Using Virtual Tech to Diagnose and Repair any Vehicle
by Adam Ward
There are a few topics I wish to discuss in this article, starting with establishing when is the best time to call for help or assistance. Another part of the article that I want to establish is the environment or conditions that we are working in now that increase the need to ask for assistance.
Car Complexity, Then and Now
First, the complexity and diversity of cars that we service and fix in a day are far greater than it used to be 30 years ago. One minute you could be working on a hybrid, an hour later a diesel and maybe even an electric vehicle or a GDI car. The needs for assistance are also increased due to the diversity, difficulty and challenging nature of today’s automotive vehicles, and the sheer volume of information needed.
Now if we were to go back say, 30 plus years, how did someone get help? A lot of times they’d ask the technician or the mechanic in the bay next to them, or they may have had friends or a friend group that they could lean on after work to talk about cars and problems that they had. The phone services that technicians could dial into to try to get assistance were just in their infancy and computer-driven information systems were a tiny sliver of what they are now. They did not have a large database from years of growth where they could pull information from and those technicians most certainly did not have the speed and ease to get assistance from anywhere as they would today.
Let’s take a look at the difference between the two different time periods and the vehicles that you are working on. In 1990 the type of tools and equipment you needed to diagnose a car we’re far easier to use and were more accessible, and a decent scanner could do most of what you needed to do in a day. Some of the ECM’s (think Honda PGM-FI), had an LED built into the computer that would flash out the codes that were within the system.
Chrysler in the late 80s early 90s cycling the ignition key multiple times would flash the Check Engine light in a cadence and blink out codes, while General Motors utilized shorting two terminals on the ALDL connector to blink out codes—you get the drift. It was a little bit easier to get the type of information that helps you complete a diagnosis than it is on a scanner with dozens of menus, different formats for different cars sometimes today. The number of electrical tools to diagnose was fewer and less complex. These were all things that most techs had in their toolboxes. So, the amount of information they needed to have access to and the number of tools and equipment were less than is needed today.
The Evolution of Vehicle Diagnosis and Testing
To put the evolution in perspective, a compression test was performed not too long ago with a manual gauge, so the reading was within spec or it wasn’t. If not, some common mechanical issue was at hand, there wasn’t variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation, or variable compression systems that could be in play. A manual gauge can still be used but it cannot show us IVO points like a pressure transducer and a scope can. Now, a compression test is often part of our electrical testing repertoire. We use a pressure transducer and a lab scope, or by graphing starter amperage.
The complexity of testing and diagnostics I am discussing isn’t underselling what those techs worked on and with—I was one of those guys myself. I came up through the ranks as a tech in the early 90s, and I may have been working on a Monte Carlo with a feedback carburetor or putting ball joints in an S10 or maybe an early model Throttle Body Injected (TBI) vehicle with a check engine light back in the day.
Most of those jobs were relatively straightforward. Of course, some had their snags and it’s not to say you didn’t have a problem car here or there, but for the most part those vehicles were fairly simple to work on. You also did not have to program a control module just to get a car to start. The parts also were relatively available, and the quality of the parts didn’t vary so greatly to the point where you had to buy something from the dealer just to get something that worked. The parts house, for the most part, were fairly decent and got the job done. Let’s look at two vehicles of the exact same manufacturer and Model, one from 1990 and the other from the year 2015. First will be the 1990 Honda Civic EX. In the service manual snapshot you will see there is one control module with roughly a dozen codes.
Those really were the good old days. An LED light told you what the trouble code was, and the manual told you how to troubleshoot the problem. Most of the tools needed were already in your toolbox—simple straightforward easy to diagnose gravy as we would say. Now, let’s move on and take a look at the 2015 Honda Civic EX.
Well, we actually have more control modules available to scan and diagnose than we did total codes in the one control unit we had in the 1990 civic. Up to 22 control modules compared to one and the engine control module alone will have hundreds of codes available. The difference is quite staggering when you start doing the math across all the different control modules with all of the wiring, fuse panels, trouble codes, sensors, components, communication lines to support all of this information—and this is only one car.
So in the short time, I think it’s safe to say that working on today’s vehicles is far more challenging and requires far more technical knowledge and a lot more training, skills and expensive equipment that you must know how to use and navigate correctly if you want to efficiently diagnose and repair cars. It is also safe to say that not one person can possibly master all car lines, all types of powertrains and never require any assistance at all.
Using Identifix to Get the Right Diagnosis
So, when you are performing a diagnosis when do you ask for help? First, you need to establish that what you are trying to diagnose and repair is the correct problem. Verify that the information you need is available. There is nothing worse than spending a lot of time trying to figure out what is wrong only to come to the conclusion that what you thought was wrong was maybe a normal feature of the car.
- So, to fully leverage Direct-Hit and utilize its value, the very first thing you should do is log in to Direct-Hit, type in the symptom and see if what you’re looking at has already been diagnosed and the testing information is available for you to perform. (Why spend an hour or more trying to figure out and test your way to a solution when the solution is already there for you to test?) Archives with confirmed fixes give you testing and pattern failure trends.
- Make sure your tools are updated and functioning correctly before you start the testing. Make sure you have access to the necessary tools, information, and equipment before you start. This will help get quality data to rely on in the event you need to call. Nothing worse than chasing a fuel pressure problem to find out the gauge is faulty or plugging in a new part that does not work right until it is coded, calibrated, or programmed to the vehicle.
- You checked Direct-Hit, you did your testing, and you have no results yet. Or the system is something you are not comfortable with and you need guidance or advice. Time to phone a friend! Better to call early in the diagnosis than later when time is minimal and customers are looking for a result and you haven’t gotten far.
The Best Way to Use Virtual Tech
The easiest and fastest way to request for help is to post the online form submission—plus you get a 10% discount to boot! I will start by attaching the basic form on the website that contains all of the pertinent information that you will need to provide in the event you decide you would like to have some assistance. I also go over why we have the fields listed and their importance.
Fill out the appropriate fields, the VIN makes a huge difference as it lets the Virtual Tech pull up the appropriate information, check for option codes and build date splits that helps get the accurate information.