Car Care: Engines all electronic wizardry
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My father had an often repeated saying when it came to repairing the family motor car: Why pay somebody else to do a job you are quite capable of doing yourself?
Like a lot of men from his era, he would give anything a go, especially so when it came to something he was really passionate about such as motor vehicle repairs and servicing.
Yes, some jobs took longer than a trained mechanic would take but with a reasonable amount of general knowledge and heaps of perseverance, he always managed to get the job done.
But times have changed. The job description of a mechanic has been replaced with the word “technician” and it reflects the change from general repairing to one of a more diagnostic approach, as motor vehicles are controlled by electronic componentry these days.
During my time in the repair side of the retail motoring world, I was part of that transition period when electronics were first introduced into mass produced motor vehicles. It was a period within the industry where a change of thinking was required by mechanics who were more accustomed to a lot more of a basic testing and problem solving regime.
The new technology involved mechanics having to retrieve fault codes from an electronic on-board Engine Control Unit (ECU) to help identify the cause of a particular problem.
ECU’s were often blamed for an awful lot of problems back then. Fault diagnosis became much more hit-and-miss at times also, with many components simply swapped or changed to see if a particular issue was overcome rather than working through a specific test pattern laid out by the respective new vehicle distributors.
But like my dad, we persevered and over time increased our knowledge due to both hands-on experience and by attending specific training programmes.
I learned a new workshop phrase the other day, “decommission”, which referred to the steps taken whenever an on-board ECU is removed from a new vehicle from their particular franchise.
Each ECU is now unique to a specific vehicle and cannot be automatically unplugged or swapped with another identical model.
But times and technology have moved onto another level with the modern motor vehicle fast becoming an almost “no-go” zone for the home mechanic and those repairers who haven’t kept up with all the changes.
In many cases, the basic servicing requirements can still be carried out, but the days of trying to identify faults by a basic process of elimination are gone.
If you try to work through an electronic issue, you risk ending up with more problems than what you started with.
In modern workshops, electronic diagnostic equipment has replaced workshop manuals but the equipment is only as good as the operator. Make sure whoever works on your vehicle has both the equipment and the knowledge.
Yes, workshop hourly rates can be extremely high these days; but with the amount of on-going training and new diagnostic equipment required, those costs can often be justified.
While people like my dad may have hated it, sometimes you need to hand the keys over to the experts. The important part is finding a good one.