to the fault on this vehicle! By comparing injector current and rail pressure it was clear to see that rail pressure did not drop as number four injector was commanded to open. The fault was found. It had to be a blocked injector. The technician requested tools to move the injector to another cylinder for confirmation, but time was up and the task was over

A job well done
I’m sure you’ll agree that to complete that range of tests in unfamiliar surroundings, with tools that aren’t your own, in 20 minutes while being observed by me is no mean feat, so hats off to that particular technician. Here’s a fact for you though. It’s within your grasp as well. I’ve been teaching the skills required for accurate and timely vehicle diagnosis for a very long time, and there’s just two things you need to achieve the skills articulated in this article. These are the will to learn and a little practice. Get started on those and whether you want to become a Master Technician, win a competition, or just increase your competency in the workshop, you’ll be set for success.



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