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Peer Support: Resolving EV repair issues as a team

By autotech-nath on January 4, 2023

Pete Melville tells AT why he felt the need to create the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance (HEVRA), the technical support it provides workshops entering the world of Hybrid & EV repair, and describes typical vehicle faults HEVRA members encounter.

I bought my first electric car back in 2015, and fairly quickly realised that these would become more popular, and
that created a couple of potential problems – those who bought electric cars would need to get them serviced and repaired, and those who service and repair cars would need to adapt to working on them. Having done the hybrid and EV training myself, which was very useful and interesting, I wasn’t convinced the training offered would equip someone to repair every possible issue, and there wasn’t any way for the customers to know where to take their car. These ideas developed to form HEVRA in 2017 – a service where customers could find good garages to look after their electric cars, and we’d make sure they were good by providing everything they needed to be good. HEVRA stands for the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Repair Alliance, and also means “together” in Kurdish, which, although I don’t speak Kurdish, I thought summed it up quite well.

The issues I identified were:

EV trained mechanics saw EVs so rarely that they essentially forgot their training.

Different makes and models work in very different ways.

Mechanics were reluctant to take on work because of a lack of experience, and would therefore not gain any experience.

Parts were very expensive.

We’d solve the first issue by creating a network of trained and supported garages and promote that network to the general public. The second issue would be fixed by publishing our own technical guide for each model. The third and fourth issues we’d fix by providing member garages with a regular newsletter and technical support. The newsletter would allow them to learn from the experience of others, and our support would mean garages could take on jobs with confidence. The issue of parts prices can be helped by accurate diagnosis, but in some cases, it’s also possible to repair rather than replace.

Helping members get to the root of the problem…

The support we provide is essentially split into two categories – marketing and technical. The two are of course linked, as our technical support maintains the reputation the network and getting more cars in the door, increases an individual technician’s experience.

On the marketing side, we promote the network with various owners’ clubs, with charging service providers, online and at in-person events. End users can then find garages in their area via our website and contact the garage directly to book their car in.

The garage then has their initial training (which they need to do elsewhere before signing up), their experience gained from previous repairs and from our newsletters and our vehicle-specific guides. If they need it, they can also call on our technical support service – a free and unlimited part of membership. We provide whatever help is necessary to get to the bottom of the problem. Obviously this benefits the customer as well as the garage, and it’s also important for us for two reasons: Firstly, every job done can have an effect on the whole network’s reputation, so it’s important for us and other members that a customer has a good experience. Secondly, for our own support team, we learn what we need to know by our members asking those questions.

Technical support case studies…

The most recent fault I dealt with involved a Renault Kangoo that had been brought into a garage as a non-start. It’s over ten years old, which is about as old as you can get in the EV world at the moment, although we do support some hybrids older than this. The van had fault codes for the DC-DC converter
(a solid-state component that performs the function that an alternator does on a traditional car) and a temperature sensor. Looking at the live data showed more anomalies – over a thousand volts reported in the inverter and some of the temperatures were over 500°C. The DCDC converter output was 31V and 63A, and yet only 11.8V at the 12V battery. Clearly something strange was going on.

Strange faults are nothing unusual on cars that are controlled by software and you may have come across this even if you don’t deal with electric cars. If you work on diesels, have you ever noticed that some cars won’t start when a common rail injector is leaking back, and yet others start perfectly but then suffer problems when under load? It’s thanks to one value in the ECU’s software that sets the required fuel pressure to start. That’s all it is. We don’t generally repair software, but it’s important to understand how it works on that particular car to repair the electrical and mechanical parts.

The inverter was not correctly initialising. When this happens, the various parts of its memory fill up with 11111111… rather than the correct binary numbers. The software then reads these values as those crazy figures you saw above, and decides the temperature values and DCDC output are the problem. It also won’t let the vehicle start as the inverter voltage isn’t the same as the battery voltage (in fact it doesn’t even get to that point because it will check for plausibility before connecting the traction battery).

So how did we deal with this Kangoo? I attached a pre-written test plan to an email and clicked send. We know there’s a relatively small number of things that will cause this incorrect initialisation, so it’s just a case of doing a few multimeter checks to determine which it is. These pre-written test plans not only allow us to offer the service we can at the price we do, but they also make the service better – just like a mass-produced car, making something the same every time means it’s not only easier, it means you can make it consistent and, if necessary, tweak it to make it even better. We can make sure all the information needed to deal with that fault is in that guide and if the garage follows the guide and it’s still not clear, it’s our job to make the guide better next time.

Of course, there’s always a first time you see a fault, so I’ll give you a very different example. A 2018 Jaguar I-Pace, again towed in to a garage as a non-start. Needless to say, we’re much more familiar with the Kangoo above, than a car that has only started falling out of warranty in the last year. This particular example was totally dead, requiring the car to be accessed using the emergency mechanical key. Once both 12V batteries had been charged, it presented a huge number of fault codes and had lost significant coolant in both the drivetrain and battery circuits.

The garage decided to perform a visual inspection and also noticed a bolt missing from one of the front motor mounts. Getting more information from the customer revealed the car had already been apart – a franchised dealer had actually removed the entire front powertrain assembly to try to locate the problem. They had then quoted the customer to replace the motor, inverter and wiring harness at a cost of over £8,000. Unfortunately, we often see this type of ‘diagnosis’ where a garage will quote to replace everything in the hope the customer will either take the car away or hope that one of the new parts might fix it. Even more worryingly, when we end up fixing cars like this, often the fault is something else entirely, so these bills are not only very expensive, but won’t even fix the vehicle. The customer had declined the repair and taken the car for a second opinion, so the dealer had refitted everything. Well, refitted mostly everything.

The new information certainly helped, it explained a lot of the fault codes and it also meant the car probably hadn’t suffered a coolant loss, it had just not been refilled after being apart. The best option was now to clear all the codes and see what the current issues were.

We found most of the fault codes cleared, the few left were “missing data” type codes which are pretty vague, and a few more relating to the electric parking pawl actuator, which had the emergency release pulled in order to get the car to the garage.

The park pawl was then set back to its normal position, surprisingly the fault codes did not clear, so perhaps this was a different issue and the most likely was that it hadn’t been reconnected when it was apart before, so the first job was to look and see if it was plugged in.

Unfortunately, it’s probably easier to see secret files on the government’s next U-turn than it is to see an I-Pace parking lock when the car’s reassembled, so it was time for another idea. By accessing the wiring from further up we could do a few tests to see if it was likely to have a parking actuator on the other end of it, which might reveal a different problem, or at least give us some evidence that it was worth stripping the car down a bit. This revealed a missing 12V supply to the actuator, which turned out to be a broken wire in a fairly accessible location. And just like that, it was fixed. Obviously, there was some more work to do to bleed the cooling systems and put right some of the previous garage bodges, but the car was driveable and the fault codes were cleared.

Next time we see a similar issue, it won’t involve so many messages back and forth, and this is how we build the expertise that makes assisting in the Kangoo case above so straightforward. Not only does it help with that particular fault, but we’ve learnt a little more about the workings of the car – which control units use which messages, and other little details that will help us fix unrelated faults on other cars of the same type.

Of course, when one of our members gets in touch with an issue, they don’t know whether they’ll get a straightforward “here’s all the info” or a long-winded “let’s work this out together”, but one way or another, we’ll do what we can to help.

Common brand-related faults…

Renault is the brand we deal with the most, followed by Nissan, Tesla and then BMW. All of these manufacturers have been making electric vehicles for many years and therefore have far larger numbers outside of warranty than some other brands. I think another reason we see so many Renaults is because they use a more modern, software-driven design and rather than having certain common faults you see again and again, the problems tend to be more random. Both of these factors make them harder to diagnose so it’s more likely a garage will get in touch.

One fault we are seeing again and again though is the DC-DC converter on some Renault Zoe models, which does the same job as an alternator on a traditional car. It’s a good job for garages as it involves quite a bit of labour without too much spend on parts or programming requirements. We’re also seeing quite a few hybrid battery problems on the Range Rover Sport and heating issues across all makes and models as we head into winter.

Do you think there is a need for all garages to prepare for Hybrid & EV repair?
I think it’s important to be able to repair the cars your customers drive, and it’s also important to take on new customers to replace those who inevitably move away or give up driving. This change is no different to electronic fuel injection becoming mainstream in the 1990s or diesel becoming mainstream in the 2000s – there will always be those who get involved and get a name for themselves and can do a good job and make money, and others who drag their feet.

Plug-in vehicles currently account for about 3% of all the cars on the road – about the same number of Land Rovers on the road, and the trend is only going one way. In 2022, more fully electric cars have been sold new than diesel cars, and a third of new cars have a high voltage system.

The work you need to do and when you need to do it depends on the customers you have and the customers you want to attract, but I think it will be essential in the future.

membership@hevra.org.uk

www.hevra.org.uk

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