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Technician’s hone their diagnostics skills at Autotechnician’s Big Day Out

By autotech-nath on December 1, 2019

The event delivered valuable advice to promote that desirable first-time-fix – here, we deliver a few insights to get your fault-finding juices flowing…

An eclectic crowd of technicians and workshop owners, plus a handful of college lecturers, gathered at ZF’s [pro]Tech technical training centre in October, to gain practical fault- finding advice from Andy Crook of GotBoost, plus James Dillon and David Wagstaff of Technical Topics. Delegates had travelled wide and far – with Hitesh Valambia of Tanzania winning top prize for mileage, for this unique training experience, where the three trainers used live faults and a mobile voting app to guide the crowd through initial diagnosis to fix. 


Andy Crook began with a section on reducing diagnostic time and stressed the importance of primary data capture. He begins each job back in his workshop with a customer survey – detailing the vehicle’s symptoms, timing, background and so on. By adding ‘Is there anything else?’ to this questionnaire increased the success of his first hypothesis dramatically, explaining that customers who are not comfortable due to a lack of technical knowledge can leave importance clues out for fear of appearing silly. Once the interview is done, Andy then forges ahead with sensory checks, a global scan, then a test drive – to try and capture data whilst symptoms, hopefully, occur. Then he stops to have a cuppa or walks away to do another job to let all the primary data sink in slowly. He says the next step is to plan your testing and is best done away from the car, so you are not distracted. 


“In diagnostics, I consider myself a detective, convicting a component in a court of law.” 

The trick, Andy says, is to design a test with known outcomes, then devise another. You then need to devise The Columbo Test – the killer question, which could show a component who was at the scene, but not actually guilty. Then the time comes to go to the vehicle and conduct the tests, collecting as much evidence as you need to convict the killer! The next stage is to evaluate your findings, “I draw my own wiring diagrams and add voltages, what I expect to see, so I know if results are good, bad or indifferent.” If the tests prove your fault hypothesis then save the information as base rate data for future reference. If they don’t, start the process again using your new evidence. 

“If your primary data is weak, your best guess at the fault will be weak too.” 

Andy explains that there will be occasions you are not sure, and you must replace a part but OK this with the customer first. Even if the light comes back on and the customer’s not happy, you have a chance to turn it around and change the process. Those times you are not convinced you found the underlying fault, give the customer a call two weeks after the job to check everything’s OK – customers would rather you put your hands up, you can then justify what actions you have taken so far and take it from there. 


After a tea break, James Dillon took to the workshop floor to carry on the discussion around customer communication in the context of diagnostics. He suggested to delegates that we tend to use language that we’re used to saying to be convenient, but this devalues our worth. Unhelpful things to say to customers when they first call in with a problem include: “Bring it in, we’ll have a quick look,” or, “We’ll get the tool/ computer to do this or that”. The first implies it’s a quick job, so it will be cheap, the second makes Joe Bloggs think the tools are doing the work, not you, and you end up devaluing your own skills and knowledge. It’s also unwise to initially suggest what the problem might be, even if it seems obvious to you, as they will then be stuck on this idea and you will then face a later retort of, “You said it was that!” 

“Us technicians are guilty of thinking we have the biggest mental notepad – write it all down!” 

James stressed that even if you have a Eureka moment, take your time… call the customer back with well informed choices and consider confirming the symptom with the customer by conducting a test drive. A mantra throughout the day was no matter how long it takes you to physically rectify the fault, ensure you are charging properly for your knowledge, evaluation skills and analysis. 

The introductory sessions paved the way for using these techniques on live faults, with David Wagstaff providing advice on scoping, and suggestions of how to communicate effectively with customers and charging for time spent diagnosing. Both workshop owners and technicians, of varying levels of experience  in complex diagnostics, came away with food for thought, to help tweak their current processes and make more effective use of their tools and time. We hope you can join us next year at our subsidised training events. 

Thank you to all our sponsors this year, who have enabled Autotechnician to provide subsidised training and online assessments, and special thanks to ZF for lending us their impressive training workshop in Crick. 




Next year, Autotechnician magazine is planning to hold a two-day event, taking place on a Friday and Saturday. More intensive training will be delivered on the first day and will be followed by an informal dinner & drinks reception, so technicians can swap notes and catch up with the support network.

Saturday’s schedule will be more relaxed and hands-on, with mini-workshops, demonstrations and competitive feature areas.

Content for these sessions will be designed around the needs of delegates, so please register your interest by emailing As ever, tickets will be subsidised by Autotech sponsors, so you can expect high- value training for a very reasonable investment.



About Autotechnician
Autotechnician is a magazine published nine times a year, delivering essential information to independent garage owners and technicians in the UK. Delivered both digitally and in print, autotechnician provides readers with technical, training, business advice, product and news, allowing our readers to keep up to date with information they need to run and work within a modern workshop.
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