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Connected Mechanic

Two weeks ago I discussed the “connected car”. The connections my article referred to were those between one car and another and those between the car and essentially the highway system around the car. These connections main impetus is safety and efficiency.

As a mechanic I am concerned with another connection. I would like a data connection. Yes, a modern automobile is a goldmine of diagnostic data. When it comes time to figure out why your blind spot detection system is not working correctly or your laser cruise control is glitching out, tapping into your vehicle’s communication network while your vehicle is driving down the road would be a big plus.

Many of you are driving a vehicle that has a version of a diagnostic connection. The OnStar system has that capability. This system has the ability to monitor some of the data on your vehicle’s network. If you choose to pay and use the service you can be informed by email when there are problems or when maintenance is due. You can also call directly for advice when a problem arises.

I am not very familiar with the OnStar system’s diagnostic capabilities. The system’s focus is more towards safety and convenience features for the vehicle owner. It is a hands free cell phone, GPS, 911 and door unlocking app.

I do not think any manufacturers have any people or algorithms that analyze diagnostic data while you are driving. I may be wrong though. Technology moves fast these days.

Several years ago I attended a vehicle diagnostics symposium and from there I gathered that the manufacturers spend as little money as possible in the area of diagnostics. I recently watched a video interview with Bill Ford (executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company). When asked about the future of the independent auto repair shop, after a long pause he suggested there would likely be no need for them in the future. What was he thinking?

Admittedly vehicles need repair far less frequently but I assure you they still do break. When they do break the challenge is in your mechanic’s court. I have used the diagnostic systems available from many of the manufacturers and they are far from the holy grail.

Most of these systems hide the data and logic of the diagnosis from the mechanic. The result is a check this and check that routine and then some kind of definite conclusion. The trouble is many problems are intermittent. Therefore quite often the solution is “no problem found”. Solving intermittent problems requires a knowledge of the system involved. The checking must happen when the problem is present. There is no better way to solve these problems than reading data directly from the vehicle when the symptom is present.

I am confident my job is safe. Today’s complex vehicles present a challenging diagnosis and repair environment. As the manufacturers ignore our plight and focus on building a complex yet unbreakable machine we mechanics will harness our ingenuity to find solutions that keep your most expensive purchase next to your home purring down the road.

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