Behind the scenes with Britain's automobile diagnostics consultants

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“Diagnosing a fault is like recognizing meals going off in a fridge” – Frank Massey
Analysis might be homicide when fashionable automobiles break. We all know simply who to name

“We’re like mushrooms: fed s*** and stored at nighttime.” 

I’ve heard it earlier than however it nonetheless makes me snort. On this event, the particular person chargeable for saying it’s David Massey who, except you’re into automobile diagnostics, you’re unlikely to have heard of. David’s describing how impartial garages are, he claims, denied important technical info by automotive makers. 

“There are the EOBD-II error codes that the majority drivers are acquainted with and which correspond to a automobile fault. They’re common and might be interpreted by all garages. However then, operating in parallel, are manufacturer-specific diagnostic platforms that require particular software program, and which generate their very own codes,” he says. 

“Producers will argue it’s progress however it freezes out the small impartial storage missing the assets to spend money on the required software program, assuming they’d be granted entry.” 

Not that any diagnostic platform, be it EOBD-II or these distinctive to automotive makers, provides technicians the facility to treatment each drawback. In keeping with David, the error codes they depend on to determine a fault can themselves be deceptive: “What’s your common tech going to do then, besides hope he’s carried out one thing that causes the issue to go away lengthy sufficient for the client to pay up and take their automotive? Days later, the warning gentle’s again on and the automotive is in limp residence mode – which is when individuals name us.” 

Error codes, diagnostics… it’s gobbledygook to me however, thankfully, I’m within the presence of consultants: David, after all, but additionally Frank, his dad, identified within the commerce because the ‘guru’. 

Frank is simply again from Australia the place he introduced a sequence of tutorials in diagnostics to hordes of eager techs. Final yr, he was in Italy (Modena, of all locations), France and Eire doing the identical. He’s lectured to the navy on Ascension Island and even to MI5, though his lips are sealed on that one. 

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I first heard his title on a latest go to to Ceramex, a Slough-based firm that cleans diesel particulate filters. In a tone that recommended I ought to know the title, my host boasted that the power had been visited by Frank Massey who had declared it match for function. Having since watched Frank’s video tutorial on DPF diagnostics, I realise he was certified to evaluate. 

From Preston, the place, with David, he personal ADS, a specialist in Volkswagen Group automobiles, 65-year-old Frank heads up a diagnostics coaching faculty known as Auto Inform. Subjects embody battery testing, misfires and emissions. Fascinating stuff however, in the event you’d reasonably keep by the hearth, there are all the time his movies on YouTube; subjects akin to high 10 assessments with PicoScope (a model of oscilloscope) and the mysteries of diagnostic workflow…

Frank’s curiosity in diagnostics dates again to his time operating Motor Masters, a automobile tuning enterprise he began in 1985. 

“It was in regards to the time new programs akin to digital gasoline injection have been coming into automobiles,” he recollects. “The commerce hadn’t a clue the best way to work on them. I noticed a possibility, so acquired an oscilloscope and taught myself the best way to diagnose electrical issues.” 

Frank rapidly grew to become an authority and commenced internet hosting coaching seminars, instructing technicians the best way to examine and measure sign energy to find out the origin of a fault, reasonably than counting on half-measures like fault tracing charts. 

Car electronics moved up a gear with new emissions rules in 2000 and the explosion in options akin to air-con, electrical home windows, central locking and adaptive suspension. 

“For garages and technicians it was like chasing a runaway practice,” says Frank. “Merely to maintain up required an enormous funding in instruments and coaching.” 

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All through, his trustworthy oscilloscope was by his aspect. 

“A scan software, or code reader, exhibits you the signs of an issue however an oscilloscope exhibits you its trigger,” he says. “The previous provides a tech solely half the story; the oscilloscope reveals the profile of the sign and its movement. It’s the street map to a fault.” 

Frank spots my eyes starting to glaze, so will get straight to the purpose: “Think about a tiny field. If all’s effectively inside it – in different phrases, if a sign’s profile doesn’t stray exterior it – no error code is triggered. However what if the sign’s extremes are teetering on its edge? It might be simply sufficient to trigger an issue however to not generate an error code.” 

Frank explains how the ECU is consistently struggling to maintain alerts inside these tens of millions of tiny packing containers, within the course of producing ‘correction values’. Determine and perceive these, he says, and also you’ll discover out what’s actually going incorrect: “Precisely diagnosing a fault is like recognizing meals going off in a fridge. How have you learnt? You utilize your nostril, you verify the sell-by dates… And to stop it taking place once more, you management the atmosphere. 

“It’s the identical with a fault, solely we research alerts flowing in and across the suspect part. Typically, we discover the foundation of the issue is just not the part however the atmosphere – temperature, oxygen ranges, carbon deposits – that it’s working in.” 

He quotes the instance of a buyer on the finish of his tether over a long-running drawback along with his four-year-old Audi A6 2.zero TDI. Frank established that the principle vendor who’d been attempting to repair the automotive had been misled by an error code and, operating out of choices, informed the client it wanted a brand new selective catalytic discount (SCR) system. 

“In reality,” says Frank, “by inspecting sign strengths and flows, and the broader atmosphere the SCR was working in, we found it was the exhaust gasoline recirculation cooler that was at fault. Principally, it had an air block.” 

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Interview over, Frank begins work on his subsequent affected person, an Audi R8. Together with his devices laid out like a surgeon, an oscilloscope in his hand and a small LED gentle strapped to his head, he units to from his favorite chair, illuminated by the glow of a big monitor displaying the automotive’s electrical pulses. 

“He appears to be like like a Cornish tin miner on Mastermind!” quips David. 

Even gurus want a thick pores and skin.

Talking in code

Code readers or scanners aren’t simply the protect workshops – you should purchase one from as little as £10. Simply plug it into your automotive’s OBD port (the automotive’s handbook ought to inform you the place it’s) and skim off the error code on the show display. Then seek the advice of the code e-book to discover a description of the issue. Customers swear by them, claiming they’ve saved fortunes in storage payments. 

Car diagnostics professional Frank Massey isn’t satisfied. 

He says: “The most cost effective readers usually have a really restricted vary of codes and their descriptions of the issue might be extraordinarily imprecise. Bear in mind: a code displays the symptom however not its trigger.” 

Massey says vehicle- or manufacturer-specific code readers are a greater funding. The place a generic reader may say ‘stress sensor vary error’, a devoted reader would offer far more element. 

“You probably have a VW Group automotive, purchase an expert scanner such because the devoted Ross-Tech VCDS,” he says. “It’s far more useful and solely prices £300 – a small worth to pay in the event you’re a assured, newbie mechanic.”

Learn extra

Getting cleaned out: diesel particulate filters 10 years on

A straightforward path to DIY diagnostics​

Automobile dashboard warning lights defined​


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