No codes, no clues?

Forever the codebreaker, 2019 Top Technician winner Neil Currie shows what to do when there are no codes at all

Published:  17 March, 2020

Have you ever had a car in with a running fault or an issue, and you plugged the diagnostic tool into the OBD socket then read for trouble codes, only to be met with the message ‘no faults stored’?

For many reasons, this confuses technicians and stops them being able to progress with the job. They have no clues or starting point to work from. However, many other tests can be done to find the root cause of the issue. I have worked with many a technician who has been lost after finding a ‘no fault found’ message. I recently had a job where I was able to demonstrate to my colleague how knowing some numbers and how systems work and interlink can help identify what is wrong.

Call-out
The vehicle in question was a 2012 Land Rover Discovery 4. As we specialise in LR we have built up a good reputation in the area for being able to fix them, having also invested in dealer tooling and information. The customer’s first contact with us was via telephone and he explained he had parked the vehicle up outside his house and then having come to it the next day it would not start. The engine would turn over but it would not fire into life. He informed us his local garage had come out for a look and had been unsuccessful in finding the cause and recommended getting the vehicle recovered to us. He asked our call-out charge and asked for us to come and take a look before he organised recovery. This is not my favourite type of job as with limited tooling there is only so much you can do but we agreed to go and take and look and see what we could find.

No fault codes stored
Along with my colleague Jamie we went to the customer’s house that afternoon, taking a scan tool and the tool kit in our work van. Once we arrived we spoke to the customer to gather some information about the problem. He told us no recent work had been carried out on the vehicle and the other garage had done some basic tests on the battery and fuel system where it sat but could not find an issue. I sat in the vehicle and cranked the vehicle to verify the complaint, doing this also allowed a few checks to be done by listening to the sound of the engine cranking. A trained ear can pick up a compression issue, whether it is spinning fast enough or anything mechanical which doesn’t sound correct.

 On this vehicle though all sounded ok. I then let Jamie do some checks to see what he could find. As a younger technician he mainly does MOT and general service work, so it was a good opportunity to possible teach him something along the way without the distraction of a busy workshop. After some basic checks he decided to plug in the scan took and see if any fault codes were stored. Upon carrying out a fault code report he was met with the message ‘no fault codes stored’. I then asked him what his thoughts were and where we go next. His reply was “I don’t know?” I am sure this has happened to some of you reading this article, we have all been there.

Live data
I explained to him that live data was a key element here and we should use it to our advantage. We need to look for data relevant to the complaint to rule out what it can’t be, and knowing what the numbers mean will do this quickly. Unfortunately, this takes years of looking at good data, taking notes and memorising it. Luckily for him, I was able to assist. My first checks were to be engine RPM, fuel pressure, immobiliser status, cam/crank synchronisation and a plausibility check of all temperature and pressure sensors to make sure they were in spec. Working through them all with ignition on, then cranking everything looked good so the engine should start but why wouldn’t it? This is where it pays to step back for a moment and evaluate what you know already and what you should do next.

Smoke/air pressure
An engine in its simplest form is an air pump. We know it needs compression, fuel and air to run. With what seemed to be good compression, and from what I had heard, also good data from the scan tool, with limited resources, I decided the next test would be to see if any smoke was being emitted from the tail pipes. This would show if there was any sign of fuel delivery to the engine. With good RPM and fuel pressure, if the ECU is happy, it should be firing the injectors. There was no smoke, however when I felt the tail pipes there was no air pressure whatsoever from either tail pipe. Was this a clue to where the issue may lie?

My first thought was we have a restriction and the engine cannot breathe, so we are missing the air section of the triangle for the engine to run. I then had a good visual inspection of the engine. Knowing the design well, I decided to open the inlet up to atmosphere by removing the map sensor to see if there was any change. If there was a blockage, this test would prove it and allow the engine to run. In this vehicle, the engine is a V6, so it uses a conventional V configuration. To allow air to flow into both intakes of each bank there is what Land Rover call an intake throttle manifold which also houses the MAP sensor, the EGR inlet pipework and a throttle butterfly flap with a rubber hose to direct air from the intercooler into the manifold (fig1). Removing the MAP sensor would allow air to be released if there was an issue from either EGR valve or upstream from the intake i.e. throttle butterfly, failed turbo just to name a few. On removing the sensor and cranking the engine it now fired into life and idled fairly well, this confirmed we had a blockage somewhere manifold side starving the engine of air.

Throttle butterfly flap
Checking the clock, we still had some time left allotted for the call out. I decided as it was easy to remove the intake hose to the intake throttle manifold just to see as a quick test if the issue was before or after. Upon removing the pipework and refitting the map, the engine no would not start, again proving the issue was on the engine side of the pipework. Removing the air intake plenum to the throttle manifold then revealed the issue. The throttle butterfly flap used to strangle the engine of air on shutdown had jammed shut and never reopened as the housing was heavily covered in carbon. This butterfly, when working correctly, should spring back open ready for the next engine start. Questioning the customer and his driving style revealed he mostly done slow speed and town driving and used supermarket fuel, all of which were a contributing factor to the issue as the valve sits closely to the flow of EGR gas from both valves. Forcing the valve open and refitting the components allowed the vehicle to be driven back to the workshop for a repair to be carried out.

Upon the removal of the entire assembly (fig2), it was found the unit would be better to be replaced as cleaning would not remove all of the carbon deposits and could cause the issue to re-occur. The EGR pipework was also removed and cleaned as a preventive measure along with an oil and filter change and the vehicle was returned to the customer.

Further learning
Why were there no fault codes stored you ask? Well on this engine the position off the butterfly flap is monitored and it should have stored a stuck closed fault but this may not be part of the software’s strategy so I am unable to answer why. However, this article shows that if you have an issue and no faults are stored, there are tests you can do to find the issue. So next time you have a scan tool connected, grab for example 10 good live data PIDs and store them then learn them off by heart. Once you have mastered that section move onto some more and soon you will build up a good mental library of what good data should be, which helps massively to fix cars!

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